Saturday 11 June 2011

Not so generic thoughts on piracy

I've mentioned several times that I have fairly complex responses to the whole issue of piracy. I used to make mix tapes of music, for example. As a student, I ran a fair amount of "handed-down" software and never asked where it came from (but then, Microsoft was "uncool" and the big evil, and I guess I felt a bit cool not giving evil Bill Gates money I didn't have). Hey, we're talking early to mid-nineties here.

My appetite for music certainly exceeded my budget - I still spent more money on music and books than on food, which, BTW, is pretty much a pattern of my life. Granted, my music expenses have gone down since I subscribed to Spotify... I was one of those very heavy users that was "cannibalised" into the subscription model. Basically, the music industry is losing money because I'm on an "all you can eat" plan via Spotify that costs about the amount of one CD a month.

In terms of software, once I had regular paychecks, I went strictly legal. In terms of music, I've bought a lot of CDs I had "ripped" files of, and I'm still buying my favourites. You could call me a reformed pirate, but I grew up in a day and age where the actual industries creating the content I wanted weren't threatened.

Now, true, the demise of the music industry is a lot more complex. One reason why their sales are down is because they were calculating from the very high levels of the years when everybody replaced their vinyl with CDs. It was, basically, unsustainable levels that then went back to normal. We "know" that a lot of musicians were treated badly by those who sell their music. Thankfully, all that is changing. Indie musicians and indie authors are increasingly taking the "fan bases" and thrive.

Well, "thrive" in the author space being a relative term. As an "insider", I know how many m/m authors have holiday homes and yachts. Pretty sure the number is about zero, unless they work high-flying corporate jobs, and *those* have the tendency of eating a person up so much that there's no fiction coming from that mind. Juggling a corporate career and writing is not easy. I've moved out of journalism because it was damaging my writing. And because working for a bank pays me 60% more, but bottom line, because I want to be a writer and need a job that doesn't kill my writing.

Unless with many other m/m writers, I can actually eat (or get my teeth fixed or buy a couple nice steaks) even if I sell no book at all. (For the record, my sales appear to be steadily growing, but at a fairly slow pace. I'm curious if "Scorpion" and "Dark Edge of Honor" will have an impact, one because it's universally well-received, and the other because it's from Carina Press, which has an enormous reach that not many publishers can offer).

I have friends who need the royalty payments to eat. To buy a new (or a better used) computer. Where selling books means the difference between having a roof over their heads and not.

To me, sales are basically validation... the only way I can "track" if I'm successful. Being ambitious and proud of what I do, sales is the main way for me to see if it's "working", but, bottom line of it all is... for me it's a game and not a matter of life and death. I will admit, freely, that I'd like to draw some writing income when I retire, and I hope I can retire before I hit 67, or whatever the retirement age is going to be for Britain. Dragging my 60+ year old carcass through the London commute is not very enticing. Yes, I'd like to retire on writing, but I'm not asking for a free lunch, and I don't believe the m/m genre will ever pay enough to match my corporate salary (with pension, and private healthcare). Also, I can see the holder of my mortgage, HSBC bank, get twitchy about the very uneven income stream of a small fry author. And nothing would give me more serious writer's block than actually *having* to pay off my house with the bucks I make writing.

Lastly, I can't ask my partner to subsidise a writer. That's not how my idea of a relationship works. Everybody is pulling their financial weight. Life as DINKS is pretty sweet, overall, and we can save towards retirement.

What annoys me about piracy then? For me it's a respect issue. It's crazy-making to read on a pirate forum "I love his stuff, he's so talented, can anybody upload everything he's written?" And a few hours later, the "complete Voinov" has 700 downloads. (No, no exaggeration, that's *exactly* what happened a little while back.)

I'm not sure how *you* express your respect and love for an artist, but I don't think stealing from them would be on the list.

Respect cuts both ways. I will write like you guys out there have a brain and can deal with morally ambiguous characters. I'm here to make you squirm, to sometimes challenge assumptions, I'm here to put a smile on your face, but not with a cheap joke. For you guys/gals, I'm writing my little black heart out. I respect you. I'm not dumbing down, not selling out. I'm not getting lazy. I'm working hard to edit, because I respect you enough that I know that a wrong comma or a badly chosen word grates on you as much as it does on me when I'm the reader.

I'm killing books that are not good enough. I will never write cookie-cutters, even though they are easy and fast. I'll never copy and paste my sex scenes from one book to the next. I'll always reach for the heart (and the throat, and the balls). I do that because I respect my readers. All I'm asking is that my readers - and that pirate was clearly a reader - respect me in turn.


  1. Well said, my friend. I'd sooner invite someone to take food off my plate, than steal my book. Ask and ye shall receive, gladly, but steal it, and you hurt me and my family.