Monday, 23 July 2012

Michael Cargill Guest Post

I'd like to welcome Michael Cargill to our blog today to talk about his take on epiracy. 

You can find Michael on Goodreads or his blog


"Literature is something of a latecomer to the digital revolution.  In some ways, this is quite surprising, as it predates other forms of entertainment like computer games, film, and TV by several thousand years.  Mind you, the older generations are often the slowest to get to grips with anything new.  After all, when was the last time you heard your granddad talk about getting an Xbox?
Some of the growing pains for ebooks, have been the same ones that other forms of digital media have gone through, and still are going through.  Piracy is one such pain.

The mere mention of the word ‘piracy’ generates quite an angry response from many people, whether they are a writer, or a reader.

To those people, I say you should perhaps step back, and rethink things a bit.  I’m an indie author, and I know for a fact that my work is available to download from torrent/pirate websites.  I know this to be a fact, as it was me who put them there in the first place.

Before I go any further, I’ll just mention a few things, to provide some context.  Firstly, you won’t see me on any bestseller lists anywhere, not unless that list is based on an otherwise empty shelf.  Yes, woe is me, get out the violin and all that.

Secondly, years ago, I used to be something of a profligate pirate myself.  My hard drive was chock full of computer games, applications, films, and TV shows.  I knew lots of other people who did the same thing as well.

Lastly, I have no formal legal education, or training.  This puts me at around about the same level as that bloke in the pub, who insists that it’s perfectly legal to shoot a Welshman with a crossbow, so long as you do it outside the city walls, on a Wednesday afternoon.

Just to be clear, I have no intention of getting involved with the tedious, semantic differences between copyright infringement, and theft.  I’m also mainly talking about the financial impact of piracy, rather than the copyright side of things.

So then: why did I upload my own work to some torrent sites?  Well, “Why not?”, is my response.  At the moment, practically no-one knows about me.  My ability to market myself is largely limited to blogs, Twitter, and pinning posters up on the trees along my road.  Now that my work is available by torrents, I have added one more avenue for readers to find me.  I created threads on the torrent site forums, informing them all of what I did.  I got a few replies from people thanking me, and wishing me luck.  In the few days following on from this, I had an increase in the number of hits to my blog, from people searching for terms like “Michael Cargill author” on Google.  Prior to doing this, that had never happened before.

Of course, the usual retort to this is “You don’t get money from pirates!”, to which I say is a load of poppycock.

As I mentioned earlier, I was once a profligate pirate myself.  Yet, despite the fact that my hard drives were heaving with illegally downloaded material, my shelves were also teeming with legally purchased material as well.

And the same goes for many people who pirate things.  There are numerous studies that show that the people who illegally download the most music, are also some of the biggest purchasers of music.  This won’t be true for all of them, of course, but it is a fact that cannot be ignored.

It’s also important to recognise that just because someone illegally downloads a book, or a film, or a song, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the copyright owner has lost a sale.  For a start, pirates will often download stuff that they have no intention of ever using.  They’ll often do it, just because they can.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to download the latest version of AutoCAD if the opportunity is there...?

A quick search on a torrent site reveals that I can download the entire works of Stephen King, in about fifteen minutes.  That’s everything that he has ever published, about sixty five books in total, right there on the Internet.  Ebooks are small in size, so they take no time at all to pirate.  However, to say that anyone who downloads them all has denied Mr King of sixty five books worth of royalty fees, is wrong.

First of all, very few people will ever go out and purchase that many books at once.  Secondly, that pirate simply isn’t going to read all sixty five of those books either.  He or she may read one of them, and enjoy it.  However, they aren’t that likely to immediately read another Stephen King book.  They are more likely to read something from someone else, whether it’s pirated, or legally bought.

The reading habits of a pirate are exactly the same as those of a ‘normal’ reader.  They will talk about it to their friends, and family.  They will join in with the discussions about it on Goodreads.  They leave reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and their blog.  After illegally sampling an author’s work, they may go on and purchase legitimate copies of their work.  This is something I did when I was a pirate.  It’s what I witnessed other people who pirated media do, as well.  It’s what some of the studies into piracy have shown, as well.

Of course, you don’t have to just take this indie’s word for it.  Bestselling author Neil Garman has taken a similar stance to ebook piracy.  He even made a video on YouTube about it, that is still available to watch, though he is someone who made his name (and fortune) long before ebooks ever existed.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that you can’t actually fight piracy, either.  For every anti-piracy method that is put in place, it is easily defeated.  Companies can spend thousands implementing an anti-piracy scheme, only to see it cracked within hours of its release.

