I’m afraid this is going to be a fairly controversial post.
I stayed up FAR too long last night reading the posts and comments generated after someone solicited recommendations for pirate sites on their Facebook page. A few people took her to task for finding ways to steal stories–because yes, that’s what it is–but astonishingly, others came to her defense. The perpetrator herself shut down the censure of others, blocking them, calling them names, and then making fun of the people who dared to call her out for stealing from others. I have no doubt there will also be retaliatory negative reviews on some author’s books because that seems to be the way things work these days.
This resulted in screenshots of her post being shared all over Facebook as a warning to authors. More people came to this woman’s defense and the furor grew, with additional voices weighing in on the subject by sharing the original post. And while I was annoyed and upset that once again, someone feels entitled to a creative work without paying for it, nothing prepared me for the number of people who agreed with her.
Now, I’ve been reading a lot about entitlement lately. Entitlement from fans demanding that showrunners give them certain storylines or fans contacting authors and demanding they receive free stories. Fans putting pressure on creators by bullying them online, by threatening their pets, by wishing dire things would happen to those same people who brought them the thing they love so much. I have some theories about why we are so angry these days. I think in part it’s because we’re all so hungry. We’re emotionally, financially, and in some cases, physically starving. We work our asses off at our jobs to barely make ends meet and at the end of the day, we want our reward, damn it. Be it our favorite television show, or that bottle of wine, or that tub of Rocky Road ice cream, or the latest release from our favorite authors.
I get that. I really do. I live that. Overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated–hey, join the club. It’s part of the reason I write. I tell stories because it helps me put aside the cares and worries of today. I jokingly say it’s cheaper than therapy. I share stories because I want to make someone else’s day a bit brighter.
But I don’t give them away for free. I can’t.
So it was upsetting to see how many people in so many posts defended the pirate-site seeker. There seemed to be three basic arguments:
I’m broke and I can’t afford to pay for my entertainment.
Oh honey. I’m with you there. See, I went to school, worked hard, racked up huge student loans to pay for my extensive education and spent twelve years paying them off. Just when things were starting to turn around for me, the economy went into the dumper, business fell off, and I incurred some major medical expenses. I haven’t had a television in 15 years and only recently could get access to broadband. I had to wait for favorite shows to come out on DVD and then had to save up to buy them. God bless Netflix. I’m now able to catch up on many shows I had to abandon.
But see, the thing is, I recognize that I am still a privileged person. I’m living in tight circumstances, yes, but privileged just the same. I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and can mostly pay my bills. I have access to the internet in my own home, own a laptop, a ten year old iPod, and a smartphone. I choose to have certain things. By choosing to have some things, it means I can’t have others. That’s called life, sweetie.
Besides, there’s this marvelous thing called a public library. You can go there and check out books, movies, and music for free! The best part is the library already paid for these things! And because it’s a loan which you will then return, it’s not stealing. Also, the library paid for these things out of a portion of the taxes you give to your community. So not checking out books from your library is like paying for Netflix and never using it.
But you want to read stories in your favorite genres and the library doesn’t carry them. Ask them to. If there is enough demand, the library will look into getting the stories you want. It can’t hurt to ask.
Oh, but you want your reading on your Kindle–and you don’t want to give it back. Well, there are hundreds of places where you can access free reads. Authors post things to Wattpad, there are countless fanfiction stories on multiple archives, and there are stories in public domain sites, such as Project Gutenberg. Tons of free material for your reading pleasure. Let’s not forget Book Bub, which offers short-term deals on all kinds of stories. You can even tailor the notices to your favorite genres. I get a lot of my own reading material that way–even as I recognize the pitfalls of such practices. In my opinion, such services go a long way to helping devalue the price of books in the mind of the average reader… but it is a way of getting deeply discounted or free stories legally. There’s also Kindle Unlimited. I’m not a fan myself, but I’m told for a flat fee–again like Netflix–you have unlimited access to a wide variety of genres and authors.
Oh. You want stories in your favorite genres by your favorite authors and you want them today, without having to pay for them, regardless of their listed price. Yeah, that’s entitlement. And when you download them illegally from a pirate site or torrent, that’s stealing. Let’s just get the terms right, okay?
Come to think of it, the notion that books should be free might be a big factor in why many publishing houses are dropping their lines of cozy mysteries–they simply aren’t profitable enough, despite the existing fan base. Think about that.
Creative works should be free–the purpose of creativity is to tell stories and share them, and there shouldn’t be a monetary component to the process.
I gotta admit, I was gobsmacked by this one. I see. So the very nobility of my purpose means I shouldn’t get paid for it. I should create for the pure joy of making things and release my creative works like doves into the sky, crying, “Go! Fly! Be Free!” as I let them go.
