There are many articles written about the effects of piracy—the stealing of intellectual property—on artists and the businesses that work with them. The situation has gotten so out of hand that some people don’t even realize they’re stealing anything. I’ve talked with any number of people who admit to using a free copy of one of my books. When I point out that neither my publisher nor I have issued free copies of anything, they look a bit surprised. After all, why would Joe or Sally give them stolen property, or why would a Web site say material is free when it actually isn’t? It’s human nature to attempt to get everything for the lowest possible price, with free being the best price of all. Some people even think it’s simply wrong to pay for intellectual material; that it should be freely available to everyone. The reason products such as books have been successful so far is that the source of the material has been controlled through the use of paper media. The Internet has changed all that. As described in “Authors and Book Piracy” the losses from piracy to content owners are immense—on the order of $58 billion every year.
I was recently pointed to an article entitled, “The Slow Death of the American Author” by several people. In this case, we’re not talking about outright theft of intellectual property. The party in question is importing foreign copies of books and reselling them to students over eBay at a reduced cost. Foreign editions of books often sell for less for simple reasons, such as the use of lower quality materials and sweat shop labor. In some cases, it boils down to the domestic publisher not having a presence in that country and making a deal with a publisher in another country to distribute the book there at a reduced cost in order to make the book more widely available, but with the limitation that distribution will be kept to that country. There are also situations where a foreign entity has simply stolen the book content and printed copies without paying anyone. The point is that these foreign editions usually end up putting little or no money in the pocket of the author that produced the work and the author is already hard pressed to earn a living from domestic sales.
These and other stories simply point out what we have all known for a long time—eventually it will become impossible for artists of all stripes, including authors of technical books, to make a living through the expression of their artistic skill given the current environment. Of course, I’ll continue to write, as will many other people, but what does this change in the business environment really mean to the reader? No one has really thought about it. At least, I haven’t read any articles by anyone who has contemplated what happens to the people who consume intellectual property as part of their daily lives when the quantity or quality of that material is reduced because the practitioner of the required art must do something different in order to eat.
For some artists, such as musicians, it means a change in business plan. Many more musicians look to concerts or other activities to make a living today given that their recorded music earnings have dropped dramatically. A few artists, such as painters and sculptors, are pretty much unaffected by digital media and will continue working as before. However, for authors such as myself, it may mean a change in occupation. My technical writing could go from something I do for a living to something I do for pleasure when I have leisure time (which probably won’t be very often). There will likely be people who will continue to have leisure time to write, but the overall effect of piracy will be a reduction in both quality and quantity of material available to readers in technical fields. Technical writing pays poorly. The people who actually have the knowledge required to do a good job usually have far better things to do with their time than to write material that someone else will simply steal.
I’m actually looking at a number of ways to stay in business—much as smart musicians have done. What will likely occur in my case is that I’ll find a new way to present my ideas in a form that isn’t quite so easy to pirate or uses piracy in some way to actually earn money. You may see my site filled with ads, for example, or I may put a stronger emphasis on new ways of presenting information, such as interactive books. The idea is that I’m looking for ways to get around the whole issue of piracy because I know there is no way to put the genie back into the bottle at this point and no amount of legislation will cause people to change their basic nature. However, I do appreciate any support you can provide in the meantime through the purchase of my books from locations such as Amazon and by not sharing your digital copies with others.
Of course, I’m always looking for your input. If you have read my blog for a while, you know that I’m in this business because I genuinely enjoy helping others, so it’s important to me to continue serving your needs in whatever way I can. I have already received a few interesting ideas from readers on how to turn this whole situation around, but I can always use more. Given that the publishing industry is slowly dying and that I must somehow continue to pay my bills, how would you approach the problem? Let me know your ideas at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.