Last week, I saw this foreboding blog entry from Saundra Mitchell, a client of Jim McCarthy here at DGLM, about her books Shadowed Summer and The Vespertine being illegally downloaded on torrent sites. She writes that “According to one download site’s stats, people are downloading Shadowed Summer at a rate of 800 copies a week. When the book first came out, it topped out at 3000+ downloads a week.” And she mentions that the primary search on her website for The Vespertine, which doesn’t even come out until March, is “download vespertine + saundra”.
Now, even if we concede that torrent download statistics are suspect—by nature, sites that host illegal torrents aren’t exactly reliable—and that illegal free downloads don’t necessarily replace actual sales one for one, these figures are still pretty shocking, both for the author and the publisher. As Saundra writes, 800 copies represents about $1,200 in royalties for her, so the potential for lost revenue is significant. And on the macro scale, the regularity and frequency of the downloading suggest that just as downloading music illegally has become de rigueur, so now torrent downloading is a viable way to get free books.
Will illegal downloads harm publishing the way they’ve decimated the music biz? Like everything in publishing, it’s hard to predict—in the past, pop music fans tended to be way more tech and web savvy than readers, but maybe that’s changing? The irony of this is that there’s always been a free option for reading books, i.e., the local library. But could a library-controlled ebook lending program deter the torrents?
Since there’s so little concrete evidence out there about illegal ebooks, I’d love to know if anyone has torrent anecdotes, good or bad. Anyone been directly affected by illegal downloads? Any thoughts on how to fight them off?