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Flatbush Flashback

The Pirates, the Price, and the Book of Numbers

The book piracy pandemic was one of the primary reasons that I decided to make Nowhere Man--a book that's been pirated to death for almost 10 years--available as an e-book.

I wanted to give readers an alternative to downloading pirated editions, and I especially wanted to give people who've bought the print edition from Amazon, either in paperback or hardcover, the opportunity to buy the updated and expanded e-book (with a new introduction and five bonus chapters rather than the bonus malware you often receive when you download pirated books) for the extraordinary price of 99 cents--Amazon's “matchbook” price. The book will be exclusively available on the site on October 9, Lennon's 75th birthday. Also, Nowhere Man is not DRM-protected, so you can share it, unlike with many e-books.

Pre-order now and receive Nowhere Man at midnight Eastern Time on October 9.

The 99-cent matchbook price, the $9.99 regular price, and the release date are not random numbers. As I detail in Nowhere Man, notably in a chapter titled “The Book of Numbers,” number 9, as well as its multiples 18 and 27, were numbers that played a significant role throughout Lennon’s life and death.

Lennon and his son Sean were born October 9; Yoko Ono was born February 18; Paul McCartney was born June 18; Lennon received his green card on July 27; and when Mark Chapman murdered Lennon (December 8 in New York but already December 9 in England), he believed that he was writing Chapter 27 of The Catcher in the Rye—a book that has only 26 chapters—in Lennon’s blood.

And that’s just scratching the surface of what Nowhere Man says about 9, 18, and 27.

Following the rules of Cheiro’s Book of Numbers, a volume that Lennon and Ono considered one of their bibles, I wanted the prices, a double 9 (or 18) and a triple 9 (or 27), and the release date to, as John would have thought, vibrate harmoniously with his life.

I do hope you’ll buy my book, especially if you’ve already enjoyed reading a pirated edition. Read More 
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Because They Can

From The Wake Forest Journal of Business and Intellectual Property Law.
"It's a terrible thing," photographer Terry Bisbee wrote to me after she read my post on the book-pirating pandemic. "I find it hard to wrap my head around someone who would forsake the pleasure of ordering, buying & receiving a real book with its nice new book smell, cover art, and most important the author's CONTENT that they can curl up & read."

Previously unaware of the extent of the problem, she wondered what could be done.

Novelist Thomas Kennedy had been unaware of the pandemic, as well. After searching for his name and “free download,” he was surprised to find pirated copies of his books available online. He, too, wondered what could be done.

“Not much,” I told them. The Authors Guild, numerous high-profile authors, and publishers both corporate and independent have been wrestling with piracy for years. But the problem just keeps getting worse.

Meanwhile, the conglomerates that make money off piracy—the search engine companies with their ads and the monopolistic Internet providers with their breathtaking monthly bills (not to mention the major advertisers, like Citibank, Sprint, and Office Depot, that support sites like Mobilism)—have done nothing to stop it. They say that piracy is beyond their control, even though search engines are able to bury, and IPs are able to block, certain “adult” sites when they choose to.

We live in an age when anything available in a digital format—books, movies, music, video games—can be downloaded for free, and millions of people do so every day. It’s gotten to the point that the 32-million illegal downloads of Game of Thrones Season Five are looked upon as a measure of the show’s success.

Yes, occasionally someone on the Internet mentions a legitimate or quasi-legitimate reason for pirating books, such as: paperbacks are too expensive and college textbooks are grotesquely overpriced; you can only rent and not actually buy e-books from the major vendors, and they can repossess them if they want to; it only hurts the “evil” publishers if you pirate from dead authors; you buy more books than you steal, or download books that you wouldn’t normally buy; e-books are unavailable in your country; or you live on disability, cannot hold a physical book, and can barely afford to pay for medical care.

But for the most part, the Internet is full of absurd excuses and rationalizations for why people pirate books. Below is a compilation of those reasons, followed in most cases by my own comments, in italics. (Interestingly, people seem to have stopped posting this kind of stuff about two years ago. Maybe it’s all been said. Or maybe, in 2015, piracy has become so culturally ingrained, the need to justify it has become as unnecessary as the need to justify breathing.)


