A Gen Y Reaction to Macmillan’s Piracy Plan

Marian SchembariBy Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World

Brian Napack’s piracy plan made me laugh.

And then it made me excited because I figured it would make for an excellent rant. I heart controversy and what better way to spark discussion than to write about the president of Macmillan and the dumbest plan in the history of publishing?

Then I logged onto Twitter.

Well… That totally popped my balloon. Everyone was tweeting about it, and worse, everyone agreed with me. I thought I had made some incredibly insightful discovery; one that would catapult me into publishing awe. Apparently this was not the case.

Here’s a sample tweet:

redrobinreader: That’s the sound of NY pubs imploding RT @jane_l So to sum up, Macmillan’s digital strategy is to a) fight piracy and b) fight piracy…

Okay, so I wasn’t the only person to notice that Macmillan’s plan was lacking, and after a bitchfest with Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, I realized neither was I the first.

He pointed out that it was impressive for Napack to bring up a plan at all: “Usually these guys skirt around the issue and don’t put forth a solid plan.” Instead of playing the politician, Napack produced a concrete proposal of Macmillan’s next steps, regardless of its ability to actually be effective.

[slideshare id=3301695&doc=digitalbookpiracy-100228164502-phpapp02]

[NOTE: DBW Members can listen to the entire presentation here.]

Let’s go over Macmillan’s provocative strategy (you know, the one no one has ever tried before):

1. Target facilitators

2. Target pirates

3. Pursue legislation and enforcement

Apparently they’re going to hire people specifically to fight book thievery. The next generation of publishing wannabe’s will attend interviews like this:

Interviewer: What did you major in?
Wannabe: Pirate studies!
Interviewer: You’re hired!

(Let me just point out this puts my Facebook ads in a whole new light. That light looks like crap, by the way.)

What a supreme waste of time and energy. Not to mention money. Aren’t book publishers not really hiring? Isn’t big publishing in a bit of a pickle?

It’s not like taking down all pirated books is going to increase sales. People download illegal copies because they don’t want to shell out the dough for the “real” thing. If the illegal copy goes away, the “real” thing might as well not exist. So not only will Macmillan have wasted the money hiring someone to beat piracy, but now no new readers are finding their books.

I, for one, am much more likely to purchase a print book if I already know it’s going to be awesome. Most people (especially poor college grads like myself) don’t buy books to read them once. This is one way where pirated books can be incredibly useful.

4. Create a viable consumer marketplace

This is a much needed plan of attack that hopefully won’t have youth running for the torrent hills… and yet Napack spent a grand total of two seconds on it. This could have been an entire panel discussion. An entire conference.

We need more Netflix-type rental systems or something along the lines of eMusic where you can download a relatively unpopular song for something like $0.20. Oooh, and free trials! (Except see no. 6; not sure these two can exist in harmony.)

5. Protect content in-house

According to Napack, Macmillan has a little problem reigning in its employees as apparently many illegal eBooks are created from prepublication sources. He made it seem as if Macmillan employees are the biggest group of pirates around and didn’t even mention the fact that prepub copies are available to other people as well, for advance reviews to create awareness and increase sales.

That’s the whole point, right?

I find it very hard to believe that the lucky few in publishing who are still employed are going to not only encourage book piracy, but partake in it.

6. Protect content in the marketplace (basically limit free eBooks in whatever capacity – giveaways, galleys, etc)

Maybe these copies get leaked, but we can’t deny their effectiveness! Just last night I signed up for a free sample of Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing. The promotion went like this: I provided my email address; I got first four chapters delivered to my inbox. What’s not to love?

If bookstores continue to shut down left and right, readers have a limited ability to physically browse through books. Free chapters of eBooks = browsing in the digital age.

7. Engage in public education

If that’s not a euphemism for “scaring the shit out of kids who don’t know any better”, I don’t know what is. Here’s the image I have in my head: you know those commercials you see a lot in movie theaters? The one where some teen is downloading torrents and another is stealing a DVD?

Big booming voice: YOU WOULDN’T STEAL A CAR.

That’s the one. Here’s a favorite parody of mine: “YOU’D PROBABLY STEAL A WALLET… Regardless, this advertisement is annoying.”

