Defeating piracy: A modest example

Decryption not necessary (publishers and artists take note)

Defeating piracy: Kristine Kathryn Rusch is doing it right, or

Why I still haven't read Delany's Times Square Red/Times Square Blue


Okay, "Defeating piracy" is hyperbole. The only way to really "defeat piracy" would be to establish the sort of police state to make a Saudi king cum. Like the War On Drugs, the War On Piracy will only make criminals of a vast swath of the population, always a fine state of affairs for proto-fascist — I digress. (For Canadians interested in the digital brave new world into which our Dear Leader intends to lead us, Michael Geist's recent column on our nation's entry into the very secret Pacific treaty talks is a good place to start.) This was meant to be a happy post, so: onward.

To wit: I bought an e-book last night! A novel by an established writer charging real money, not $0.99 or something, but a very reasonable US$7.99.

Not only did I buy it, but within maybe a minute-and-a-half, it was loaded on my e-reader and ready for me to, well — read.

I didn't have to download any special software, install a special portal and dance naked about a burning candle while chanting decryption incantations.

I just clicked a link, entered my PayPal info and — hey, presto! — downloaded the book, prêt-à-porter.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how to do business in the electronic age! That is how to defeat piracy.

Make your products available to your audience conveniently and at a reasonable price.

Simple, no? Maybe not.

My experience buying books from traditional retailers and publishers (eg, has not been a miserable exercise in frustration and rage. For one thing, I run Linux, not Windows as my operating system, so there is (or was; it's been a while since I tried) no out-of-the-box application from Chapters for me. That's why I still haven't read Samuel R. Delany's Times Square Red/Times Square Blue. I bought the fucking thing via the Chapters/Indigo website, but never did manage to get past its digital rights management (DRM) system.

Which does beg the question: why do I need to install software just to buy a fucking book anyway?

Oh yeah. Because Chapters and traditional publishing treats me as a thief by default.

Lunacy. I want to buy things, but all too often must choose between stealing or not reading because the traditional publishing system make it too damned difficult. And is then shocked — shocked! — to find there is piracy going on.

The fact is, digital reproduction is now so good and so cheap that it is nearly as trivial to steal the complete works of Woody Allen as it is those of William Shakespeare. Sensible artists (and some publishers) have read the email on the monitor and begun to adapt to the new reality. (Hint: Step 1 is to not treat your readers like criminals.)

Neil Young says the internet is the new radio; Cory Doctorow offers his novels for free, while ensuring his publisher also makes it easy for readers to pay for them; Kristine Kathryn Rusch makes sure that her books are available in every format a reader might want, from paper to audio to e-book without the hassle of DRM.

So what it pleasure it was when, on Tuesday night, I came across a post on Rusch's Livejournal feed announcing the publication of her new Retrieval Artist novel, Blowback, and quickly found that I could just buy it and (easily) read it!

Will this approach mean that Rusch's books won't be pirated? Of course they will. Will she lose sales because her books are easy to pirate? Maybe, or maybe not. Most of the books on last week's New York Times best-seller list are almost certainly issued with DRM, yet all of them are easy to steal with the help of a search engine.

Barring a police state, piracy isn't going to go away. That doesn't mean that writers (or musicians, or even film-makers) won't be able to make money through their work. In fact, Rusch's example suggest she can make a good deal more money dealing directly with her readers than she ever did when published traditionally. (Her weekly blog, The Business Rusch is an excellent, ongoing, look at the rapidly changing state of publishing.)

I'm more than half-way through Blowback already and am every bit as engrossed by it as I expected to be. Rusch is a consummate entertainer, a story-teller who manages the very neat trick of working within a formula while keeping the reader both caring about and wondering what will happen next. (She is also a multi-genre talent, working not only in science fiction, but also romance, fantasy and mysteries.)

More to the point, she is a writer who has looked squarely into the future and decided to learn how to successfully live in it rather than cower in fear or bark in outrage at the changes happening around her.

Spread the word!

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