An author could spend a huge amount of time, scouring all corners of the Internet, trying to hunt down those elusive illegal links to their work.  Yet, all that time is wasted.  It took me less than five minutes for me to put my own work up on a torrent site, but it might take days for a furious copyright owner to get something removed from a website.

Many people will say “if everyone pirated books, then authors would starve!”  Now, whilst that might be true, it’s also true that if everyone flushed their toilets at once, the sewer system would collapse.  The fact is, that not everyone will pirate books.  At least part of this is down to the fact that it requires a certain level of technical knowledge to pirate, that many people struggle to get over.  Some Kindle owners simply don’t know how to manually copy ebooks onto their device.

To be honest, I probably have more sympathy for the readers, than I do the authors.  They can be understandably annoyed when they see someone stealing books, and getting them for free, rather than paying for them.

In writing this short article, I’m not expecting to drastically change anyone’s mind.  However, the piracy debate has been raging for a long time now, and it really needs a more level-headed approach.  None of the heavy-handed antics employed so far have put so much as a dent in it.

I think we should embrace it, rather than hate it.

Study: Piracy Does Not Deter the Production of Music, Films, Books -

Study Shows That BitTorrent Piracy Doesn’t Affect U.S. Box Office Profits -


  1. Are there any authors/readers who agree with me on this...?

    1. My hand are shaking with anger at your comments. Piracy is theft , pure and simple. E book pirates endanger small publishers who operate on a tight enough margin as it is, they cannot take the hits from piracy like the big publishing houses. Why should I give away my work for free? And it is my work, I am not a hobby writer or self published part timer desperate for any exposure but a full time professional author. I have spent years honing my craft, taking the hard knocks and rejections and learning from them. Long before the ebook revolution I built up an enthusiastic and loyal readership,not over night but from a long campaign of networking, book signings and attending genre conventions...and you expect me to give my books away ? Dream on.

    2. The problem with this line of thinking, is that you assume that every pirated download is a lost sale.

      Studies show that the people who pirate media, are also those who buy the most. I even provided a link to a study, that shows piracy doesn't affect box office profits.

    3. It does effect the small publisher, for whom every sale counts. There are so many legal ways to give work away, if that is what you want to do, there is no need to give to pirates who are parasites on the back of the book industry, an annoyance to the big companies, the death knell to the smaller ones.

    4. But, once again, the studies show that piracy doesn't have a negative effect on sales.

      So how can it be the death knell of small publishers, if the people who pirate, are those who buy the most?

    5. Who's study? Just the premise of that statement makes no logical sense. How would you ever know what effect it has?

    6. Anonymous - I provided links to two studies at the end of the article, plus the Neil Garman video.

    7. I completely agree with your statement Michael. I've pirated a book or two myself, then gone on to buy the entire series softcover. I would like to point out to Raven Dane, who seems to be confused, that any way the author chooses to give away the work for free is legal, torrents are intrinsically legal, so long as the content within is legal. It's just another form of download. Ebooks are just as commonly pirated through file-sharing sites and usenet, which also have plenty of legitimate. As a writer, i couldn't give two shits about how someone reads my book, every read is a good read, because it means I am doing what every authors intention should be, which is to entertain, to make people think. The second you start writing for profit you've lost sight of what makes a good author. If I never make a penny off a book and millions enjoy them? That's fine by me. You can't take money to the grave.

    8. This is the best summed up take on piracy I ever encountered. And it's in line with what I was thinking before. But this summs it up nicely. Thank you for this!

  2. I can't help but agree. Get your name out there. Word of mouth is the best advertizing--all the blogs you refer to are read mostly by writers. It would be nice to see some readers spreading the good word too.

    Good luck with your work.

    1. Thank you, Emaginette!

      I think I see you on the forums sometimes...

    2. I'm surprised, emaginette, that you'd think this way considering I know you know what a writer goes through the create one book. The time involved with editors, editing, and promotion.

  3. I've never thought about it in those term, Michael. Great've got me thinking, but I'd probably not be able to figure out how to get my books on the torrent sites in the first place. Any well meaning readers out there that want to help out? LOL.

    1. Thank you very much, Christie!

      I decided to actually have a look for you on some torrent sites, but no-one has yet taken the 'kind' step of nefariously sharing your work yet...

      It's actually a bit fiddly, and complicated to make a torrent if you aren't familiar with how they work, but here is one guide -

  4. I told my husband I was toying with the idea of putting my books on some torrents. He wasn't sure I should. You should know he is a computer nerd and uses torrents for music. I think he was just worried it'd backfire on me and result in no sales. It's something I'm still considering, but I figured I'd hold off on serious thought about it until I have more books out.