Final thoughts

I’m not condoning piracy (sort of), but if major publishers are only going to look at the “legal” side of things and spend precious time and money fighting the inevitable, they are going to crash and burn.

I’m poor, I understand technology, and I guarantee I can find any book online, for free, in 10 minutes or less. You can delete and sue all you want, but at the end of the day the internet is a wide and limitless place, meaning it’s a waste of time, money and energy to fight it. Embrace the change and find another way to make money without a) annoying your audience, b) suing your audience, and c) losing you audience by wasting cash on completely ineffective “precautions”.

Instead, how about hiring people to create awesome new avenues of affordable, accessible and reader-friendly eBooks? Create a system where libraries can lend out digital copies as well as physical ones. My family gets books from the library all the time and we share them with each other until they’re due.

This is called lending, not thievery, my friends.

The whole point of a conference like Digital Book World, filled with over 500 book and tech nerds, was to create an environment to explore new possibilities. Possibilities no one has tried. Sir Brian, do you honestly think no one’s attempted anti-piracy plans before?

I guess we all know now which major publisher is going to tank first.

Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.

24 thoughts on “A Gen Y Reaction to Macmillan’s Piracy Plan

  1. Ilya Kralinsky

    Hooray for you! My God, that was a fantastic article with every valid point you could imagine in the matter. I know I speak for a lot of people when I say many writers are sick of the Ivory Tower mentality of traditional publishing where old dogs are free to degenerate into babbling pointlessness while new competition is suppressed outside the great walls like initiates into Shaolin Temple, no matter how talented. While the smaller publishers will be firing off freebies and goodies like mad, the old guard will stab themselves in the toes chasing mice with their swords until they bleed to death. And with their attitudes, good riddance. But good for you for telling it like it is.

    1. Colleen Lindsay

      Just to clarify something: I believe that what Napack was referring to re the pirated editions coming from pre-publication sources is something a lot less sinister and was not in any way a slur against his own employees.

      When I worked in-house at a major publisher as a publicity director, we send out anywhere from hundreds of pre-pub copies of a book to THOUSANDS (if it was a major push for publicity at someplace like Book Expo or San Diego Comic Con). More often than not, I would find dozens of copies of any galleys I’d sent out up on eBay within a week, and – with a little digging – I could find them online as cut-apart-and-scanned pirated editions. It has been happening as long as scanners and the Internet have existed.

      You can frequently tell which editions are in fact made from uncorrected galley proofs because they are riddled with typos and the chapter numbers are usually 000.

        1. Bridget

          Marian-Libraries do have downloadable audiobook, ebooks and ereference works available and have for a number of years. Larry Kirshbaum mentioned this at DBW during Wednesday’s panel, specifically Overdrive http://www.overdrive.com/ If your library has ebook lending, you log in from home with your library card, add a bit of software, select and download an ebook.

            1. Bridget

              That may be true, but I was responding to your suggestion:
              “Instead, how about hiring people to create awesome new avenues of affordable, accessible and reader-friendly eBooks? Create a system where libraries can lend out digital copies as well as physical ones.”

              This system exists and has for some time.

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  5. Allison

    “People download illegal copies because they don’t want to shell out the dough for the “real” thing. If the illegal copy goes away, the “real” thing might as well not exist.” This is pretty specious, no? Do titles become popular because they are widely pirated, or are they widely pirated because they are popular? Further, there are many possible reasons (beyond the desire to retain one’s dough) that people download illegally. Most often, I imagine, people do it because they don’t like the restrictions on DRM content. Or maybe they do it because they can’t find a particular title in the format they want. Or, sure, they do it because they don’t want to have to pay for the poduct. But to say that digital piracy is some sort of organic marketing mechanism is a bit of a stretch. I do agree with you that the answer to the problem lies in point #4 – creating a viable consumer marketplace (and a big piece of that is the DRM issue.) But legitimizing piracy under the delusion that it is good for the brand or author is misguided.

  6. Alexandra Tait

    Marian – fascinating article, love your opinion….

    “Instead, how about hiring people to create awesome new avenues of affordable, accessible and reader-friendly eBooks? Create a system where libraries can lend out digital copies as well as physical ones. My family gets books from the library all the time and we share them with each other until they’re due.

