Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Writers don't get paid for book tours

I was watching Power Lunch on CNBC yesterday, which I always do, even when I'm writing. A musician, entrepreneur, and co-author of a business book was being interviewed.

He was asked about piracy.

Kudos to Bill Griffith, and especially Michelle Caruso-Carrera for asking their guest, 50 cents about piracy. Of course, they targeted music piracy. Too bad they didn't ask his co-host, who was also a guest, about book piracy.

Essentially, the mega-rich musician/author guest (whose name is 50-cents) said that he did not mind piracy at all, and that musicians looked on the theft of copyrighted musical works (he did not call it theft) as inevitable, and as promotion for his concerts and tours and merchandise.

I find this attitude, while understandable, essentially immoral. Musicians muddy the waters of what is right and wrong when they tell people that stealing is good for the victim. They undermine all copyright by confusing the public, and by saying they don't mind theft.

That makes the rest of us, who do mind internet piracy look bad.

It's a case of "I'm all right, Jack!"

How popular does a musician have to be, to get a tour? Or a merchandising deal? Maybe not so much.

However, authors aren't usually paid for doing book tours. It's completely the other way around. Authors go on book tours to promote the book. Speaking engagements aren't usually paid. Anyway, authors write. Speaking is a whole set of other skills.

Authors don't sell merchandise (unless they are George Lucas, or J K Rowling... good luck to them!). Most of us can't even sell T-shirts, coffeemugs and tote bags, although we could create them at Cafepress.

Why don't we? Because we respect the copyrights of the cover models, cover artists, and cover model photographers, who usually sell limited rights to the publishers to use the images on the cover of books and for the promotion of those books, but not on mouse pads, underwear, screen savers and other merchandise sold for profit.

The best we can do is transfer a snappy quote from our books onto a T-shirt.

Anyway, I need a concluding thought to tie in with my opening. Otherwise, I would not admit this thought had crossed my mind... but if I happen to see this musician's business book on some of the file-"sharing" sites, I shall hope that the CNBC Power Lunch team are also tracking this book, and that they will have their guests back to ask about book piracy!



Chris said...

Not to be devil's advocate, but I tend to agree with the other viewpoint, at least where electronic media is concerned. Piracy, or simple sharing of electronic "product" is inevitable. There is no copy protect that can foil a determined hacker.

The other point is, should you worry about it? Should you even encourage it? Most new authors (leaving the JK Rowlings and Stephen King's aside) would agree with a statement I heard from Cory Doctorow at a writer's workshop: Authors do not suffer from piracy, they suffer from anonymity. Cory gives away electronic versions of all his novels the day they are published in print. He puts them out under Creative Commons licensing agreement, and he will tell you that it has not hurt but helped his sales, primarily by spreading the word.

Just a thought: you can spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about and fighting ineffectually against piracy, or you can use it to your advantage as "free advertising"...

Rowena Cherry said...

Dear Chris,

Thank you very much for your comment. I cannot agree with you, but I appreciate a civil debate.

Presumably Cory Doctorow retains all e-rights to his books when he signs a contract with his print publisher.

Most authors do not do that because it is quite expensive to make the 23 or so changes to a standard contract. (I do.)

By the way, an e-book is not an electronic product. That is the point.

A physical book is a product which the purchaser owns and is free to re-sell or give away. An e-book is a license to read the material on one's e-reader, but it confers no rights of ownership whatsoever.

The facts for a debut e-published author are that she must sell a pre-determined number of copies of her e-book before her publisher considers offering the book in print.

So, maybe the book loving pirates prevent her from getting into print.

For many print authors, they must sell a certain percentage of the initial print run, or they will not be offered a second contract. The more potential readers who read a free copy, the fewer may buy the book, which may end a promising career.

Authors in both electronic media and print have calculated what the royalties of even a fraction of the downloads would have meant to them if they had been sales.

We're talking about choices that might not have had to be made between food and medicine.

And finally, Chris, aren't we all morally and legally obliged to pay our taxes in full?

An author pays sales taxes if she purchases copies of her books (albeit at a discount) to give away. If she receives royalties on those sales to herself, she pays taxes on her royalties.

Nothing is "free". There is always a cost to someone.

When you encourage theft because it makes you famous, what are you doing to the editors, printers, models, artists, bookshop clerks who depend upon legitimate book sales...right now, in this economy, while they still have jobs...for their livelihoods?

RKCharron said...

Hi :)
Thanks for a interesting blog post.
Book Piracy is definitely an issue that will have to be resolved as electronic media replace print.
An author must be paid for the wordsmithing.
Is it piracy when you lend a book to a family member or friend?
If you can do it with a paperback or hardcover, why not with an ebook? If I buy an ebook I expect to OWN that book. Which is why I only buy pdf or lit ebooks and steer clear of Kindle for now.
I love buying books - I just wish more of my money went toward the actual creator of the content.
All the best,

Rowena Cherry said...

RK Charron,

Thank you very much for your comment. OK. I am curious. Please answer my challenge.

Will you go to the very first page of any e-book (I don't mean Chapter One, I mean the boring stuff in smaller print) and report back what it says.

There ought to be the cover art, then the title, then the author's name, then the publisher's name. What's next?