The great catch-up - wherein I endeavour to read all the emails and blog posts and comments to have come a-calling while I was on holiday there - the great catch-up... well, it goes.
Seems I missed a couple of almighty fusses. I'm already on the back foot as regards this so-called "Amazon review scandal," which seems to me a fine exemplar of the internet in action - and well worth bearing in mind the next time the internet assembles for such a petty, not to mention predictable set-piece - and there was the whole FOAF thing recounted on Haunted Legends editor Nick Mamatas' LJ. That properly got me going.
But alas, the internet. It moves a mile a minute, and for all that people profess they'd like to read about something other than what's hot and shiny and new, somewhat counter-intuitively, the internet also likes to bitch and moan and whine when someone dares to talk about something it's deemed in its infinite wisdom yawnsome old news.
So I won't bore you.
...what was I going on about again?
Ah yes. The great catch-up. So, whilst in the grips of the mighty Thunderbird and my RSS Reader, I came across an email from Celine Kiernan, author of The Poison Throne - full review here - as well as its sequels, The Rebel Prince and The Crowded Shadows. I'm sure a bunch of other bloggers did too, but as yet no-one (or at least no-one in my blogroll) seems to have given the point Celine raised therein the time of day. Shame on you all for that.
She blogged about it too, opening with the admission that "I've now lost count of the number of piracy sites that have my books up for illegal download as bit torrents or as pdfs or as so called e-books." Celine trots out the anti-piracy arguments as old as time, the same rationales people have met with utter disdain or at best disinterest since peer-to-peer filesharing paired with the woeful anonymity of the internet became a cause for concern. She trots them out and casts them aside, and well she should, because for all that the force is strong with them, and the logic sound, they - let's be frank - haven't made a whole hell of a lot of difference, have they? Instead, she asks:
"I'm just going to ask you to stop. OK? Stop stealing money from my pocket, sales from my reputation, and business from the legit booksellers and sites who legally support me and others like me. If you can’t afford to buy my work then, please, go to the library - at least they keep track of how many times the books are checked out - and those reports go back to my publishers, and believe it or not, that’s important."
And I applaud her courage. For standing up against the paramount immovable object of our era and saying her piece. She's certainly entitled to, and I'd go one further, say she's right to. Why? Because the oft-cited line between piracy and stealing isn't half as fine as pirates (what do you know?) would have you believe.
Let's do a little math.
Wait, no! Come back! It's only a little math...
Here it is.
Now that's not a bloody invite to download The Poison Throne, you hear? What it is is one of - at last count - 40,904 e-books Demonoid are cool with you stealing. This is of particular import to us, I think. 'Us' here standing to mean fans of genre fiction. As a readership I think it's safe to say we're more interested in technology than most. Furthermore, we're more likely to be familiar with the ins and outs of filesharing via p2p networks. Thus, and this is just a guess, of those forty thousand torrents - and bear in mind they've only been counting since Demonoid wiped their servers of the millions of torrent files it had hosted before the government snarled in some legendary damn fool pirate's direction - perhaps 20,000 of those torrents are e-books likely to be of interest to you, and to me.
Now we're not even factoring in the teratorrents: those torrents indexing not just one file, and by extension one e-book, but many hundreds or thousands... all in one convenient click.
Nor are we going to look, for the sake of this little exercise, beyond Demonoid. This is a single server, and there are hundreds of prominent servers out there, each indexing their own versions of each torrent, each of which will likely have been downloaded as often as the aforementioned torrent of The Poison Throne. Which is to say, 764 times.
Let me repeat that: 764 people have downloaded The Poison Throne via Demonoid alone. Factor in a hundred other trackers with an e-book of Celine's novel each - and that's underestimating things some, I would wager - and we're looking at tens of thousands of pirated copies of The Poison Throne doing the rounds. Tens. Of. Thousands.
I'll put that in perspective for you. The top ten bestselling fiction novels recounted each week in The Times is pretty much the definitive bestsellers chart here in the UK - our paltry equivalent of the lists in The New York Times.
And I say paltry with good reason. Earlier in the year, Peter V. Brett - one of speculative fiction's biggest new authors - blogged that his second novel, The Desert Spear, had made it to number nine on the list. It took a bit of digging, but here's his post. Notice, as I did at the time, and much to my surprise, that all it took for The Desert Spear to be the ninth bestselling novel in the whole of the UK that week (the week of its release) was...
...wait for it...
1,475 copies. (As opposed to the 3,000 copies distributed by the darlings at Demonoid.)
Christ, that week the new Dan Brown only did shy of 3,000, and it was still the second most bought book in the whole of Britain. That revelation knocked me for six - seven even! - back in March. As does the thought today that if even a fraction of the people who have pirated The Poison Throne had put a few quid down for actual copies at an actual bookstore, Celine Kiernan would have been made. Her name would have been trumpeted from the tree-tops. Weather conditions notwithstanding, of course.
Instead... well. I have no idea how The Poison Throne did at retail - Orbit don't share their sales numbers with us, more's the pity. I'm sure it did fine. Sold as per expectations. But there's a reason expectations are so low: e-books have made a product that was once almost impossible to distribute in any other way than on paper pages (in books!) as vulnerable to piracy as MP3s and AVIs.
So why is no-one kicking up a stink about it? I ask you, where's the Metallica of SF&F gotten to?
I'm afraid I don't have an easy answer to those questions, and add to that: I tend to think I've gone on long enough for one afternoon anyway. I don't have an answer, per se, but never you fear, I do have a song for you all to sing while pondering over the great quandary of e-book piracy.
You might even know it:
If you go down to the Pirate Bay /
You're sure of a big surprise /
If you go down to the Pirate Bay /
You'd better go in disguise.
For ev'ry author that ever there was
will gather there for certain because /
Today's the day the pirates have
their goddamn hands lopped off for thieving!
Now Celine's a publisher author, a professional - if an exceedingly friendly one - so she has to be polite about this whole thing. I don't.
So... pirates? If you're reading this? You're helping to kill genre fiction. If not quite single-handedly, all the same, you're killing a lot of things that in turn mean a lot to me. And for that, fuck the lot of you.