pirate Anyone who spends even a little time reading romance reader sites or publisher/author’s webpages can tell you that book piracy is a very big deal in the book community. It’s also not hard to find information indicating that romance authors have been hit hard by it. Still, as I read the articles, I’ve often wondered what role we as readers play. After all, most of us reading here are not thieves. I read a lot, but I buy my own books and I’ve never downloaded any book that I didn’t pay for or have sent to me by an author or publisher.

I would also be willing to suspect that most of the folks who read AAR (and certainly all of us who currently contribute to the site) do not download bootleg copies of romance novels or belong to download sites such as Demonoid. However, I’m just a reader; I’m not a publisher or author who may have standing to go after copyright violations. So, aside from having a conscience and the modicum of common sense necessary to keep myself off of file-sharing sites(some of those “free” books apparently come complete with spyware and/or viruses, which may well be karma in action), what can a reader like me do except feel sympathy for the authors affected and perhaps speak out against illegal downloads as this reader and others already have?

I have actually talked about this issue with various authors, editors and marketing folks both over email and in person at RWA. From my own research, I was aware that book piracy was a big problem, but hearing people’s personal stories made it clear that this is a HUGE deal. Huge as in authors losing tens of thousands of copies of a single book to book piracy. For a midlist author, these losses could feasibly affect sales enough to result in lost contracts – and we as readers may end up losing a storytelling voice we value.

In addition, book piracy on such a scale may even affect the variety of books offered in the future. By way of example, author Pamela Clare has suggested to me that, “I’ve heard people say they’re sick of vampires or they’re sick of Regencies…If an author writes a very interesting futuristic novel set on the moon, and pirates bleed off sales, it might impact the overall viability of the book. Next time an author comes forward with a futuristic novel set on the moon, that publisher, who didn’t get the return on their investment, might not be so hip to try it again.” As someone who loves books and who LOVES to see a wide variety of plots, subgenres and settings, this is chilling indeed.

So, what do readers do? For starters, authors have stated and at least one wrote on her blog that she appreciates it when readers report instances of piracy. If authors know where their works are being downloaded, they can report it to their publishers and take other actions to try to shut it down. Readers can also email links to the illegal downloads to publishers. At least one publisher at RWA indicated that they get a number of their tips on illegal book downloads from concerned readers.

In addition, it has been noted that if legitimate copies of ebooks are overpriced and if it’s also much easier to get a pirated copy of a book that a legitimate one, people will start turning to the pirated copy to get what they want. Not surprisingly, calls have been made(see here and here )for the big players in the industry to step up and protect their authors by marketing ebooks so that they will be reasonably priced and attractive to buyers. Well, one thing I heard over and over again at RWA was that publishers want to be responsive to readers. After all, we want to read books and they want us to purchase them! Some publishers have started to make it very easy to buy ebooks on their sites. If you come across a publisher whose ebook program is not yet so user-friendly, try emailing with suggestions on how to make the buying process easier.

And then there’s the most basic action of all -if someone you know invites you to join an illegal download site, educate them about what they’re doing and let them know why you disapprove of it. Granted, this is all anecdotal evidence, but even so, the number of people I have seen on discussion boards or spoken with in my life offline who do not realize that these downloads are breaking the law or that they are actually harming authors truly astounds me.

So, aside from simply not allowing ourselves to become thieves, there are other things we can do as readers to address the piracy issue rather than simply sitting back waiting for others to make the decisions. After all, if the problem is not addressed, it may very well affect what we get to see on the market.

– Lynn Spencer