Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Media Pirates!

Ok, now I understand the fascination the mainstream news outlets have had with pirates over the last several months. It's all just subliminal conditioning to prejudice us pirates! Aha! Pirates = Bad. We must wash away that pop-culturally conditioned connection between pirates and Johnny Depp, and think of these swashbuckling rogues -- of the high seas and torrenting kind -- as bonafide villains.

According to the New York Times, the rise of e-readers has intensified the pirating of best-selling novels, royally cheesing some authors like Ursula K. Le Guin off. Other writers like Stephen King comfort themselves by believing that the unauthorized downloaders of his work "... live in basements floored with carpeting remnants, living on Funions and discount beer."

I have no doubt in my mind that had I the talent and/or following of a Le Guin or King, I most likely would be by degrees annoyed and/or angry too. However, the rise in cheap or free online reading material -- and the ease by which a prospective author can not only deliver their work to the masses but promote it as well -- make this system perfect for a person like me who is just starting out and wants to experiment. Digital books are to me is what radical newsletters bummed off of somebody's mimeograph machine at work must have been 40 years ago. I could succeed or fail, but at the very minimum I have gotten my rocks off and put the damn thing out there.

Which finally brings us to both Harlan Ellison and Cory Doctorow, who are also interviewed in the NYT article.

Ellison on people who steal his work and put it online:

"If you put your hand in my pocket, you’ll drag back six inches of bloody stump..."

and Doctorow:

"I really feel like my problem isn’t piracy...It’s obscurity.”

Who is right? Here we have two men who have sprung from two entirely different systems of media acquisition and publication. As Doctorow himself admits, he probably needs a little more "push" publicity-wise by making his work available to the masses for free (with the option to buy the hardcopy) than someone like Ellison does. Ellison is still operating from the old framework, which worked great for him all these many years and has made him world-famous. On the other side of the coin, there are probably a number of younger readers who have heard of Doctorow but not Ellison. Whose work and rep will stand the test of time?

Sign up for my free serialized eBook mailing list and receive a sense of satisfaction knowing that you are on the cutting edge of the digital age and sticking it to "The Man."

EDIT: uh, the eBook mailing list is for my work, not that of Le Guin, King, and Ellison; though that would be pretty funny if I did offer illegal Kindle chapters of like J.K. Rowling stuff for free out in the open like that. "Valerie's Illegal eBook Club."

EDIT: No, of course not, that wouldn't be funny at all.


  1. I've been thinking the same thing for a while. My wife and I watch the evening news and I'm thinking why are they obsessed with the piracy on the water and no one cares about the genocide happening on the land? Oh yeah! Commerce. Pirates are the new terrorists. Take over a ship get your head blown off. Download Wolverine...

  2. Meh.

    I still have not seen numbers on how only pirating has eaten into the buying patterns of the American public.

    People are buying things less. And they're getting them in different ways. Did people stop buying CDs because of piracy or because they had iPods? Has there been a reduction in book sales because of ebook sales? Or are torrents for text a huge commodity?

    Personally, I haven't been buying any new books at all. I've been getting them at that institutionalized pirate ring called "the library."

    Also got a lot of books through used book stores. How does that factor? No royalties going to Harlan or Cory from those.

    Yet libraries have seen an uptick in borrowing rates. People are spending less and looking at free services more. This pollutes everyone's numbers.

    Show me unpolluted data and I'll make a decision. Until then, it's all prejudice and assumption.

  3. Libraries PAY for the copies they lend.

    Unless a book was stolen, books in used bookstores have already been purchased by someone, and the author has been paid. (Remainders and review copies are a different matter.) The law allows items to be resold.

    I'll recommend it again: Go read Cory Doctorow's "Content", which is free online or available in paperback. He explains why copyleft works for him.

    An author can decide how they want their work distributed. Mr. Ellison is highly principled, and is justified in protecting his work.