    I've never looked to see if my current book is on any sites because one my title is the same as a TV show so that makes looking for it annoying and two I understood that pirating is going to happen whether I want it to or not so if my stuff ever gets pirated I'm going to enjoy the fact that people think my stuff is good enough to steal.

    1. I say go for it.

      It actually turned out that someone else had uploaded one of my books to a torrent collection already, which was quite a surprise...!

      Pirating your own work like that is a very counter-intuitive thing to do, and it can be hard to get over that hump.

  5. Very true as Indie authors we need the exposure. I attended a feww workshops last spring and several of the authors said they had novels that were still in print but their contracts had NO e-book clause (The big six did not see this coming) they took their books and published the e-book themselves, it was stated that they make MORE money this way than through other royalties..unless you become THE author..yes I agree with all you sai!
    M.C.V. Egan
    The Bridge of deaths

    1. Pretty much any 'big' media publisher (films, games, TV, etc.) failed to see the digital side of things coming, until it was too late.

      By the way, I find that you have a very recognisable profile photo. I keep seeing it pop up on blogs all over the place...!

  6. I like the exposure myself. I have two free books and two paid ones. I wouldn't know how to begin to put my own out there--tech savvy I am not--but if they're there, fine with me. There are too many individuals, like myself, who wouldn't take the time to bother learning how to download a pirated version of an ebook, so I'm not worried about it negatively impacting my sales. I may google my titles after this to see what pops up! Thanks for the enlightening post.
    A.M. Hargrove

    1. No problem at all, Anne!

      I took the liberty of looking on a couple of torrent sites for your books (I checked Amazon first, so I got your name correct) but didn't anything.

      Well, that's not entirely true. For some reason an entry called 'Rod Stewart Album Collection 1' turned up.

      Something you aren't telling us, perhaps...?

  7. You've definitely given me something to ponder, and I'll admit that I've had not-so-nice feelings about the piracy issue. I'm wondering if you can answer a question for me?

    I recently self-published my book on Amazon, and my sales climbed quite rapidly-much to my surprise. However, after about the first two weeks, I noticed the amount of returns was increasing as well. I asked another self-published author about this, and she informed me that purchasing and returning is how books are pirated-is that the right term?-and that as long as my returns are around 1-3% that's normal.

    Now, I don't believe for a minute that EVERYONE will like my book, as a matter of fact I'm SURE people will HATE my book enough to get a $3.99 refund. BUT, the refunds exceed the 1-3%, by A LOT. So, here's my question: Do you think the refunds of my book are results of piracy? BTW:I've asked Amazon about this, they only justified their Refund Policy.

    After reading your article, I'm thinking if you say 'yes, the refunds are due to piracy', I may feel a little better about myself.

    1. Finding out why people on Amazon are getting refunds of your work, is as hard as finding out why people are buying it in the first place.

      I actually get a high amount of refunds on one of my own books, Shades of Grey, in the region of 10% and more. However, I believe this is because it shares the same name of that erotica book by EL James, and so people are expecting something very different!

      The flipside to this, is that the few sales I am getting of the book, are largely down to this shared name. My book turns up right near the top of the results for people searching for 'shades of grey'.

      Amazon's one-click buy feature allows people to make impulse purchases, and it's probably quite easy for people to buy the wrong book by mistake.

      Of course, it may also be people abusing the refund policy that Amazon have.

      Probably a combination of everything, though.

    2. I didn't even know you could refund ebooks...interesting. Do people read them and return them, or how does that work?

  8. Yes, Sheri. The returning of books, in my opinion, is the same thing as buying a dress for a party and returning it the day after. I'm pretty sure you can't return books to B&N, right? The fact that people can READ my book, then return it irritates me FAR more than the piracy issue. Don't know why, but it does.

    Michael, I had to laugh a little about the Fifty Shades thing...sorry. Thanks very much for your input. I suppose I just have to focus on the positive being the sales, and not the returns. It's still frustrating, though.

  9. Sheri - I think it's only Amazon that let's you get a refund on ebooks, and there is a timelimit on it.

    JM - I know what you mean about the refunds actually, it can be infuriating to see your net total column go up, and then back down again an hour later. It's the fact that you have the numbers in front of you that makes it so annoying, whereas with piracy you have no idea at all.

    Incidentally, I fully support the ability for readers to get refunds on these ebooks. I think it's too easy for authors to get a very author-centric view of things like this, and the same even goes for some readers as well.