“Books have always been free to those who don’t want to pay for them. Since as far back as the 17th century, people too poor, or too cheap, to buy a book could walk into a public library and borrow it…. Pirate ebooks are just the 21st century equivalent of the lending library or of real-world book sharing, and—in all but the most egregious cases—can be safely ignored.” —

Libraries pay for books and replace them when they’re worn out. Authors, myself included, are thrilled to have their books in libraries. Maybe piracy could be ignored in 2011, when this piece was posted, but it can’t be ignored any longer. Piracy is one of the primary culprits among a multitude of perpetrators that are driving authors out of business.

“If your books are being pirated, then they’ve got something good going for them. Nobody shares stuff they don’t like. Don’t forget that the users doing the sharing are usually your biggest fans, too…. It’s not theft…. Most piracy is a minor civil crime… and it’s counted as infringement…. Everyone commits some level of piracy every day…. These days, copyright is so narrowly defined that just about anything a person does with a media file is infringement.” —

Are you suggesting that passing a photocopied Dilbert cartoon around the office is comparable to downloading pirated editions of every book you want to read but don’t want to pay for?

“For some, it’s the only practical way they can access content, either because the item is not available any other way, or it costs far more than they can afford. And for others, it’s a protest against the evil hegemony of the film, music and book industries.” —

I’m sadly aware that the unavailability of an e-book edition of Nowhere Man has contributed to its piracy. But I was shocked (shocked!) to learn that the book’s California-based indie publisher, Quick American Archives, and Beaver Street’s London-based indie publisher, Headpress, are members of an evil hegemony.

“Publishing houses are greedy…. Sharing a book is great publicity for the author…. People who travel a lot like the convenience of ebooks, and if they already own the book in physical form they feel justified in getting a free copy…. Free sharing allows people to sample books.” —The Guardian

Book pirates are greedy. Pirating is not “great publicity for the author.” The exact opposite is true. Publicity leads to piracy. I do agree, however, that if you buy a new print edition of a book, you should, under most circumstances, be allowed to download the e-book edition for free or for a minimal price. Amazon already does this, offering $1.99 e-books to people who buy the print edition of certain books. Is it really necessary to point out that Amazon, Google, and many other “legitimate” sites allow people to sample books before they buy them?

“A lot of the reasons for book piracy amount to: ‘Because I want it.’… Obscurity is a fate worse than piracy.” —

Obscurity might be a fate worse than piracy for the tens of thousands of authors who give away their self-published e-books on Amazon and elsewhere, thereby negating the need for piracy. But the most-pirated authors are well known to begin with.

“I like to collect stuff…. I’ll never pay for an e-book.” —

The following series of comments were culled from a discussion on Reddit:

“I’m poor and I like to read, but I can’t pirate food, so I pirate everything else.”

Apparently you’re not too poor to pay for Internet access, a computer, and probably a smartphone, too. Have you considered the library?

“I don’t justify it. It’s wrong and I will keep doing it. If I really like a book though I will buy it.”

The percentage of people who buy books that they’ve already pirated is miniscule. You are the exception that proves the rule.

“I pirate stuff because I’m cheap.”

Which explains most piracy.

“The free flow of information, especially when it relates to books and other forms of learning, is a necessary step in the history of mankind. The future is here motherfuckers, knowledge is free on the internet, TAKE IT.”

Knowledge is not free. Authors pay for the knowledge you gain with the time they spend making it accessible and understandable. And entertainment isn’t free, either. I doubt anybody reads two of the most pirated authors—J. K. Rowling and Stephen King—for “knowledge.”

Bottom line: Downloading pirated books is a crime of opportunity. The opportunities to do so are limitless and the chances of being punished are nil. People download pirated books because they can. Read More 
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The Book-Piracy Pandemic

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. Read More 
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Always Look on the Bright Side of Google

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 More 

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Read It and Weep

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. Read More 
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