    This is called lending, not thievery, my friends.”

    I know someone already commented that this exists but it doesnt in a big enough, global enough, available enough way… so im glad you are getting it out there

  7. Will

    The only reason people create things in this world is for money. The people who are saying that the internet should be unregulated are imagining that media content will stay at the same level of quality. It wont. If there is no money to be made our creative culture will atrophy. People bloging,tweeting and facebooking about what they had for breakfast is not creative culture.

    1. Marian Schembari

      Just because the internet is a free for all doesn’t mean those on it don’t have culture. It’s just harder to spot them among the mass of personal blogs and juvenile tweets. But the quality stuff still has that tendency to bubble to the surface regardless.

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  13. Debra Scacciaferro

    So Marian,

    Why is it that your generation just assumes that everyone — ie. writers — should be jumping for joy to spend months researching and more months writing books — textbooks take a long time to write — just so people can get it for free?

    My husband and I are book writers. But after this year, I don’t think we can afford to do it anymore. The publishers aren’t buying, and what they are buying is for very low advances. For $15,000 I won’t spend a year researching and writing a non-fiction book. It just isn’t worth it. But maybe, you would like to be that altruistic.

    1. Marian Schembari

      Hey, I don’t condone stealing and don’t think authors should just write out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s called making a living. Nowhere in this article do I say that I like the fact that authors are compensated less and less. What this article is about is publishers (like Macmillan) taking exact same steps the music industry took in “preventing” piracy. We all know how that turned out. What I’m saying is that piracy can’t be prevented so people need to stop making the same mistakes over and over again and actually come up with new ideas. What I’m saying is that Macmillan’s piracy plan is stupid.

  14. Debra Scacciaferro


    But that is exactly the issue. Publishers are what enables modern writers to make a living. And the publisher’s content is not being ripped off — MacMillan didn’t write the book, the individual writer did. It’s the writer’s work that is being pirated. The publisher is the system that enables books to be distributed.

    And by the way– historically, the Spanish judges are wrong — in ancient days, only the wealthy could afford to hire scribes to create books for their private libraries. The first public library of the sort you are used to started in the 1700s. In ancient cultures, and in many indigenous cultures, the only literature that was shared was oral literature, stories and songs, which were taught and passed down through a closed guild of storytellers and priests. There was no mass sharing of written literature until the Guttenberg printing press was invented, and the majority of people even then were still illiterate.

    More to the point of today’s brave new publishing world, here’s something that gets lost in the conversation. The system that compensates writers is breaking down. That system is calling publishing.

    Writers are compensated less and less because publishers are selling less and less. The publisher gives writers ADVANCES — upfront money — to spend the next year writing the book, and then hopes to recoup that ADVANCE by selling more copies than the advance. For many publishers and writers, that may take many years, while the book is on the BACK LIST — no longer new, but still a steady seller. The writer relies on the advance in order to take the time to write the book. But if the book is put on e-readers and then “shared” with everyone, there is no way to make money off the backlist.

    Libraries — hundreds of thousands of them — PAY for the copy or copies that they then circulate for free. Tax money or private memberships raise the money to PAY for the copies, which then compensate the authors and publishers.

    On digital publishing, I can put a book on Kindle or Nook, but the writer absorbs the cost of finding a way to pay the bills while writing it. There are no advances against sales. If I take a year to write a new book, and I sell a hundred copies, and someone puts that book out there for free, there is no additional compensation to the author at all for all the downloads from that free copy. So I may make nothing for a year’s worth of work.
    That’s great for authors who write books on the side, but not for someone making a living at it now.

    If you share a library book, at least the initial price of selling those physical books to thousands of libraries provides compensation. But if your generation — I’m a boomer and we pay for what we enjoy either through our taxes ad donations, or through buying a copy — doesn’t understand that SHARING leads to NO COMPENSATION in the digital world, then the entire system collapses. Authors will have to find another way to make a living from writing. We’re all scrambling to do that. And some of us will figure it out. But the casualties of those unable to make a living in the next few years are all too real to those in the industry.

    More worrisome is the long-term view that it’s okay to enjoy and demand to read someone’s book without paying for it.

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