How Solar Flares will Save Publishing


The better half bought me a new Sony Reader for Christmas. It’s fantastic – you can download directly from the Sony Reader store, you can check your email, it’s super fast and lighter than my PRS 505. On Boxing Day the better half decided she’d like one too so we went off to Best Buy and Future Shop to find one. There were a ton of Kobo Readers available at both locations, but not a single Sony Reader. (Did Sony sell more than Kobo during the holiday season? Beats me, but they clearly must have at the two big box electronics chains in the small city of Saskatoon, where I live.)

Yes, 2011 was a banner year for e-readers. You can buy them everywhere now – even Walmart. They’re no longer expensive (along with plasma TV’s which are super cheap now. You can get a 52 inch plasma TV for under $500! Unreal! Too bad there’s nothing in our 500 channel universe worth watching, but that’s another blog posting.)

So with e-readers having hit critical mass this Christmas, it stands to reason that 2012 will likely see a proliferation of illegal downloading sites. If 2011 was the year when people embraced e-readers, then 2012 is going to be the year of the illegal download.

I’ve railed against illegal downloading of books for a while now and I’m fully aware that I’m fighting a losing battle because there is a culture of “get it for free” that exists on the Internet. I know that publishers are/were ill-prepared for this and on one hand, I can’t blame people for not wanting to buy what amounts to an electronic file for the same price as the print version. It’s the consumer price equation: benefit over price equals value. In other words, to get people buying there has to be enough “what’s in it for me” to justify the high price. A hardcover book with a lovely jacket and fantastic cover art selling for $40 is easy to get your head around: the “what’s in it for me” of the lovely jacket and fantastic cover art are just a couple of factors – but you are buying a physical thing with weight and that nice printing smell. Once you’ve read it, you can decorate your home with the book or use it to hold up a coffee table. It’s when that same book sells for $40 as an ebook that people have trouble seeing the value, and rightly so.

Spanish author  Lucía Etxebarría has kicked a hornet’s nest with her decision to prematurely retire from writing because of illegal downloading  of her books.  Part of me can’t really blame her. Readers have no clue how hard it is to write a book. How it is a devil’s game of “wait and see” as you try to find an agent or a publisher. How you have to revise the living crap out of a manuscript if you’re lucky enough to get a book contract. Often readers will justify illegal downloads for the reason I’ve mentioned above – that they’re not prepared to spend the same amount of money for an electronic file as the physical book itself. I can see that, but hey, here’s a thought – you can get the book for free from the library! FREE! FREE!! FREE!!! Yes, I know there are challenges getting certain books loaded onto a reader depending on the library. It even happens here at home in Saskatchewan.

I know that illegal downloading of books is here to stay. (You cheap, CHEAP bastards. How dare you steal a book that was written by someone who probably makes less money than you do. Someone who has to get up early or stay up late to write. Someone who has a day job and dreams of the day they will be able to write full time. Seriously, if you are illegally downloading books, justify it to yourself anyway you like, you’re still a cheap bastard and I have no @$# use for you, frankly.) So what is the answer? Authors shouldn’t have to simply give in and quit like Lucia Etxebarria has. Yes, I know that all publishers are greedy …. keep telling that to yourself.

Perhaps the answer is create a new Library of Alexandria online. One where publishers sell the digital version to the library for a fair price that allows of unlimited downloads. At least that way the author will still get freaking paid. Perhaps Amazon can take this on since they already possess the cyber infrastructure. I’d do it, but I’m too busy doing a second draft of a book I’d like to get off to my agent. With a little luck it will get revised a third time and then it will get submitted to a publisher. If I’me really REALLY lucky, I’ll receive an offer for the book and then I’ll have an editor and I’ll revise it even further. Once that’s done we’ll know when it goes to press and I can spend the next eight months trying to stitch together time to promote the book in hopes that someone will buy the darned thing. Will anyone buy it? Well why should they when its available for free!

I write because I love to write. I would like to be compensated for my work. If you’re illegally downloading books then you’re ripping off people who make dirt money – you might feel that you’re sticking it to the evil corporate publishing beast from the pits of you-know-where, but you’re not. And it’s wrong. I’ll close by pointing to this lovely little blog post about music piracy that appeared on Stuff White People Like:

When (not if) you see a white male with a full iPod, ask him if all of his music is legal. If he does not immediately launch into a diatribe about his right to pirate music, you might have to nudge him a bit by saying “do you think that’s right?” The response will be immediate and uniform.

He will likely rattle off statistics about how most musicians don’t make any money from albums, it all comes from touring and merchandise. So by attending shows, he is able to support the musicians while simultaneously striking a blow against multinational corporations. He will proceed to walk you through the process of how record labels are set up to reward the corporation and fundamentally rob the artist of their rights, royalties and creativity.

Touring and merchandise? Yikes! I’ve yet to see someone wearing a “Margaret Atwood Alias Grace ’96 World Tour” t-shirt with a list of all the bookstores where she did a reading and a signing.

Given that it’s a new year and the Mayan’s have predicted that we’re all doomed on December 21st – I’m kind of just hoping for a big ass solar flare. One that will wipe out the Internet and all those ebook piracy websites that are popping up. This would mean that I have to actually revert back to writing on a typewriter, but at least it will save the publishing industry and keep independent book stores open.

Happy New Year, by the way. If you got an ereader for Christmas – please buy the book. Don’t be a cheap bastard.



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