The Sporadic Beaver

The Book-Piracy Pandemic

August 19, 2015

Tags: Scott Turow, book piracy, writing

In 2013, best-selling author and then president of The Authors Guild Scott Turow published a major op-ed in The New York Times titled "The Slow Death of the American Author." In it, he said that on the three most popular search engines, of the first 28 listings in a search for "Scott Turow free e-books," 24 of them were pirate sites, all with paid ads appearing in the margins.

He compared this to a man standing on a street corner telling people where to buy stolen goods and collecting a small fee for his services, and also noted that piracy had virtually destroyed book publishing in Russia, where it "goes almost completely unpoliced."

In the two years since Turow’s essay appeared, the situation has grown significantly worse—it’s an epidemic that’s become a pandemic. I became aware of this about two months ago, when a flurry of publicity about Beaver Street led not to a modest uptick in sales (as might have been the case a year ago) but to an avalanche of e-mail “alerts” for sites offering free downloads of my books, one of which, Nowhere Man, isn’t even available as a legitimate e-book. At least one new pirate site sprang up every day—sometimes two-dozen new ones appeared in a single week.

Often, I’d click on a site just to see what it looked like, and many of them looked as slick as Amazon. One site, based in Russia, offered a forum where people could request pirated editions of specific titles, some of which they were willing to pay for! And though I am curious to see how good the pirated editions of my books are, I’ve never downloaded one, as this seems like an excellent way to get a computer virus.

In fact, I no longer click on the alerts, as the last time I did so, the link brought me to an attack site that uploaded malware to my computer.

As if book publishing weren’t discouraging enough on its own demerits, the piracy pandemic and the associated erosion of income has left me wondering why I should spend years writing another book, when, even if I’m lucky enough to get it published, it’ll be pirated—instantaneously if it’s popular enough.

What’s especially infuriating is that while U.K. Internet providers have blocked all “adult” sites, most of which are completely legal (you have to ask your IP to give you access), and search engine companies have made it harder to find certain adult sites, they claim there’s nothing they can do about piracy—that it’s a “whack-a-mole” proposition.

Which is true. But pirate sites are easy to recognize. They always contain such terms as “download,” “free,” “e-book,” and “pdf,” and often have “ru” (Russia) in the URL. Why a search engine can’t block these sites is beyond my comprehension. I can only assume they have no interest in doing so—because they continue to make money, unlike the authors whom they’re slowly driving out of business, just as Turow predicted.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Google

April 12, 2013

Tags: Google, Scott Turow, Missy Manners, Orrin Hatch, book piracy

Earlier this week I wrote about Authors Guild president Scott Turow's New York Times essay, "The Slow Death of the American Author." In the piece, Turow explained how Google was profiting from rogue Websites that offer pirated e-books for free, and how the company was using its financial muscle to run roughshod over the meaning and spirit of copyright.

Well, I'd like to end the week by reporting some good Google news, as personal and insignificant as it might be. For approximately six months, Google had stopped searching this blog, and my referral traffic, especially for popular posts about porn star Missy Manners and her relationship with anti-porn Senator Orrin Hatch, of Utah, came to a complete halt. I blamed the problem on Google. But the fault, dear readers, was in the code--my code--and this was finally brought to my attention by a sharp-eyed young man who lives on Beaver Street in Santa Rosa, California.

The problem is now solved. If you search for “Missy Manners” “Orrin Hatch”, my posts have returned to their rightful #1 place in the Google search results. And if you search for anything else I’ve written about here over the past few years, chances are excellent that you’ll find that, too.

I’ll take my good news where I can get it.

Read It and Weep

April 10, 2013

Tags: book piracy, Google, Amazon, writing, Scott Turow

I've written frequently on this blog about the difficulties of surviving as a writer in 21st century America, and I've complained long and loud about mega-conglomerates, like Google and Amazon, who've made survival that much more difficult. But nothing I've written comes close to the indictment that Scott Turow, author of numerous best-selling books and president of The Authors Guild, published in The New York Times the other day.

Turow covers a lot of ground in "The Slow Death of the American Author," and I’m not going to discuss all of it here. But I'd like to bring your attention to a couple of points he makes, which shed even more light on similar things I've written about.

One of his main points is how Google, which does business under the slogan “Don’t be evil,” as well as Yahoo and Bing, are, without fear of legal consequence, profiting by directing people to “rogue sites… with paid ads decorating the margins,” that offer pirated e-books for free. “If I stood on a corner telling people who asked where they could buy stolen goods and collected a small fee for it,” Turow writes, “I’d be on my way to jail.”

He then turns to Amazon, which, since 2000, has been selling used print books side-by-side with new books, without sharing the profits on the used books with publishers or authors. Now, Turow says, the company has a patent to sell “used” e-books. Except, unlike print books, which show wear and tear, there’s no difference between a used e-book and a new e-book. “Why,” he asks, “would anyone ever buy a new book again?” Amazon “would literally own the resale market and would shift enormous profits to itself from publishers as well as authors, who would lose the already meager share of the proceeds they receive on the sale of new e-books.”

Turow ends with a vision of the dystopian future of book publishing in the U.S., based on what he saw on a recent visit to Russia, where, he says, “There is only a handful of publishers left,” e-books have been “savaged by instantaneous piracy that goes almost completely unpoliced,” and “in the country of Tolstoy and Chekhov, few Russians… can name a contemporary Russian author whose work regularly affects the national conversation.”

I’d urge everybody with an interest in the fate of books and the people who write them to read Turow’s complete essay.