It’s a truth universally acknowledged that book piracy is bad. It’s something that I never spent much time thinking about: It’s illegal (some people like to argue it’s in a legal grey zone), it’s harmful towards authors (and publishing houses), it’s stealing and that’s the overall narrative. I can’t remember how many times I have read posts by authors, tired from the many times they have seen their work uploaded on piracy sites, begging readers not to download these stolen copies. It’s exhausting, I get it. And I would definitely hate it too if I found my assignments for uni online for everyone to download without my consent.
Then something interesting happened a few weeks ago. I had just signed up for Scribd to download an audiobook for my book club when one person in my book club’s group chat sent a link to a website where you could download many books for free. Intrigued, I clicked on the link & nothing stood out as suspicious to me. Yet nothing in the world comes for free, so I googled the site…turns out it was a book piracy site. Horrified, I quickly sent a message to the group chat that we as a book club can NOT support book piracy. A day later, another person sent a link to another book piracy site, and this time, enraged, I announced that we have a zero-tolerance policy for book piracy, and should people continue promoting piracy sites, it would lead to their immediate suspension.
Let’s be honest though. Hasn’t anyone done some sort of pirating at some point in their life too, intentionally or unintentionally? What about movies you really wanted to watch upon their release but couldn’t because going to the cinema is helluva expensive, or TV shows you might not even have access to because they don’t show them in your country?
Being able to read books is a privilege. Even as a young student who grew up comfortably in Europe and who had never had to complain about lacking support from her parents (especially when it comes to books), I get it. I can’t just buy the latest edition of an anatomy textbook, or the latest 700-page Kaplan Step 2 Guide for internal medicine because it would instantly wipe my bank account. Sometimes these book don’t even ship to Germany (where I live), so I honestly don’t know what it must be like for someone who lives in an even more hidden corner of the world. Book Depository for example didn’t even ship to Columbia until a few months ago which I personally found shocking because naive-me thought that worldwide delivery means worldwide delivery.
Of course there are free or at least cheaper resources such as your local library or online library services such as Scribd or Libby, but they also only provide temporary solutions. What if your library doesn’t carry the book you want to read (which is very likely if you’re from a non-English-speaking country)? What if there are legitimate reasons you can’t have access to these online services? What if you have to rationalise your income and books are a luxury you can only afford every once in a while? You can’t just ask your parents for book money all the time either. Another argument — that ebooks are often cheaper than physical books — is partially a myth too. In fact, they are often sold at a similar price as their physical counterpart and only one or two bucks cheaper. Another dead-end.
Book piracy is so easy. It’s anonymous, it’s quick, and most importantly, you have immediate access to something which you otherwise would miss out on. But looking from this other point of view, which is that books are a matter of price and privilege, it almost feels as if I can understand why people would feel the urge to do it, even though I don’t support these types of actions.
Should you be proud of or pirating? Heck no. It’s still illegal, it’s harmful to the authors who poured so much work into it, and harmful to the publishing industry. Here’s some quick maths: If the book doesn’t sell well, there will be no future books by the author period. Publishers are financial monsters too, after all. But you shouldn’t feel ashamed of owning too little books either, or not being able to read the latest release because you feel pressured by other people to own the book. Most importantly, it’s also the publishers’ responsibility to make sure that books are accessible to readers from all over the world so they will find a reason not to do piracy and find legitimate ways to read an author’s work. Of course the publishing industry will always argue that the making of books is expensive, hence the high prices, but they need to be held accountable too. As for books for university for example, how about just being more liberal with giving out campus licenses so more students can have access to them? Not having access to books equals to missed opportunities.
There are some positive examples too though. Simon & Schuster for example provides a handful of books for free every month for their email subscribers, however that’s still a very unusual project. I wished more publishers would follow suit.
For now, our book club has agreed on picking books only that have been around for some time so it’s more likely for people to find a copy of it at their local library, or will at least have enough time to find other decent resources. For now we have also suspended our “zero tolerance policy” because, let’s be honest, it’s really not our business to find out where a person got their book from. It’s a chapter not closed yet though and I am curious to see what the future will hold (sorry for this cheesy ending, I seriously couldn’t come up with a good ending to this post).
Lastly, here’s a blog post that Jamilex @colorfullybookish made at the beginning of this month where she shares some resources for affordable books. I found it to be very helpful! 🙂
What are your thoughts on book piracy? Have you walked into an uncomfortable situation before?