    On Goodreads, I often seen anti-piracy book tours going on. Whilst it's great that there are readers who care about that sort of thing, I think some of them need to be a little more careful about what they wish for.

    By being too anti-piracy orientated, you get into the area of DRM, which ultimately prevents readers from copying their books from one device to another. I see no real reason why an owner of a Kindle, cannot copy all their legally-bought books over to a Nook ereader, if they get fed up with their Kindle. Yet, for a reader to do that, they need to jump through several irritating hoops.

    Going back to the refund issue, I have also seen several readers express their annoyance at the ability for people to get refunds on Amazon ebooks, usually after hearing a tale of woe from their favourite author.

    Again, these readers should be careful that they don't get what they wished for! I work in IT by day, and some of the manuals that I need to buy can cost £50 and up. Now, if I accidentally bought the wrong one, why shouldn't I be able to get a refund?

    It's probably easier for Amazon to allow the refunds, as your Kindle is tied directly to your Amazon account, and they can yoink it away from you once the refund has gone through.

  10. Michael, if YOU choose to give away your time and effort, that's YOUR business. If you choose to give away someone ELSE's time and effort, that's theft. Pure and simple.

    And it isn't necessary to invoke some trumped up "study" to understand the simple fact that any IP pirated costs someone a sale. "Why buy the cow when you got the milk for free?" as the saying goes.

    You can tout your so-called "studies" 'till you're blue in the face. And those studies will STILL be nothing but the self-serving lies of pirate apologists..

    1. Greg, just to make sure I understand what your argument is...

      You are saying that no matter what the evidence says, you will always believe that piracy results in lost sales...?

      That's up there with the kind of denial that creationists partake in.

      Even the US Government Accountability Office has said that piracy may have a positive effect on the economy. Is that also the "self-serving lies of pirate apologists"...?

    2. It is self-evident that a car stolen is a car not sold. It is equally self-evident that an e-book stolen is an e-book not sold.

      "Figures don't lie", as the saying goes, "but liars figure..."

    3. Even if the figures ARE true, it is still the author's right to not have a complete stranger determine how their book is distributed. If an indie author wants to ignore any of this (mis)information, that is their right, not the right of a person or company who is forcing their idealistic position onto the market.

    4. Greg, your analogy doesn't work, because this is digital media being discussed. A car is ultimately a tool used to get from one place to another, and people don't generally have more than one of them.

      As I said myself, I was a pirate, yet I still bought full priced games, music and films.

      Are you still claiming that the US Government Accountability Office are self-serving pirate apologists?

      Stephen - I agree with you on the copyright side of things, but as I said in the article, I was speaking from the financial side of things.

    5. What I see, Stephen, is an author determining how to distribute their work by putting it up in his own customized method prior to anyone doing so, and making sure its the result people are seeing. You can even get many torrent sites to promote your work for you. As for Greg, nothing you have said makes the slightest bit of sense, because it costs you nothing but mouse clicks, and in the case of a torrent, absolutely nothing personally to make a copy of your work. Cars have material costs. Ebooks have bandwidth. How else could Amazon royalty rates be so high? Both of your examples (cows and cars) are material. That cow costs materials to 'duplicate'. How is what Michael is doing any different than offering your first ebook for free to get people into the rest of series. Humans are inherently lazy, it's easier to buy the book for 2.99$ on an e-reader than it is to find, torrent, transfer, etc. I'd rather my stories get read, thank you. Everything else is immaterial.

  11. I have two grandsons. The boys and their friends "borrow" my computer all the time. And they download anything they can figure out how to for free. I'd be complimented if someone pirated my book. These kids are savvy and picky. And as far as I can tell, it would only help me. If someone reads my stuff and passes it to friends because they like it, that can only help get my name out there. That's the hard part. It's like free advertisement. If we give our stuff away for free on amazon to attract readers, why not let pirates advertise us too?

    1. Yup, totally agree.

      People who pirate stuff are just as picky as those who don't.

    2. That's fine, but understand that it is your opinion, not a stance that should be imposed onto others. For those who aren't "complimented", for whatever reason, pirating takes away their freedom of choice.

  12. Michael thanks for the amazing information.

    I do believe that this is another method of getting yourself known. I did hear this same information from the Author Learning Center.

    The people that do pirate your book will also talk to their friends about what they like. Some of these friends and family don't know how or where to get the book off a torrent site, so they purchase it.

    I do have a question about this pirate issues, that confuses me. I know that there are sites that pirates use to get free books, but the pirates that sale your book is another story?


