“free” books aren’t free

Writer Saundra Mitchell posted this on her LiveJournal this morning, and I requested and received permission to reprint it here.

12 January 2011 @ 10:39 am
“Free” Books Aren’t Free

I’m so frustrated.

This morning, I woke up to one of my best author friends deeply upset. A “fan” on Twitter had cheerily informed her that she illegally torrented a copy of that author’s book since the mean old publishers in her region hadn’t made it available. Never mind that it WAS actually available in that region; I hear that a lot.

They don’t sell your book in my $location, so I downloaded it.

I also hear, I will buy it later, and I don’t have any money, but I want to read it. Authors should make publishers print in $region! and I hate DRM. I download it, but then I recommend it to other people to buy!

I’ve been very open about the money I’ve made and not made, to help give the writing community some perspective. So I’m going to be very open about money today. I’ve told you before that I made a $15,000 advance on SHADOWED SUMMER. In two years, I’ve managed to earn back $12,000 of that.

It’s going out of print in hardcover because demand for it has dwindled to 10 or so copies a month. This means I will never get a royalty check for this book. By all appearances, nobody wants it anymore.

But those appearances are deceiving. According to one download site’s stats, people are downloading SHADOWED SUMMER at a rate of 800 copies a week. When the book first came out, it topped out at 3000+ downloads a week.

If even HALF of those people who downloaded my book that week had bought it, I would have hit the New York Times Bestseller list.

If the 800+ downloads a week of my book were only HALF converted into sales, I would earn out in one more month. But I’m never going to earn out. And my book is never going to be available in your $region, not for lack of trying. My foreign rights agent is a genius at what she does, and has actively tried to sell it everywhere- UK, AU, China, France, you name it, she tried to sell it there.

SHADOWED SUMMER will only be coming out in Italy, because that’s the only place there’s a market for it.

And let me tell you guys… the sales figures on SHADOWED SUMMER had a seriously detrimental effect on my career. It took me almost two years to sell another book. I very nearly had to change my name and start over. And my second advance? Was exactly the same as the first because sales figures didn’t justify anything more. I don’t blame my publisher. There’s weak demand for my books, according to my sales figures.

Meanwhile, 800 copies of my book (worth about $1200 toward my advance, if everyone paid for a copy,) are being downloaded a week.

And now, one of the top search terms on my website for THE VESPERTINE, a book that won’t even come out until March is, “download vespertine +saundra”. They have to put my name in because otherwise, they’re looking for a way to illegally download Bjork’s album.

Guys, seriously. I know it sucks to have to wait. I know it sucks when a book isn’t available in your region. Seriously, I know. I just paid a friend $15.00 for an $8.00 paperback, so I could get a copy of RJ Anderson’s ARROW. A book, I might add, that I read last year when RJ sent me the manuscript.

I know DRM sucks. I know region-limitation sucks. And I know being poor sucks (as I just told you, I’ve made 30k over the course of 4 years now, that’s like $7500/year. I totally know being poor sucks.) But when you illegally download a book, you’re simply guaranteeing that a publisher will look at my royalty statements next year and decide not to publish the next one. Promises to recommend my book to other people never seem to pan out- sales still drop, downloads remain steady.

If you really love books, find a way to pay for them. The WORLD wide web is, in fact, world-wide. I bet you know someone in the region that sells the book you want. I bet even if you don’t, you can connect with a fellow book-lover in that region on Twitter.

If you REALLY can’t afford books, ask your library to order them. I love libraries. I love them so much- they buy lots and LOTS of copies, and will rebuy them if they’re very popular. Many are even starting to buy digital copies, so you can read them on your e-reader. When you check my book out from the library, you’re paying for it, just indirectly.

If you really, REALLY can’t afford books, and live in a mushroom village that has no library, then write to my publisher’s publicity department. Ask them for a review copy. And by god, if you get a free review copy- review it! Send that review to my publisher so they can use it! Post it on bookseller websites! Give the review copy away to other readers when you’re done. Pay for it with sweat equity- spreading the word is buying my books.

And honestly? If you’re just going to download it illegally anyway, don’t tell me. I’d rather not be personally acquainted with the people pushing me out of the publishing business because the book they want isn’t available at the price, or the format, or the region they want it in RIGHT NOW.

Because that’s what it boils down to is convenience. People who illegally download books are more interested in their convenience than in supporting the authors they want to read. It’s not hard to go to the library, it just takes time. It’s not hard to buy a physical copy and convert it to a personal digital copy if you’re willing to make the time and effort. It’s not hard to buy a legal digital copy and convert it to the format you want. Dear Author has tutorials. It’s not hard to ask someone in the $region to post you a copy.

You simply have to want to. So if you were inclined to illegally download anyone’s book, if you’re one of the people trying to find an illegal download of my brand new book that’s not even in stores yet: please buy it. Or check it out. Or ask for a review copy.

Or please read another book that’s instantly, and legally, available to you so that books continue to be instantly, and legally, available to you.

Thank you.