Pirates-book illustration by Duncan Long

Piracy is becoming the greatest obstacle for those wanting to make a living in the publishing industry, especially with ebooks. According to NewsCore, in 2011 one in five ebooks were illegally downloaded — twice the number seen during 2010.

It’s likely the rates of piracy are even higher for popular books. A publisher I recently talked to told me he’d discovered one torrent site was giving away 20 pirated copies of the publisher’s bestseller for each copy the press actually sold.

That was only the tally of illegal downloads from one torrent site; who knows how many other torrents were sharing the pirated title as well. It wouldn’t stretch credibility to suspect there might easily be 100 illegal downloads for each book the publisher sold.

Needless to say, the publisher is about ready to throw in the towel with his business, even though he has a very popular book that folks wanted to read and which sold well before the torrents jerked the rug out from under the author and publisher.

Now I know that all illegal downloads aren’t necessarily lost sales (though some are). But illegal downloads also don’t generate interest or additional sales as those in the pro-piracy camp are always promising will happen. All that “free publicity” via massive illegal downloads of pirated titles weren’t helping the publisher sell more ebooks (nor have they from my own personal experience).

No additional sales. No great publicity. No additional revenue to pay the bills.

Rather, the pirated downloads destroy any chance of making much money on a title that has been selling well before the piracy. No wonder many publishers are seeking a legislation fix to the problem.

Imagine how you’d feel if, as an author trying to make a living writing, you learned that sales were nothing compared to numbers of copies being stolen. How would you feel if you were getting only a tiny amount of what should be a fortune for a great book you’d labored for months or perhaps even years to write?

Just how much money must writers and publishers lose to pirates before society rights such wrongs instead of winking and looking the other way?

Has our society become so intent on free content that we’re willing to rob those who create the work we enjoy and even drive them out of business?

Why shouldn’t a writer, artist, or musician make enough money to support that creative person? Or enough to support a spouse and children? What exactly makes you so important that you should be able to cheat them out of money that should be theirs? Why do you put yourself above the law and expect someone whose work you value work for free?

Pirates are killing the golden goose of creativity. But they’re not alone. Anyone who downloads pirated material is also helping them. Those who do nothing to shame pirates and close their sites are the same as helping them rob innocent writers (and musicians and other creative people).

If you enjoy an author’s work, please don’t download illegal copies of their titles. You’re only helping the pirates stay in business through advertising and hurting the writer through lost sales.

When not hunting down and sinking pirates on the high seas, Duncan Long labors as an illustrator with artwork appearing on magazine and book covers from HarperCollins, Paladin, Asimov Science Fiction Magazine, Black Siren Books, Pocket Books, ILEX, Mermaid Press, etc., etc. You can see more of Long’s artwork at: Duncan’s Illustration Gallery