Just a quick commercial message with the Official Gift Giving Season upon us: The RagTime Traveler makes a great gift for your mystery-reading friends. Available at all the usual outlets–if your local store doesn’t have it in stock, they can order it–and I believe Borderlands still has signed copies. End of commercial.

Since we’re on the subject of book sales, let’s talk about piracy. It’s been a hot topic in the genre publishing world for the last couple of months thanks to Maggie Stiefvater‘s tweet about the cancellation of plans to publish a box set of one of her series.

I’ll be honest here. I don’t know Ms. Stiefvater, and I haven’t read the Raven Cycle. But they’re well-reviewed and quite popular.

And that’s the core of the problem. The books are popular, but they’re not selling well enough to make that boxed set economically viable.

Ms. Stiefvater attributes the disconnect to piracy, and as that tweet shows, she’s got evidence to support her position.

Then there’s the contingent of writers who shrug off piracy as free advertising. That’s the position that says “If they can get books free, maybe they’ll try something new, decide they like it, and buy the sequels.”

That group tends to point to the Baen Free Library. SF publisher Baen Books made (and still does make) some titles available free. When the library was introduced, sales of paper copies of the free books jumped, as did later books in the same series.

The trouble is, you can’t generalize from the BFL, which generally only includes the first book of a series, to the broader world where everything is available free. If a reader can go back to the same website where they got Book One and grab Book Two, Three, Four, and Five, there isn’t much incentive to shell out thirty-five or forty bucks for them.

And don’t forget: those early numbers from the BFL that everyone cites came from a time when pirating a book meant scanning every page and then going through a tedious process of OCR conversion and proofreading. Today, it’s a thirty-second task to take the legit ebook and strip off the copy protection. It’s gotten to the point where everything is pirated.

Yes, even TRTT. I know it’s out there–I’ve seen it. Pirating has gotten so quick and easy that totally unknown authors’ works are made available on the off-chance somebody might want them. It’s easier to grab everything published and crack the encryption than to decide what you actually want.

In fact, pirate copies of TRTTstarted showing up on June 7, the day the book was released. That suggests the whole process is automated, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the major distributors has a backdoor somewhere.

I’m not suggesting beefing up the encryption. Music, movies, and games have all tried increasingly-tougher copy protection, and all the attempts have failed. It doesn’t stop the pirates, and it inconveniences legitimate buyers.

I don’t have an answer. I’m fairly sure there isn’t one beyond occasionally reminding everyone that if books don’t sell, publishers and writers won’t be able to put out more.

I can’t stop anyone from pirating. But if you do, how’s about you have a heart and buy a book occasionally? Thanks.

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