By this argument, all medical care should be free. Because what higher calling can there be than to be a doctor? I think I’ll try that argument with the bill collection services. I’ve been paying off medical bills for the last ten years now. I’m sure if I point out how noble it is to be a doctor and how much money I’ve already spent, they’ll cheerfully waive my remaining fees.
And seriously, guys like Michael Jordan love the game so much, no one should have to pay athletes ridiculous amounts of money for your television entertainment. Oh sure, you’re not paying the superstars yourselves–but the teams are, and the television channels are, and the advertisers are–all to catch your attention for a few moments in the hopes of selling you something. Guess what? It may seem free to you, but it’s not. Someone paid for it and they’re hoping their investment will pay off. It’s not a direct payment on your part–but when you become convinced you can’t live without an iPhone, you only drink Budweiser, and you feel that you must have a new car this year–you are paying for it.
Besides, if there were no financial incentive for playing basketball, the players would be doing something else. They have to earn a living, too. So you wouldn’t be able to watch them play, unless you lived in their neighborhood and could drop by for a pickup game Saturday afternoon after work.
Forget about the effort it takes to write a story. Let’s ignore the author’s contribution to this endeavor and deny them any right to be paid for their creativity. This ‘art should be free’ argument completely discounts the fact someone has to pay the editors, cover artists, formatters, distributors, book promotions teams, buy a dealer’s table and so on. I guess entitled readers expect that investment to come out of my own pocket with no hope of return. And if authors didn’t pay someone for these services, we’d have to do them ourselves, taking time away from writing to do so. Not to mention a shabby editing job or poorly executed cover is one of the first things readers will complain about.
Writers already make enough money.
Dear Lord, this one made me want to cry. Seriously?? Yes, there are some writers who make a ton of money, just like there are some basketball players or actors who make a ton of money. But the vast majority of basketball players make little to no money at all. And the notion of an actor working at a bar or coffee shop to pay the bills is practically a trope.
I call it the Castle syndrome. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the show in the early seasons. The premise was ridiculous but fun. One of the things that made me roll my eyes the most was the unlimited depths to Castle’s wallet. It made for an entertaining series because there was always the money to do outrageous things. But realistic? It was about as realistic as the notion that everyone in NYC can afford to live in huge apartments or that the NYPD would let a crime writer become permanently attached to the homicide squad.
Yes, there are authors like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and E.L. James that have made truckloads of money. Put it this way: you know there are people who win the lottery. It does happen. Chances are you don’t know anyone personally who has won, however, and the odds of it happening to you are slim to none. The stats on author earnings is grim to say the least. In this 2012 article by the Guardian, average earnings were less than ten thousand a year.
Let’s put it into perspective. I couldn’t get the above sentence out of my head last night, so I went to one of the illegal torrents I’ve battled in the past. Yep, four of my stories were there. So, counting only the royalties I would have received, not full price, I calculated how much I lost due to the over 16 K downloads listed. It came to about 13.5 K. That’s thirteen thousand, five hundred dollars and change. From one site. One. I routinely come across dozens of these pirate sites and torrents. I report them to my publisher. I send out DCMA notices. I report them to Google to block their pages in searches. All of this is extremely time-consuming and frustrating. No sooner do I strike down one, four pop up in its place. It’s like battling a Hydra.
Those lost royalties from that one site would have paid outright for the new car I desperately needed and was forced to buy. Or covered the medical bills I’ve been chipping away over time. It would have paid for the new septic system, or here’s a thought, I might actually be able to take more than two to three consecutive days off for a change. I might not have had to wait five years to save up for extensive dental work that I had to have done, or made do another two years with glasses when my prescription had changed. I’m not looking to be a millionaire, folks. I’d just like to break even. Maybe put a little aside for a future in which I am no longer physically capable of working as hard as I do.
There are people who will argue that these readers, the ones that download my work for free, wouldn’t have bought them anyway. That word of mouth sells more stories than anything else, and if readers love my books, they’ll tell their friends. Yes, but if they acquire them illegally, they will tell their friends how to steal them as well. How exactly does that help me? My response to this argument is I don’t care if they wouldn’t have bought them anyway. Let them read something else.
I give away stories for free. I have a free story permanently listed on Amazon. My publisher routinely holds sales. I sell books at a loss at conventions (I look at it as promotion) because I want people to read and enjoy them–but I sell them to cover the cost of the table, of the travel, of the unpaid leave from work. It’s not free to me. None of it is.
And let me finish here by saying I deeply appreciate every single reader who supports me by purchasing my stories. You guys are the gems that have helped me through some rough times. You’re the people who paid for my dog’s life-saving surgery. You’re the people who’ve made the mortgage payment in lean months and let me take my first real vacation (eight whole days off in a row!) in nearly a decade back in 2012. You’re the reason I keep writing, when it would be smarter for me to put my time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears into something else.
You’re why I don’t do that. You’re why I keep writing.