Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Drowning Pirates With Goodness.

Stacy & Steve Birthday PartySo we've talked about piracy, the harm it can cause to content creators, the failure of DRM, and the importance of making yourself into a real person. And that, my friends, brings us to the second big way content creators can defend themselves against pirates.

Keep producing.

Let's compare two authors (I know both of them, and met them both at GenCon, so that keeps us on topic for the week, right?). Pat Rothfuss and Jim Hines. Both are fantasy writers. Both have an online presence, and both have a devoted following that they totally deserve.

There's a great big difference between them: AFAIK, Pat has one novel out (and a single other limited-run work). Jim has six novels in print and a ton of short stories.

Let's say I get a pirate copy of Jim's first book, Goblin Quest. (I condone READING it, not pirating it.) I read it. I love it. Following the principle I went over yesterday, I then go and buy the rest of the goblin books. As Jim keeps producing more material, I buy it as well. I've become a True Fan. Sure, Jim might have lost some initial sales of his back catalog... but I'll keep buying everything he puts out forevermore.

Same scenario, Pat Rothfuss. I get a pirate copy of The Name of the Wind, love it, and... oh. There's nothing else I can buy, at least until next year.

This isn't a rag on Pat's writing speed - he's a fantastic author, and Jim is as well. What I'm illustrating here is that Jim can afford to care less about pirates because he's producing new material on a frequent basis. That gives more opportunities for merely casual pirates - those who are using piracy to sample work - to "go legit" and support him.

From this context, the more frequently you publish, the more you can "manage" piracy by letting it serve as a cheap back catalog. (You can cut that down even further by putting back catalog stuff on discounted sales, since there's a percentage of pirates who would be okay paying half-price instead of stealing it.) It also goes even further to explaining the "boost" that piracy can give some small and mid-list creators - not only do they want to "support the team", but they are easily able to. Obviously, this is something that short story and novella writers can maximize far more easily than novelists.

I can't stress enough that I am not condoning piracy, even when it's beneficial to content creators. I am saying that piracy is a fact of life, and one that content creators need to come to grips with.

In more and more ways, I see digital sales being a potential boon to short story writers in a way that hasn't been seen since Dickens' serial fiction was printed in newspapers. It's up to us to seize that potential and make it happen.


Jim C. Hines said...

"Following the principle I went over yesterday, I then go and buy the rest of the goblin books."

So in order to make this work, it sounds like the creator would not only have to keep up a steady stream of new content (which I agree is a useful thing), but also do the personal outreach to connect with readers? This worries me, because I consider myself someone who's fairly active at trying to make those connections, but when I compare blog and web site hits to overall sales, it looks like the number of people I get any sort of personal connection with is only a fraction of my overall readership.

Steve Saus said...

First, I think you're already making those connections. You're a real person to your readers, not a faceless "big publishing company". That's all that's really needed here. Whether one does that through a blog, a twitter stream, Facebook, or personal appearances and signings is irrelevant - the key is being viewed as an individual rather than a faceless entity.

Second, I'm talking about using those personal connections (or even just the potential for them) converting that sub-segment of your readership who would (or has in the past) pirated your work. That number's far smaller than the entirety of your readership.

Or put another way, I think even the Pirate Bay might [1] respond differently if an individual asked them to take down a work because it directly impacted feeding their family, rather than a lawyer demanding they do so. None of the "legal threats" they have up (and have ignored) are from the actual content creators.

[1] Maybe they would ignore it because TPB has an ideological axe to grind; I think the principle is sound, even if it's an extreme example.