I Used to Get Really Grumpy with People Because They Put My Poems Up, They Put My Stories Up

When the web started, I used to get really grumpy with people because they put my poems up, they put my stories up…they put my stuff up on the web. And I had this belief, which was completely erroneous, that if people put your stuff up on the web and you didn’t tell them to take it down, you would lose your copyright. Which, actually- is simply not true. I actually got very grumpy because I felt that they were pirating my stuff, that it was bad. And then I started to notice that..two things seemed much more significant. One of which was – places where I was being pirated, particular Russia, where people were translating my stuff into Russian and spreading it out into the world…I was selling more and more books.

People were discovering me, through being pirated. And then they were going out and buying the real books, and when a new book would come out in Russia, it would sell more and more copies. And I thought that was fascinating. And I tried a few experiments. And some of them were quite hard. Persuading my publisher, for example, to take one of my books and put it out for free. And we took “American Gods”, a book that was still selling, and selling very well, and for a month, they put it up completely free on their website. And you could read it, and you could download it.

And what happened was, sales of my books, through independent bookstores, because that was all we were measuring it through, went up the following month…..300 percent. And I started to realize that, actually…you’re not losing books, you’re not losing sales, by having stuff out there.

And when I give a big talk now on these kinds of subjects and people say “What about the sales that I am losing through having stuff copied, through having stuff floating out there?” I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question -which is… I say….”do you have a favorite author?” And they say “yes”, and I say “good.” “What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book …put up your hands. And then anybody who discovered your favorite author by walking into a book store and buying a book…raise your hands.” And it’s probably about 5-10%, if that, of the people actually discovered their favorite author who is the person they buy everything of and they buy the hardbacks. And they treasure the fact they’ve got this author. Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it. And that’s how they found their favorite author. And I thought..you know…that’s really all this is; it’s people lending books.” And you can’t look on that as a lost sale.” It is not a lost sale. Nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free.

 ~ Neil Gaiman (February, 2011)

10 thoughts on “I Used to Get Really Grumpy with People Because They Put My Poems Up, They Put My Stories Up”

    • I have read that account before, and the biggest question that raises for me is the example of Chuck Palahniuk, where he was told by his agent that his falling income was the fault of piracy, but really it was his agency embezzling from him. Also the accounts of Kris Rusch that every author she has talked to who blames piracy is actually not getting money owed by their publishers/agents.

      Every single study I have seen that is not designed/run by companies who make money off of fighting piracy has resulted in evidence that either that piracy has no effect, or that piracy helps sales. So I would suspect that something else is going on.

  1. Gaiman and Doctorow who both make most of their fortunes on film, TV, and other media deals and who have their entire backlist in every major bookstore on the planet really need to shut their traps on the “value” of piracy. It’s their arrogant equivalent of “let them eat cake” for the rest of us.

  2. The strategy may work for authors who can put out a lot of books, and have enough of a backlog that they can afford to make books free.

    It is not a universal strategy.

    And I can see someone reading an author’s only couple of books, and then going on to someone else – and never coming back.

  3. I’ve always believed in the power of free. My career only took off when I gave away for free over 40,000 copies of my first book via BookBub. I know people who are adamant that free simple cannot work, it is impossible and (this one always gets me) totally unfair to an author who might have spent several years of their life slaving away on their book. It is far too valuable to simply give away.

    Well – after having 40,000+ of my books “stolen” for free, my income trebled that month, stayed double the month after, and has never fallen back to the levels it was previously.

    Free works.

    • Free does not work, not in the age of the self-published Amazon author who finds their entire body of work on ebook.bike, or the indie publisher who also finds their entire catalogue on ebook.bike, and then realises why they can’t even afford to hire a cover artist for the next anthology, an anthology which contained previously undiscovered talent and new authors who are hoping the exposure of this anthology will help them move on to bigger things, like selling novels… except that it won’t. Because all the books are free now, and all the authors who are not already house-hold names, or have big book deals, are too busy working long-hours jobs to make a living because their book sales don’t fund a reduction in those day job hours so they can spend some time writing and pursuing their dream, and in so doing gift their dreams to readers who, apparently, love books. But won’t pay for books. Because books should be free.

      • I guess we have to disagree on this.

        As I said, free is what kicked off my career – and I now *sell* many more books than I ever did before that moment, and make a living wage as a result.

        However, it is a matter of personal preference, and no single model works for every writer.

      • As I said earlier (but it seems to have been removed) There are a couple sites where you can read my books for free – yet there are still sales on Amazon for those very same books (I even saw a small surge in sales of the older books when word got out that the next book in the series will soon be on its way to my editor.)

        Discovery, discovery, discovery. If you can’t be found you can’t be sold. The music companies found this out the hard way when they took down Napster and their sales took a dive because the kids could no longer sample it before thinking of buying it. Many a pirate wouldn’t have bought so those weren’t lost sales, and sometimes someone ‘looks’, likes what they see and buys.

        MYMV and your readers be able to discover they like reading you.

      • There is a big difference between an author-controlled free book promotion via bookbub and permanently “free” books via a pirate site.

        As for that particular pirate site, the one time I checked it it was only serving epubs. For Kindle versions, it linked to the Kindle ebookstore, amusingly enough.

  4. Unfortunately, PG has missed out the last few sentences of Gaiman’s interview (which you can find here in full: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Qkyt1wXNlI)

    He continued:

    “What you’re actually doing is advertising; you’re reaching more people; you’re raising awareness. And understanding that gave me a whole new idea of the shape of copyright and what the web was doing, because the biggest thing the web is doing is allowing people to hear things, allowing people to read things, allowing people to see things they might never have otherwise seen. And I think basically that’s an incredibly good thing.”

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