    Patricia T. Macias

    1. No problem at all PT Macias, I'm glad you found it useful.

      Someone selling my books, and not passing any royalties onto me is very much another story, yes. There is no excuse for that.

  13. My debut novel was pirated within days of its release, after it hit the top 100 on amazon. Should I have been pleased about some a hole stealing my work then? I felt sick, physically sick, in fact, and no assurance of, 'oh, you've made it, now that you're pirated,' made me feel any better about it.

    I write because it's my passion, but I also write to support my family. This is my career, and I take a dim view to others stealing my work, and it is theft, no matter how you look at it.

    You are deluding yourself if you think that those who will read pirated books will then go and buy them. Some may, but the vast majority of them will not.

    Do I go out and hunt pirates down? No, of course not, my time is better spent writing, but If I come across them, like one site that blatantly SOLD my books for THEIR profits, you bet I will get angry. They were cheating readers out of legitimate copies and my publisher and I out of our rightful income!

    Piracy is a crime: pure and simple!

    1. Doris, as I said in the article, and as the studies say, the pirates tend to be those who buy the most as well.

      A website that sells your book, without any intention of giving you any royalties, is something else entirely - I fully agree that those people should be reported.

    2. I think we will have to agree to disagree on those studies. I just don't buy it.

  14. Actually, I found this article that's a little newer than the one you cited showing a little more on how piracy has hurt the industry.

    This debate could go on forever. No one that has not had someone published through a publishing house or pirates themselves is going to understand the other side of the fence. But I'm not the norm on a lot of my ideals. I'll take a chance and buy something from an artist/writer I've never heard about by reading a snippet or finding their music on youtube. If I like a couple of songs, I just invest in the album.

    If an author or otherwise wants to give away their stuff, it's their business. Like Doris, I've seen pirates charge for their 'services', whether they out and out charge for the ebooks, charge fees for DL speeds, or ask for 'donations'. They're making money... not thep erson who created the content in the first place. I can see this become a trend because who's not going to rationalize pperhaps a $10 fee per month for limitless downloads?

    1. Whatever you need to do to garner an interest I say!

  15. Interesting take on the matter.

    My opinion about this has always been a mixed one. In spite of studies or whatever, I'll probably never really know if piracy hurts sales a lot or not; if it hurts small publishers and not big ones, or not.

    If a person doesn't have money to buy a book/CD, she won't buy it at all, right? But if she can obtain a pirated copy, she can still write a review, tell about the book to other people, and therefore 'advertise' the product. In turn, those people might then buy it. So I guess I can see what your point is in that regard. On the other hand, seeing your hard work offered for free on the net can be hurtful too. The day it happens to me (because if I ever publish something, whether through traditional publishing or through Smashwords, I think it will, sooner or later?), I honestly don't know how I'll react.

    But let's be honest: the ebook industry especially just *begs* for piracy! Buying a frigging ebook at a decent price in my country is so often frigging impossible. Everytime some author offers their Kindle book for free, doesn't allow me to 'buy' it (because I don't have a US address/card), while charges me several euros for the same book (when the book is even available). Or prices jump all over the place: a Kindle book sold for 1$ may cost 3 euros for me, and I doubt it's just because of the VAT (and let's not even talk about ebook/Kindle versions that cost MORE than their paperback equivalent; I mean, what the hell? How is this even justified?).

    I found myself creating a false account with a bogus street address just for those free Kindle books. Thanks goodness there's still Smashwords, that doesn't care about which country my money comes from. Now, really, I know that this is only part of the whole piracy issue, and that there are just as many arguments against me on that point... but maybe if publishers made things easier for *actual buyers*, some people wouldn't bother resorting to piracy. I know I wouldn't.

    (That said, I am also absolutely, starkly against websites that *sell* pirated content and really make money over the authors'/musicians'/developers' backs.)

  16. I found this very interesting. I agree with you 100%. I will admit that my Nook has books I got from torrents, free giveaways and free Fridays, but I buy when I can or check them out from the library. But honestly, some of the torrents are copies of books I've already bought in book form.

    I can't buy every book in the world, but I want to read and talk about them and spread good word of mouth. My library doesn't always have a book in that I really want to read, so torrents it is. I give all the books I read a rating and whatnot, and I talk about them, even noticing people around me reading them after I do. I love the digital library, but even that place doesn't always have the book I want in.

  17. I'm not surprised that you, Michael Cargill, is willing to take such an unorthodox approach. I'd rather not get dragged into the debate by expressing my own wacky opinions on the topic, but I think that you did make some very good points. Don't agree with everything, but...hey. Your work. Do what you want with it. :)

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