Matt Forney
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The Pointlessness of Fighting E-Book Piracy

A couple years back, when Deus Ex: Human Revolution was released, I pulled out my copies of the first two games in the series to get myself back up to speed on the plot. Deus Ex installed and played just fine, but when I went to boot up Invisible War, the game refused to start, even though it had installed just fine. A bit of Google research and I found the problem; the copy protection on the disc had a tendency to degrade when the disc got older. I fixed the problem by downloading a no-CD patch so I could play the game without the disc.

That’s right: I had to break the law in order to play a game I legally bought… all because of a piece of software that was designed to keep me from breaking the law.

That’s the logic behind DRM and other anti-piracy measures: punishing people who legally buy your products. It’s also why I oppose them. Beyond the fact that they don’t work—as all the pirated copies of DRM-enabled games like Deus Ex: Invisible War show—punishing your customers makes no sense from a business perspective. None of the electronic versions of my books come with DRM; you can download them to as many devices as you want, convert them to any format you like, give a copy to a friend, put ’em up on some shady file-sharing site, whatever.

The simple reality is that if you want to sell anything today, you have no choice but to put up with piracy.

It’s true that piracy has a negative effect on music, video game and e-book sales. A year ago, Lower Dens frontwoman Jana Hunter wrote an article on the economic impact of piracy, streaming services like Spotify and the like on her yearly income. At the same time though, piracy is an indicator that people actually like your stuff. Think about it: if nobody liked your music or your books, why would they seek them out on torrent and file-sharing sites? Compare the ease of finding, say, any KISS album vs. any Pere Ubu album (not hating; I love Pere Ubu, but they’re underground for a reason) on the Internet.

If nobody’s interested in pirating your books, it means that no one’s interested in buying them either.

The other thing you have to remember about piracy is that not everyone who steals your book would buy it if pirating it weren’t an option. The kinds of people who go to great lengths to pirate something—kiddie “anarchists” in their Guy Fawkes masks, virginal libertarians, “information wants to be free” types—would never pay for any of the entertainment they consume. Inconveniencing paying customers with actual money just so you can get one over on a bunch of geeks living in their parents’ basements is like trying to kill a spider with a hand grenade.

The fact of the matter is is that if your content is good and you market your products properly, you will make money. Even if your stuff is on The Pirate Bay, the vast majority of your readers will still choose to buy your books both because they want to support you and see you succeed and for convenience reasons. There’s absolutely no benefit to including DRM in your e-books.

The best way to make money from a book is to be the best writer you can be.

Don’t rip people off; write good quality books that are worth the money. Give lots of value via your blog or other venues. In my case, the vast majority of the writing I’ve done is on the Internet. I operate a frequently updated blog on top of my day job, other small business ventures and real life. People are willing to buy my books because they see the quality work I put out for free and figure my products are worth the money. I also don’t release a book unless it’s truly worth paying for; I’ve killed projects in the past because of this.

There’s still lots of money to be made online; you just have to work for it.

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  • The cynic in me leads to the conclusion that the entire war on digital piracy is a false flag designed to expand planned obsolescence onto an intangible format.

  • The simple reality is that laws and government protection have distorted all content generation industries. Content generation makes too much money at the high (big monopoly) end, and not enough at the low (average-joe content maker) end. As predicted, the internet is fast equalizing the playing field. It’s disastrous for large companies who built a business model on controlling content generation, promotion and distribution. It’s fantastic for the truly creative amongst us.

    Keep writing, and keep generating content, and you’ll never go hungry. Attempt to extort your customers for access to previously created content, and you’ll get pirated. It is as simple as that.

  • That’s exactly how I think too. If people are wiling to go through the trouble of finding mystuff for free, that means they really wanna know what I say. The more people that look at my work, the more influence I have.

    The more influence I will have, the more money I will have. It’ll come one way or another.

    Music in digital format destroyed old CD companies. But those who embrace the change are going strong. Music artists are still making good money.

  • very true, although Invisible war was by far the worst anyway.
    Matt, what kind of books did you sell at In Mala Fide? do you still get hit up by people asking for copies?

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  • Hey Matt,

    Great insights!

    “If nobody’s interested in pirating your books, it means that no one’s interested in buying them either.” – couldn’t agree more.

    The only way to beat ebook piracy is to make your work easily acessible and affordable to your target readers.

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