When the web started

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. 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.

And I also got very grumpy because I felt like 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, particularly Russia where people were translating my stuff into Russian and spreading around into the world, I was selling more and more books. People were discovering me through being pirated. 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. I thought this was fascinating, and I tried a few experiments. Some of them are quite hard, you know, persuading my publisher for example to take one of my books and put it out for free.

. . . .

I started to realize that actually, you’re not losing books. You’re not losing sales by having stuff out there. When I give a big talk now on these kinds of subjects and people say, “Well, what about the sales that I’m 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’d say, “Okay, do you have a favorite author?” They’d say, “Yes.” and I’d 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 bookstore and buying a book raise your hands.” And it’s probably about five, ten percent of the people who actually discovered an author who’s their favorite author, who is the person who they buy everything of. They buy the hardbacks and they treasure the fact that they 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 loss of sale. It’s not a lost sale, nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free.”

~ Neil Gaiman

10 thoughts on “When the web started”

  1. The same thing was noticed by the record companies and Napster, but they pulled Napster down and watched their sales fall anyway …

    MYMV and word of your works spread one way or another.

    • According to writer friends who monitor many of the pirate sites, the “advertising” consists of pirates asking other pirates to post other works of a pirated author so the excuse that your books are being “advertised” by being pirated is specious. I belong to a huge group of authors who monitor pirate sites, and not a one has seen a spike in sales after a new work was pirated.

      Plus, comparing music and books is totally specious because of the experience. You listen to a piece of music over and over if you like it. A novel is once and done so there’s no real reason to buy it after you’ve read it.

      These days with music, the musicians and/or their record labels are using YouTube and other sites to play and promote their music which allows them some profit from these free samples. The excuse that pirates are needed to get the word out these days can no longer be used.

      The same is true of books. Many authors and publishers now offer legal free copies of book 1 in a series so why steal?

      Also, I looked up MYMV, and there’s no mention of it. What the heck does it mean?

      • I’m not saying being pirated by pirates is a good thing, but most of that type weren’t going to buy it anyway so no sales were actually lost. But there are those that might find something on a pirate site and go looking to see what else the writer has done – and some of those may buy it if it’s not too much on Amazon or the like.

        My books are free on a couple of sites with my blessings, yet they also still sell on Amazon for some strange reason.


        May Your Mileage Vary – and you get your just desserts! 😉

  2. Gaiman has copies of all his backlist in paper in bookstores all over the world, and ebooks are probably secondary in sales. He also has his bestselling books and a movie rights fortune. Thousands of dollars in lost revenues is a drop in the bucket for him. For the rest of us, we are lucky to see a thousand, let alone thousands of dollars. Piracy is a huge deal for us, plus it p*sses many of us off to be supporting the millions and billions of dollars a year in profit pirate sites make.

    • And those of us in Kindle-Select run the risk of getting in trouble if we don’t at least try to have some of the pirate sites take down our work.

    • On the other hand, the rest of us are not losing a thousand, let alone thousands of dollars. Piracy is actually a tiny deal for us; our problem is discoverability.

      By the way, I’d like to know where you get this idea that pirate sites are making billions in profit. Profit on what? They’re not charging money for the works they copy; that’s the whole point of piracy.

      • E-book piracy and copyright issues were two of my biggest interests for years.

        Most pirate sites make their money through ads which pay by the amount of traffic. The infamous Megaupload was run by Kim Dotcom and friends. When he was finally arrested, he was worth more than 17 million US dollars. (Check out his Wikipedia article for details.) In 2013, a small pirate site was sold for 2 million dollars, and the seller bragged that he made about half of that a year. These are just the tip of the iceberg of what’s out there right now.

        If you want discoverability, being pirated isn’t the way to go about it because it’s a closed system of greed and theft. You’d do better to learn promotion tips and connect with authors and author groups in the same situation.

  3. In countries like Russia, this problem is very serious. Most people don’t buy things, they get books, ebooks, software, music and many things for free online. This problem is far more worse in countries like India. It’s difficult to stop because people like to get things for free and there are plenty of websites and places that provide these materials for free. Actually me too downloaded/used these copyrighted materials from internet without paying.

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