Books are too expensive, so it’s okay to pirate them. Oh, really?

While I liked the book Brand Name Bullies, one thing that didn’t go over so well was David Bollier apparently buying into the stock anti-copyright/pro-piracy arguments (some of this is my interpretation so if I’m getting him wrong I apologize). As lots of people will create for free, do we really need copyright to have a thriving culture? If the industry would just make the price more reasonable, or release the album/book/DVD immediately, people would be happy to buy it.

I blogged about some of these arguments a couple of years back, but I’d like to take this post to argue again against the “they’re just too expensive” stance. This is the view that the price of books, or at least ebooks is too high so hey, you shouldn’t have to pay that much, so hey, you’re entitled to steal.

First off, let’s point out the obvious: some people just want their books free. Ditto music.

Second, how exactly are the people who make this argument calculating the “right” price? Are they assuming it’s the labor of putting the book in digital form — laying it out, editing it, creating a digital file? Do they consider the cost of paying for the cover, or publicity? Do they include the value of the actual story itself, because that’s why the book has, you know, words instead of just being a bunch of blank pages. And why, other than I Want It do they assume their assessment of the price is better than the author/publisher? As John Scalzi points out, even physical books of similar size and format don’t cost the same for lots of valid reasons.

To take an obvious example, the price of my self-published books is based on a)a price I think the market will accept; b)a price that gives me an adequate return on my effort. That takes into account that the online bookstores that sell the ebook (or Createspace for physical copies) take a cut; I have to set a price large enough to cover them. Believe me it’s not a substantial return, but what if it was? I’m the one who produced it, I have the right to set a price. If it’s more than the market will bear, people won’t buy it. Except the “you should have made it cheaper” people don’t accept that. They figure they should be able to get the book if they want it and not pay me anything (I’m willing to bet if I had a PayPal or Patreon they wouldn’t be contributing the “fair” price to compensate).

I have no sympathy for this crap. In the many years I did the struggling-writer shtick, I saw lots of books I couldn’t afford. I didn’t steal copies. I wouldn’t do it if I were still struggling. If it was a paper copy, would they shoplift it from Barnes & Noble if they thought it was overpriced? Or how about a restaurant — if the service takes too long (the “they don’t release it fast enough” argument), does that mean they’re entitled to steal food from the salad bar? Soft drinks cost a fraction of what they sell for, does that make it okay to steal them? Or movie tickets — lord knows those are outrageously priced, but does that justify sneaking in without paying?

One argument I see occasionally is that because digital copies are so cheap and easy to replicate, pirating one of them doesn’t hurt the way stealing something physical does. I don’t think that holds up: stealing one copy of Dan Brown’s latest from Barnes & Noble or swiping some breadsticks from Olive Garden certainly won’t cause a massive shortage. Sure, if everyone did that, it would be a problem, but that’s true of ebooks. If 100 people pirate Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast, that’s around $100 out of my pocket. That won’t leave me in the poorhouse, but it’s not nothing (and for people who aren’t two-income families, $100 could be very significant indeed).

I realize even if my readers include pro-piracy types, I’m unlikely to change anything. But still, it’s worth saying.

#SFWApro. Image courtesy of Wikimedia, from Charles Elms’ The Pirates’ Own Book.


1 Comment

Filed under copyright, economics

One response to “Books are too expensive, so it’s okay to pirate them. Oh, really?

  1. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 3/15/18 Yon Pixel Has A Lean And Hungry Look | File 770

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