Thursday, November 16, 2017

Why E-Book Piracy Matters

ebook piracy
By Jana Oliver, @crazyauthorgirl

Part of the Indie Authors Series

Is piracy that big of a deal?

Opinions about e-book pirates are nearly as numerous as all those countless free downloads. Are they just thieves, or are they doing us a “favor” by downloading the free copies and (hopefully) spreading the word about our books? Are these really lost sales? 

All those questions were circling in my brain when I read a recent blog post by author Maggie Stiefvater. Besides being a bestseller, Maggie is known to think outside the box. So, when the e-book sales of the third book in her immensely popular Raven Cycle declined—though her print sales remained unchanged—she felt something was fishy. Series sales numbers do decrease over time, but usually those lower numbers are evenly represented across all editions, not just the e-book.

In response to the decline in sales, though she still made the lists, her publisher decided to do a print run half the size of the previous three books, which was not what any author wants to hear. Knowing that the third book’s electronic ARC had somehow escaped into the wild ahead of publication, Maggie insisted the fourth’s ARCS be print only and the publisher agreed. Most of us would have stopped there, but she went one step further.

At midnight the day her fourth book launched, Maggie jammed an electronic spoke in the piracy wheel. It was an ingenious idea: She had her brother spam as many pirate sites as possible with copies of her new release, but this version was only the first four chapters, repeated over and over. Of course, that version cloned across the sites at frenetic rate because no one realized it wasn’t the real thing until it was too late.

When those who’d downloaded the decoy book couldn’t finish it, they frantically tried to locate a genuine copy. When they couldn’t find one for free, they ordered the actual book online, and bought it at the bookstores. The demand was so great the publisher had to go back to press as the print edition sold out.

Of course, when the real e-book was finally available that was pirated as well, but the “damage” had already been done. For further insights on this ingenious experiment, be sure to check out Maggie’s blog post. It’s well worth the read.

But how much impact do pirated copies have on your career if you’re not Maggie Stiefvater? According to a study conducted by Nielson just this year (you can download the pdf here), sales losses amount to $315 million per annum, perhaps even higher. To boil that down into a number we can relate to, that’s nearly $36K every hour (or $600 per minute) that is lost because books are being pirated.

Though some assume that those readers opt for free copies because they can’t afford to pay, this doesn’t hold up in the study’s results. Nielson found that 65% of the downloaders make more than $60K per year. I know authors who’d love to make a quarter of that. The average age is between 18-34 and over 70% of them have graduated from college or have post-graduate degrees, so this isn’t related to level of education or income. Some readers don’t feel they should have to pay for content, somehow forgetting that authors have bills just like everyone else.

Though mainstream publishers lose sales because of these sites, it isn’t a serious enough hit to make them really want to crack down. However, the impact to the individual author—both in terms of royalties, cancellation of series, career damage, etc.—can be monumental. For indie authors, we get hurt across the board.

Though I am certainly not at the sales level of Ms. Stiefvater, I began to wonder how many sites offered my books for free. In the case of my traditionally-published books, I usually forward the links to my publishers who has someone on staff send the proper notifications. Still, I really hadn’t done much with my own indie-published books.

To gain a sense of what was out there, I signed up with Blasty. Blasty’s job is to hunt across the web and locate the various webpages that host your books. Some might be legit, but most will not be. How many individual webpages had my books listed for free? 334. Yeah. 334.

Blasty offers you three options: Once they’ve generated the list of pirate pages—a free service—you can zap those yourself by submitting a DMCA takedown notice. By law the offending site is required to remove the content and notify you they’ve done so. Which means you should track those to ensure that really happens.

For $9.99 per month (there’s a discount for an annual subscription) Blasty will not only generate the list, but will display each page of those sites so you can review them one by one. If they are violating your copyright, then you can hit the Blast button and Blasty will send them the DMCA. Or for $19.99 per month (yearly discount also available), they’ll do all that and auto-Blast those sites without you having to check out each one. Blasty’s street cred with Google, Yahoo and other service providers is such that these take-down notices are respected. Which is one of the reasons Blasty keeps an eye on what you tell them to Blast in case you’re not hewing to the rules of the road.

