Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Ever-Growing Peril

by Janis Patterson

Being a writer is a hard life. Not only do you have to come up with a multitude of ideas that you can shape into a coherent, interesting story, you have to then write the thing, all the while you have to check your facts, make sure your grammar and spelling are correct and your character names are appropriate to the time of the story. Then once the book is finished, you have to edit it to the best of your capability. Once that is done you can start the unholy dance of submitting it to agents/editors and waiting for months if not years for an answer. Then even later once the story is contracted you begin editorial combat, reworking your story to fit their prejudices and guidelines. Sometimes more than once. Then you continue to wait until your time comes up in their publishing schedule, which again can be more than a year. Or two. Or, if you are self-publishing, you send your story to an independent editor for their version of editorial combat. This time, however, you have the final say – it is your story after all – but never forget that you are paying them for their expertise and you very well may be too close to the story to see the holes. Then you get do work with cover artists, formatters, publicity/advertising and the various vendors.

Ain’t none of it easy. Any way you look at it, writing takes time, some money and an emotional toll.

That just adds insult to injury when others take your stories and either give them away for free or, what is worse, sell them without your permission and with no benefit to you. There’s a reason they’re called pirates.

Now of course I’m not talking about the promotions the author her/himself does through legitimate outlets. I don’t always agree with that attitude – training readers to expect a full book that has taken perhaps several years to write for nothing or for a pittance cannot be good for any of us or for the industry as a whole. Plumbers and carpenters and pastry chefs and just about everyone else don’t give their services for free or close-to-free in hopes that you’ll come back to them when you’re ready to spend money. More and more most people will just go on to the next freebie. However – free or .99 is a legal decision when made by the owner/author.

What really frosts me is the blatant way in which our works are simply taken. “If it’s on the internet it has to be free” is something we hear a lot. Pirate sites simply scoop in books and give them away to anyone. To my mind that’s theft, but apparently beyond a feeble ‘that shouldn’t be’ our legal agencies aren’t doing much of anything to stop it.

Amazon itself is fostering a kind of theft – the returns scam. A customer will buy a book, read it, then return it for full credit, which is then subtracted from your earnings. Now I’ve returned a book I’ve bought – when I find out it isn’t the book I thought it was, or my sometimes unreliable and arthritic hands click when I don’t mean them to, or some other legitimate reason, but almost always within the space of twenty-four hours, and not very often – like less than once a year. However, some people brag that they get the books, read them and return them – sometimes as many as four or five a week! I know Amazon is proud of its commitment to customer service, but surely they should be able to see that this is a form of theft, not only from us but from them! Surely they keep some kinds of record about who returns what and when…

And we won’t even go into the subject of plagiarism, where someone gets a book, sometimes does a search-and-replace on names and towns (and sometimes not!) then publishes the book as their own creation. Even when such an egregious crime is exposed Amazon does nothing about giving just recompense to the actual author. The plagiarist walks away with the unjustly ‘earned’ money.

Even though it doesn’t seem possible, it does get worse. A bunch of crooks on eBay are selling multi-book collections – sometimes numbering in the thousands – to which they have no right. Worse, they are also selling RE-SALE rights, telling their customers that they not only have the rights to these books, that they can sell them the rights to re-sell them themselves. Everyone makes money – except the creator of the books. After all, what do we matter? All we did was write them… To add insult to injury, in spite of being told many times about this situation, eBay has done nothing about it.

There’s another scheme out there that seems a little bit shady to me, but it is legal. The site – and there are many of them –  advertises that they have all kinds of books, but when you click on a book, it takes you to the Amazon page, where you can purchase the book. It’s an affiliate scheme, where the site gets a few pennies for every book sold because the purchaser came through their link. It’s true they’re using your book to earn money without your permission, but it is a legal purchase and the author does get what they’re due. That alone makes it acceptable.

However – as loath as I am to support crime, there is a bright spot on the horizon. There are sites that claim to have just about any book in the world for free, but to access them the freebie hunter (i.e., the thief) has to give them his credit card number in order to browse, or to pay for a membership, or to make some token payment like a dime a book, or whatever. The good thing is that the site has no books – it either uses the freebie hunter’s visit to plant ad/malware/viri on his computer or it’s just a plain old phishing scam that rips off his credit card number. The thief looking for free books thus gets stolen from. Golly, karma is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?


So it’s not enough that we have to research and write the books, we must also be our own policemen, sending out DMCAs, which are more often than not ignored, and be constantly alert against the theft of our books. Some authors have just given up, saying that it takes too much time and the people who steal books aren’t going to buy them anyway, but that sends out the signal that theft is okay, and that offends my sense of what is right. I don’t know what the solution is, other than our government and legal agencies stepping up to the plate and actually doing something about such blatant theft, but that ain’t a-gonna happen. Anybody got any ideas?

17 comments:

Lily Bishop said...

