The digital age has changed a lot. While in the past it may have seemed self-evident to individuals that walking into a bookstore and pocketing a book without paying for it is theft and is wrong, the advent of e-books has changed people’s perceptions of what theft is. Because they’re not literally picking up a book and stealing it, but instead simply downloading something (something nebulous and intangible and therefore not “real”), readers often feel justified in their pirating. Besides, isn’t all this knowledge supposed to be free? Who are the publishers to decide that only people with money get to read Shannon Hale or Ally Condie’s latest release? That’s totally unfair, right? Wrong. Pirating books is still theft and can never be justified. Here’s why.
Pirating Hurts Individuals
The price of a book is not determined by the amount of paper needed to print it. The price of the book pays the editors, the illustrator, the cover designer, the marketing team, the author, the people who work to maintain the office housing the company, etc. Even if you’re buying a digital copy, you’re still paying for these same people and you’re also paying for the people who had to code the work for distribution in different formats. The price is not about the paper. It’s about the content and the people who brought it to you. Every time you steal an e-book, you’re literally stealing money from the people who worked to bring you the book you love so much. Would you walk up to Sarah J. Maas and take a five dollar bill out of her wallet? Would you do that to her editor? If not, you shouldn’t be doing the same thing by downloading her books illegally.
Also keep in mind that authors and individuals in the publishing industry usually aren’t making as much money as you think. And children’s authors may be getting paid less than adult authors. For example, if you search the average salary for an editor, it’s around $30,000. Most publishing houses are in NYC. Living on $30,000 is NYC is not easy! These people actually may need the money you’re taking from them when you steal their work.
And the same goes for people who produce textbooks. Because textbooks have a niche audience, few copies sell (especially due to the used book industry nowadays) and the authors are making almost no money off them from the start. You can’t justify your theft of their work by claiming they’re “making bank” off that $200 textbook, because they’re not.
But does it matter if the author is J. K. Rowling? Can you download her books illegally since, hey, she doesn’t need the money anyway, right? Absolutely not. Theft is theft and stealing is wrong no matter who you’re stealing from. And remember–J. K. Rowling’s books also have other individuals involved in their publishing. You’re stealing from them, too.
Pirating Prevents You From Getting More of the Content You Enjoy
It’s not a secret that the publishing industry is the U.S. is feeling a little shaky these days. Publishers are a business and they need money to stay open. So how do they do this? They have to publish what’s going to sell, even if they personally don’t enjoy it or even if they think it’s ridiculous trash. So if Author A sells tons of books, they’re going to offer Author A more contracts. If Author B is fantastic but sells barely enough books for the publisher to break even, Author B is unlikely to receive future contracts. If you enjoy Author B and want to see more of their work, you have to demonstrate this to publishers by buying the author’s book. Otherwise, you can’t really complain when Author B’s five-book series is suddenly stopped at book three. And if another publisher has to close because of declining sales, you also have no grounds to complain.
But What About Access for the Masses?
The complaints about not having access to the latest YA releases really have no grounds. No person is entitled to the latest YA release. No person is guaranteed to have access to the latest release at the exact same moment someone else in the world is. These things are luxury goods, not necessities of life. And there are different ways for individuals to access books. The library is a good place to start. Even if your library does not have all the books you want, you can still request these books through inter-library loan. If you cannot get to the library, you still have access to their online downloadable e-book selection. And if you still can’t get the titles you want? If you can’t get to the library or don’t have a library? You’re still not justified in stealing. Someone, for example, might wish they had access to a new television or the latest smartphone–but that doesn’t mean they’d be justified in walking into a store and shoplifting because they wouldn’t be able to afford them or acquire them any other way.
But what about textbooks? Shouldn’t knowledge be free? First of all, keep in mind that if you’re in college and in the position to buy textbooks at all, you’re already more privileged than most people. You might not enjoy having to spend $1000 a year on books. You might have to give up that new video game or even make other sacrifices such as wearing shoes with holes or cutting down on your grocery bill (as I’ve had to do). Or you might really have no way to get the money for these books. Can you steal them then? No, of course not. Stealing money from other people because you don’t have enough money is still wrong. Even when it comes to textbooks.
Stealing is still wrong even when:
- You can’t afford the item.
- You believe the item is over-priced.
- You are upset other people have earlier access to the item.
- The item is not available in the precise format you wish it to be in.
- You don’t want the trouble of finding an alternative, legal way of obtaining the item.
And pirating is not a victimless crime. It may seem that downloading a file is a harmless data transfer, but, in reality, you might as well walk up to the people who created that book and tell them you don’t value their work enough to pay for it and that you’re even going to make sure their salaries are reduced. Because every time you pirate a book, you are literally taking money out of the pockets of everyone involved. If it helps, think of your friends or fellow bloggers who are aspiring writers. Think of any authorial aspirations you have yourself. How would you feel if someone stole from your friend or from you? How would it feel to see the numbers of all your pirated books and know exactly how much money you lost?
So we have to decide. Do we, book bloggers who claim to love and celebrate books, want to be the kind of person who steals from authors, editors, artists, and translators? Do we want to be the kind of person who justifies theft? Or do we want to ensure that we are truly celebrating art and the people who create it by building a community that supports authors and publishers, and thereby ensures that new knowledge and stories can be produced and disseminated?