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May 2011: Piracy Revisited...Maybe Not So Bad After All??

We addressed piracy in our March 2010 issue of the bookhitch newsletter. What a difference a year can make in changing attitudes on a particular subject. In February 2011, Neil Gaiman, known his best selling graphic novel, "The Sandman", and for his works in science fiction and fantasy, discusses his view of piracy in a video interview with the Open Rights Group. A text version of the interview is as follows.

Mr. Gaiman:

When the web started, I used to get really grumpy with people because they put my poems up, they put my stories up...they put my stuff up on the web. And I had this belief, which was completely erroneous, that if people put your stuff up on the web and you didn't tell them to take it down, you would lose your copyright. Which, actually- is simply not true. I actually got very grumpy because I felt that they were pirating my stuff, that it was bad. And then I started to notice that..two things seemed much more significant. One of which was - places where I was being pirated, particular Russia, where people were translating my stuff into Russian and spreading it out into the world...I was selling more and more books.

People were discovering me, through being pirated. And then they were going out and buying the real books, and when a new book would come out in Russia, it would sell more and more copies. And I thought that was fascinating. And I tried a few experiments. And some of them were quite hard. Persuading my publisher, for example, to take one of my books and put it out for free. And we took "American Gods", a book that was still selling, and selling very well, and for a month, they put it up completely free on their website. And you could read it, and you could download it.

And what happened was, sales of my books, through independent bookstores, because that was all we were measuring it through, went up the following month.....300 percent. And I started to realize that, actually...you're not losing books, you're not losing sales, by having stuff out there.

And when I give a big talk now on these kinds of subjects and people say "What about the sales that I am losing through having stuff copied, through having stuff floating out there?" I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question -which is... I say...."do you have a favorite author?" And they say "yes", and I say "good." "What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book ...put up your hands. And then anybody who discovered your favorite author by walking into a book store and buying a book...raise your hands." And it's probably about 5-10%, if that, of the people actually discovered their favorite author who is the person they buy everything of and they buy the hardbacks. And they treasure the fact they've got this author. Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it. And that's how they found their favorite author. And I thought..you know...that's really all this is; it's people lending books." And you can't look on that as a lost sale." It is not a lost sale. Nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free.

What you are actually doing is advertising. You are reaching more people. You are raising awareness. And understanding that gave me a whole new idea of the shape of copyright, and what the web was doing. Because the biggest thing the web is doing is allowing people to hear things. Allowing people to read things. Allowing people to see things that they might never have otherwise seen. And I think, basically, that is an incredibly good thing.

For more articles on this topic, view a interview with Magellan Media founder Brian O'Leary on ebook piracy that appeared on O'Reilly Radar.

Also, download an ebook from author and blogger Cory Doctorow, entitled, "the problem isn't piracy. the problem is obscurity." You can also download the pdf and print it out. Both the ebook and pdf are courtesy of Children's Book Insider.

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