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Today, an author I worked with who had gotten a 6-figure book deal from a major publisher and whose book has won awards and been featured on Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 told me that free downloads of pirated versions of his book have had a major impact on sales of his book as well as recent books by other authors in his field.
While current industry-wide data is scarce, according to Publisher’s Weekly, a 2012 report from the Association of American Publishers estimated that “U.S. publishers across all categories lose $80 million to $100 million annually to piracy.” An earlier article from 2010 on The Millions, Confessions of a Book Pirate, pointed to a study by Attributor estimating the cost of book piracy as much higher: nearly $3 billion, or over 10% of revenue.
Whatever the losses, they certainly matter. And book piracy trends seem to vary geographically, based on cultural norms and values, as well as people’s ability to acquire certain books where they live. While book and ebook piracy may be modest in the UK, according to the UK Guardian, the Guardian implies that piracy is worse this side of the Atlantic. And this New York Times article reveals Google Play’s growing role as a new avenue for book pirates.
Unfortunately, garnering significant media attention–as happened with my client–can also make a book more vulnerable to book piracy.
One may wonder who these people are who scan a book, re-edit it and then offer it for free downloads, when it harms authors and eats into their book sales–and is actually a somewhat time consuming process! But rather than ponder the inscrutable (and you can read The Millions post above for some hunches, as well as this post on an investigation into book piracy from Melville House books) I’d like to explore what you can do about book piracy. For, in fact, there are some very specific things you can do to protect yourself–and you can even find a way for piracy to benefit you!The main thing you can do to combat book piracy is to focus on sales of physical books. Click To Tweet
The big bonus is possibly the best thing you can do about book piracy: take advantage of book pirates by re-employing them as your unpaid marketing team. If you use your book as a marketing tool to attract new customers, clients or opportunities, you may actually make significant money from pirates. This means that right in the text of the book you offer readers ways to take a next step with you–from offering a free quick that requires they share their email address to reminding them in on the final page that they can book you as a speaker through your website: www.Ilovetospeak.com.
Here’s an example: while I did not, nor will I ever, buy a pirated version of a book, I did recently borrow a book from the North Kingstown Public Library called The Healing Code. The book promises the ability to heal any illness–and the authors claim to have healed both Lou Gerig’s disease in one co-author and the long-term depression of the other co-author’s wife.
Intrigued, I followed through on the book’s invitation to visit the book website and download the free additional tools and take the quiz. In addition to the resources downloaded, I then received an email offering me the next resource up from the book, which offered to teach me a system that took things a step further–for $97.
I may well spend the dough for step 2. I’m still working through the book and seeing how it goes, but I’d say there’s a 40% chance they will have a customer. So even though they have not yet made money on my reading the book, yet, since it came from the library, they may actually make quite a bit more.
Now, if this sounds manipulative, I’d like to point out a few things:
Let’s say your book is not a self-help book like our example of The Healing Code. Let’s say your book is fiction. Here, you may need to be a bit more creative. My colleague, the novelist Ginger Moran, recently re-released her Pushcart-Award nominated first novel, The Algebra of Snow, and offered several free gifts to those who order early:
In this case, the author is also creating synergy with her expertise as a book coach and editor, as a way to connect with her readers and have the marketing and sales of her novel impact her coaching and editing business. While she is making this offer outside of the book, I submit that she could also offer these types of free downloads to all readers of the book, through a link within the ebook or book. In this case, pirated versions could help fuel downloads of the free tools and perhaps convert a less committed consumer (one who downloads a free version without paying) into a committed customer, once they get to know the author better, and if they are indeed interested in editing services.
Sure, it’s not going to work with the average freeloader, but reading the article on a typical book pirate made me realize that some of these book pirates actually buy–and yes I mean put their money down on–a ton more books than most of us. Pirating is just one part of their extensive book consumption. These people may, in fact, be potential clients and customers in other ways–or for your next book.
The biggest takeaways for what you can do about book piracy? Develop a strong relationship with your potential readers and online–and offline–community; use in-person opportunities to sell books; and–my favorite–let the pirates help you expand your business.
Do you have ideas for how to combat–or take advantage of–book piracy? Please share them as a comment.