Free to Pirate

I had a thought today while reading through some posts.  One writer mentioned how he was playing with advertising his ebooks on various places and how the most success he had was when he broadcast the days his books were free.  That day he had a lot of new downloads from other countries, including a large number to India.

Hmmm…  That got me thinking.

Piracy has been a problem for a long time but it’s only recently, with the advent of the ebook, that authors have had to really worry about it.  It’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue, almost every week I read about how a writer googled their own work and found it on a pirate site.

Free books are a useful tool for gaining new readers, it gives them a chance to check out your work before paying anything.  Cool, right?  But I wonder whether those free days are giving pirates a chance to easily steal writers’ work.

Think about it like this, if you were going to pirate a hundred books… are you going to pay for them first?  A hundred books at $3 a pop?  Uh uh.  I wouldn’t, I’d go to amazon every day and download all the free books.  Every day.  Then convert them and put them up on my site.

So, are those five free days offered by KDP select (or other deals) making it easier for pirates?  They grab our work on one of those days without paying for it, then turn around and sell it.  It’s what I’d do if I were morally bankrupt and looking for easy money.  (It’s possible that Kindle Unlimited could also be a contributor, but I imagine anyone in the Unlimited program that downloaded too many books a day would get flagged really fast.  I don’t know though.)

That thought right there makes me hesitant to ever discount my books too much.  The only way I can see to avoid having our work vulnerable would be to never put it out for free, that way at least the pirates would have to pay for the first copy (which I doubt they’d do unless you’re top in your genre or something).

But what about getting your work out to readers before they have to pay for it?  Sample chapters would be one way.  But the best option I can think of is to put a single book perma-free, accept that it’ll probably be pirated (but it’s free already, so you’re not really losing anything), then keep all your other books at regular price.

Just a thought for the day.

6 thoughts on “Free to Pirate”

  1. I’ve been fighting in this corner for a while (see and As far as I can tell, nobody but Indie Authors hold the notion that readers must have free books to encourage them to buy books. Browsing in a bookshop is not free access: it’s sampling chapters, with which I have no problem (I’m offering a 51% preview in honor of Father’s Day). If people want “free” books, they can go to a public library (bearing in mind that most libraries are supported to some degree by taxation or fees, and thus they still have a cost). Most of the free books that are hoarded in e-readers never get read, anyway, which effectively negates the theoretical benefit of offering a freebie to get one’s name out in front of the public.

    Throwing away good work as a perma-free should not be considered either a fixed or a variable cost of doing business, and while past free offers may be considered sunk costs, there is no good reason to keep pirates afloat.

    1. Perma-free can be a useful way to gain readers, especially if it’s the first in a series or a serial. Mark Coker puts out yearly analysis of numbers for Smashwords books that supports that practice, showing that series’ especially do better when the first is free. It’s one way to promote our writing, increase visibility. However, that’s only beneficial when an author has multiple works out and can make up for the lost revenue with increased sales of the other books. It’s a tool, like all the others, that each writer needs to evaluate for themselves.
      If you look through the slides free is discussed a couple times, with the info on a free series starter in the section that starts on slide 101.

  2. I enjoy the Kindle Unlimited Free reads, not all of the books are worth the price but every now and again I get the opportunity to read some great books. I’ve been known to buy more books after reading a free one through the program.

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