I generally agree with you except for the sites that you refer to as shady. If they are doing nothing more than promoting Amazon affiliate links, and Amazon gives them money (and in turn gives the author money, unless the author marked it to free), in my opinion that's a bonus for authors. All of the newsletters that we pay for promotion use affiliate links, including the big ones such as BookBub. I am currently building a blog site that will showcase romantic suspense, and I'm hoping to get some pennies from affiliate links to offset the hosting costs.

Having said that, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about piracy. I'm small potatoes. Now if I were Stephen King or Nora Roberts, and had a giant legal team, maybe I would worry. Karma will come around eventually, and the market will take care of itself.

Robin Geesman said...

I agree. It is infested with sharks out there. More so than there used to be. Be careful about those who want to 'swap reviews'. Some are authors wishing to make functional connections. However, others are retrieving your work from you to sell it elsewhere.

Victoria Adams said...

Frustrating situation - and a no win for the author - stop writing - when did greed become so all consuming?
Tweeted.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Definitely a problem--however, I just keep moving on since I don't seem to be able to really make the changes that are needed. Great post, if a bit disheartening.

Fran McNabb said...

I agree that pirates who thrive on literary works are a pain for authors who are trying to make a few dollars on the books they publish. Thanks for showcasing a problem that artists from many medias face.

Susan said...

I'm not saying that anyone acting as affiliate or having a newsletter or anything like that is shady. I am saying that Amazon's 'anywhere,anytime,any number' return policy is unfair to the author as it allows serial returners to read an apparently unlimited number of books for free. But - read - return for full credit. In other words, the author writes the book yet does not get paid and the serial returner gets to read it for free. I do hope Amazon will institute a policy limiting egregious serial returners.

Janis Susan, also known as Susan

Sandy Cody said...

Great post, Janis. Thanks for saying what needs to be said.

Kathleen Kaska said...

I've tried not to think about this awful practice, but I'm glad I read your post. I think I'll mention this the next time I give a talk on publishing.

Heidi said...

It's depressing, isn't it? But, we have always had libraries where people could read books for free and there have always been those who loan their copy to others, which results in a loss of a purchase, potentially. All of my books are on pirate sites and I hate it--but some say that it can be really good for an unknown author because it introduces him/her to those who aren't willing to spend money buying a book from an author they have not yet read. The reading a book and then returning it thing is heinous. Amazon will ever do anything to offend a buyer, though. Sellers of every stamp on Amazon are treated horribly.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Wow you really hit some interesting points!

I agree with you too. We work too hard to have our work stolen!

Those affiliate sites can be a good thing as it gets your book in front of people who otherwise might not see them.

Great post!
PamT

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I just mentioned this to my husband yesterday. When I google I find that some suspicious sites are offering novels I've written for free. I don't even know how they got the books but they offer a free pdf copy.
It's quite frustrating. I don't even know how to get in touch with these pirates. It's theft pure and simple. Another writer suggested that these people might be placing viruses on the stolen work or on e-mails if we try to track them. Yes, it is a growing, terrible problem!

Radine Trees Nehring said...

Are you a member of Authors Guild? In my experience, no one fights harder for the rights of individual authors. Radine
http://www.RadinesBooks.com

Laughlincat2 said...

Excellent expose article which all writers should circulate. As an avid reader and fan of many authors I find theft of works absolutely criminal. Perhaps one of your groups could contact Congress to get a hearing. Know it has worked for other groups suffering from theft of their works.

Morgan Mandel said...

No one is sacred. Nora Roberts was plagiarized a while back. I only hope if anyone puts a book of mine on a pirate site, readers will want to read more of mine.

Helen Henderson said...

One of the reasons given for not worrying about piracy is that is only affects the big boys. I'm only small potatoes. To my mind that should make it more important. If all you make is a $1.00 and someone steals $3 worth of your books, that would have doubled your income. Or another way, if all you have is 25 cents and someone takes it, being 'small potatoes' doesn't make it hurt less. It is actually a larger impact.

Joan Reeves said...

I try not to read posts like this one because they just depress me. *g* However, I have no problem with a website earning affiliate income from Amazon and the other retailers. These websites have notices (or should because they're legally required) that say they earn affiliate income. I have such a notice on my blog. That's not shady at all as long as the site owner follows the law and posts the notice.

The rest of the stuff you mentioned--well, it's just disheartening. I see no recourse because it's like trying to plug a hole in a dam with your thumb. The Internet just makes it too easy for dishonest people. If web hosting companies were made legally responsible for the content they host, the situation would change. But that's not going to happen. Just no easy answers.

Helen Henderson said...

Great post. too many authors say they don't care. But if the pirates are stealing more than you're making, it is literally taking food out of our mouths. The worst is when a site gives away work that took years to write and gets complimented for it. I don't mind affiliate sites if they're honest, but there are too many now offering my books for free, trading off my name and work to feed a subscription site. I get nothing as my books are not even on the site. No easy answer. Just beating up the small guy... again.