Here’s what my page on Blasty looks like:

And in case you think pirate sites aren’t watching your new releases closely, I listed my latest Demon Trappers’ book for pre-order on Amazon on November 11th and it’d already gained their notice by the 13th. Of course, they don’t have the file to offer, yet, but that’s only a matter of time.

I should add that I don’t DRM my books as they get hacked no matter what. I figure I’ll make it as easy for my readers as possible because it certainly isn’t stopping the pirates. I also notice that the first sale of a new release is often to India or other countries where I don’t have a significant readership. That book is usually ripped and then promptly returned for credit, which is how I suspect it is set loose in the wild.

I gave Blasty a trial run at the $9.99 level for two weeks, working very slowly through each of those listing. Finally, I switched to the yearly subscription, which was discounted to $12.99 per month. I check the site every few days to track what’s going on and will be watching my e-book sales figures to see if there’s a corresponding rise in book sales. If not, I’m good with that.

One thing I feel compelled to mention: When you’re checking out these sites make sure to have robust security protection in place, so you don’t accidentally download anything nasty. A big red flag that a site isn’t kosher is when my virus protection software goes ballistic.

This is how I’m handling piracy at the moment, though this tactic might change down the line. What are your feelings on e-book piracy? How has it affected your business, and if it has, what methods have you used to try to stem the free flow of your intellectual property?

An international bestseller and the recipient of over a dozen major awards, Jana Oliver often laments that there are far too many stories inside her head at any given moment.

Best known for her young adult Demon Trappers series, she writes what intrigues her, and spends a good deal of time fretting about whether demons actually exist.

When not wandering around the internet researching exorcisms, or posting on social media (eerily similar, those two), Jana can be found in Atlanta with her very patient husband, and a rapidly dwindling collection of single malt Scotch.

Jana Oliver | Chandler Steele | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound |

About Cat's Paw

After five years in a Louisiana prison, Alex Parkin desperately wants to start over. Even more, he craves revenge against Vladimir Buryshkin, the New Orleans drug lord who framed him for cocaine possession. The second he walks out of prison, Alex is a wanted man, both by the Russian mob, and by Veritas, a private security firm that claims to be "on his side." When his sister is brutally beaten, he has to choose: Join forces with Veritas, or let Buryshkin destroy his family.

Because of the Russian mobster, Morgan Blake lost both her husband, and her career at the FBI. Now working with Veritas, she's eager to take Buryshkin down. So eager, she's willing to do anything to make that happen, even sacrificing a certain ex-con, if needed.

As a load of tainted cocaine hits New Orleans' streets, the body count quickly rises. To prevent more deaths, and a potential drug war, Morgan and Alex must learn that revenge comes at too high a price, and that love always has its own agenda.


  1. A very informative post. Thank you. An indie friend of mine has already experienced this piracy and immediately contacted Amazon and the webmaster and the site has been taken down.

    1. So glad to hear of the quick rsolution. My article doesn't even discuss the issue of people stealing your books and posting them as their own. Yet another issue for indie authors.

  2. I have Google Alerts set up for all my book titles so I know whenever one appears on (yet another) piracy site; and they're on LOTS of sites. It drives me nuts, but I haven't gone after them with DMCAs.

    My problem with DMCA takedown notices is that they require me to provide a lot of personal information to a site that I already know is unethical. That gives pirates the information they need to file a counter-notice, but at worst they could falsify documents and try to take ownership of my work. I've started lots of DMCA takedown notices only to get a squicky feeling in my stomach and chicken out when it's time to hit the 'send' button. Am I being too paranoid?

    Blasty sounds like a great tool, but I assume you'd still need to provide all your personal information in order to file the notice, is that correct? And does it do DMCA notices to the site itself, or only to the search engines to have the pirate sites downgraded or removed from the search results?

    Thanks for your article - I wish there was a foolproof and final solution to dealing with piracy.