Paul Cornell on e-Books and illegal downloading

Thanks to John Picacio for sharing this on Facebook!

SFF author Paul Cornell wrote an excellent blog post regarding e-Books and illegal downloading. I feel that his piece will interest many of you. Here's an excerpt:

5: It's hard, these days, to tell people they've done a minor wrong. Because one is now either a saint (or whatever the atheist version of that is) or a paedophile. Illegal download sites look perfectly normal, and ominous orchestral tones don't strike up when you visit one. 'Everybody' does it, and people who do are often quite surprised at the thought that they're doing something wrong. But they are. A small thing. They're each stealing small sums of money from creators. But put those minor wrongs together, and they become an enormous problem. Villifying these people rather than educating or preventing them will just convince them that their minor wrong is cool and rebellious. A lot of them tell themselves that already. They're sticking it to the man. The trouble is, the man in question is me. And those like me.

6: If everybody did illegally download, it couldn't continue as a practice, because no further music or movies could be made. (Except by those willing, through existing wealth or poetic poverty, not to make a living.) Illegal downloaders rely, parasitically, on an honest mainstream who purchase this stuff. The 'alternative revenue sources' that might fund every creator who's not already rich enough not to care simply haven't appeared for the vast majority. And it's hard to see where they'll ever come from when illegal downloading can simply put an end to a market.

Follow this link to read the full article.

13 commentaires:

glueboy said...

"stealing small sums of money from creators"

Nobody loses anything because they never had it. It's asinine to assume that every person that pirates something would have bought it otherwise.

It's also asinine to say it would cause the collapse of professional content creation. It won't. It will, at most, cause the collapse of the antiquated modes of distribution, with hundreds of useless people between the creator and the consumer.

If the "music" industry, the industry hardest hit by piracy by far is anything to go by, what will result is a net positive effect to all but the money-grubbing coke-fiend execs who wouldn't know actual MUSIC if it fucked their ear holes bloody.

If piracy helps kill the useless middle men in other industries, I'm all for it. I'll be the one beside the guillotine with my hand on the lever, sharpening my axe and measuring the rope, just in case.

Maybe that way we can look forward to authors and other content CREATORS averaging more than 5% of the final price of their works.

Al said...

The music industry should provide caution, rather than cheer, to the book lover. The economics of promotion has forced music 'middle men' to place their eggs in a few basket--usually the most conventional, established acts--and to squeeze the smaller, powerless acts with 360 deals and similarly shitty deals.

The small and unestablished have little recourse because no one purchases their records except at live shows, but they can't fill live shows because radio doesn't play their music because no one purchases their records. Small/midsized acts have trouble booking larger gigs because the venue owners don't want to risk allocating space to someone who swears that they have a great live turnout despite crappy record sales.

In the long run, disintermediation will probably help the venue owners, since artists will be forced to compete on the road to compensate for declining record sales.

I'm not sure that I follow glueboy's logic that illegal downloading doesn't erode the purchasing base; are book purchasers really so honest? That sounds... asinine.

Brett said...

If everybody did illegally download, it couldn't continue as a practice, because no further music or movies could be made.

I don't buy that, if only because music thrived even before effective copyright protections came into place.

If by some event nobody was willing to pay for either music (such as downloads off iTunes) or access to music (like streams such as Pandora), music could still survive in live-concert form, or as a loss-leader to sell other stuff.

Film is trickier. To be honest, I'm pessimistic about film and media surviving in either theater or sold-recordings (such as a DVD) form. The future for film is likely going to be on streaming subscription services sold a la carte through your television and/or computer, with some films and tv episodes sold "On Demand".

I mean, even without the effects of the Internet and Web Piracy, theater exhibition was shrinking as a proportion of the profits that studios make off of their films. The money they make off of "licensing" - DVDs, merchandise, video games, Pay-TV - is far higher.

It will, at most, cause the collapse of the antiquated modes of distribution, with hundreds of useless people between the creator and the consumer.

That's what I figure as well.

We tend to take the existing structure of large-scale publishers, recording companies, and so forth for granted, but in truth they're a historical anomaly. They arose because the cost of distribution was high enough that you needed them if you wanted to get your music/books/film out there.

They don't necessarily need to exist anymore, at least in their current form, in a period where it's extremely easy to distribute information digitally. The problem, of course, is that they'll fight tooth-and-nail to prevent their obsolescence.

Josh said...

@glueboy -- Oh please. You think the ONLY people who illegally download are people who wouldn't have otherwise paid? That is a load of crap. People don't just select stuff at random to download. They download the stuff that they want. The things they are interested in. The things that they likely would have ultimately paid to possess if there hadn't been such an easy and anonymous way to steal it.

Would people be as likely to illegally download if they knew there was an 80% chance they'd be caught? How about even a 50-50 shot they'd be caught? There is no way in the world most people would risk that. Why?... because they know what they are doing is wrong, and the gain wouldn't be worth the risk.

If I fire up uTorrent and steal the entire U2 discography, I wouldn't be misguided enough to think I was somehow HELPING the band. You make it sound like pirate downloaders are somehow to be looked up to, like some cyberpunk hero.

I'd love for you to walk up to these authors and musicians, directors, script writers and producers, and look them in the eye and with a straight face tell them that you only stole their movies/music/books because you want them to make more money. Because that is the argument you are making.

Stealing is stealing. If you are going to do it, fine, just don't try to make yourself sound like some sort of digital Robin Hood.

Twooars said...

I think the author Eric Flint ( ) makes a good argument against this piece. And I attest to the free publicity angle... Many of the works that I liked when I read them as as ebooks (yes, downloaded illegally), I now buy as gifts for friends (now that I am earning :), recommending them to the high skies. I even keep personal copies of the really good ones, some bought as used books from library clearance sales and the like. Which brings me to the question, what revenues do authors get out of used book sales? Is that "stealing" from the creators too then? I just think the problem is not as big as it is made out to be... most people who can afford to buy books, buy them anyway. Those who can't, are not going to fast for a week to get enough dough to buy them. They'd rather not buy at all. I would not have been introduced to many of the great works of literature if I bought all of them, because I simply could not have afforded them.

Anonymous said...

Who pays for the editors, artists and other bits and pieces, that polish a book before it reaches your hands. Who cuts the crap out of the in tray? Life is never that simple and straightfoward.

So say for interest, that a person reads a book in eform from author x. They like it, do you think they'll be more inclined to pay for the next one, or just keep taking, because heh it's only a small sum.

I would like to see the end that the content creators get, go up, who wouldn't.

I happen to like holding the book in my hand, I'm old fashioned like that. My book collection is that, a collection of my tastes over the years.

CoreyInHamilton said...

@glueboy - Do you actually believe that by taking something for nothing you are 'helping' anybody? You mention that the music has been gotten better because of piracy, it hasn't. In fact its much worse because on the biggest acts are able to make money now, the studios have responded to piracy by minimizing their risk and only investing in big acts. The same will happen to publishers, if new comers and niche writers have no chance of making money the publishers will ignore them. Al's response is appropriate.

@Twooars - I also really dislike the theory that its ok to steal something as long as later you buy it. Does this work in any other industry? I don't think so.

Digital distribution is different because there is an unlimited supply, so prices are entirely set by what the market will bear. To me if you don't like the digital pricing, buy physical books, stealing is not the answer. Or go without.

The sense of entitlement people has continues to shock me.

Brett said...

In the long run, disintermediation will probably help the venue owners, since artists will be forced to compete on the road to compensate for declining record sales.

That's what I suspect will happen. You'll see strong competition for even the smallest venues, along with people doing stuff like outdoor concerts and the like to draw fans.

Stealing is stealing. If you are going to do it, fine, just don't try to make yourself sound like some sort of digital Robin Hood.

Claiming that it helps the artist make money is definitely a joke. I've always thought the better defense is that technology has made the prior systems of copyright and the sale of recording obsolete, so piracy is both a symptom of that, as well as a good kick-in-the-pants to artists/businesses to look for a new business model.

amysrevenge said...

I buy lots of second hand books, and I share with my friends, and I re-gift books that I've already read.

Doesn't make anyone (other than the odd used-book store) a dime. Certainly not any writers.

In the big picture, it is pretty much the same thing as online piracy. Someone somewhere pays for the product once, and then it gets distributed beyond the control (and profit) of the originator. Sure, the scale is smaller, but it's the same thing nonetheless.

Brian Murphy said...

Glueboy gets the idiot of the year award.

Do you even know what an editor does, son? Significant rewriting and cleanup of frequently bad prose. No author produces print-ready prose in a vacuum.

Ever hear of a marketer for a publishing company? Or a graphic designer? You know, the ones whose skill helps to put a good cover on a book, develop promotions, and get people interested in the title?

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. These are just a few of the "useless people between the creator and the consumer" whom you continue to steal from with your illegal downloading. Maybe you think they're all a bunch of money-grubbing parasites feeding off the real talent, but in the real world they're professionals doing a job and feeding their families.

Smarten up.

Anonymous said...

Authors should be more concerned about geographical restrictions on their ebooks than piracy. There are so many ebooks not available (in the official store) in English for those of us who don't live in the US (or UK) it's not even funny.

an avid reader said...

If these books were not available for free at public libraries I would not have spent my money on the ones I did like. As a consumer I will not take a chance based on the blurb and the cover art since that's all been done with sales in mind. I've read enough books to be glad that I did not spend my money on them. On the other hand I have also bought all the ones (in hardcover no less) that I liked for my collection. The used book stores have saved me a lot of money. What's the deal with them when it comes to authors losing revenue? Why don't they complain about them?

I think that ebooks are perfect for a first read since I don't have to carry any bulky tomes around with me. They are convenient. They come out faster than some hard copies since the availability dates vary depending on one's country. Nowadays, with instant results and one click answers from any smart phone, people have forgotten how to have patience and wait for things. I noticed this trend in others as well as in myself :)

In the end, having the books available to read before buying has lead me to spend more money on them. Is it true for everyone else? :) I doubt it, but I also doubt I am the only one that sees these benefits.

The authors deserve my money if the book is to my liking, but first I think they have to earn it and I will not buy one just to see if I like it.

On a happier note, libraries now have digital copies of their books too which is extremely convenient.

an avid reader said...

I see, belatedly, that Twooars and amysrevenge also brought up some of my opinions. I apologize for the redundancy :)