ebook piracy and the future of the professional writer

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Bright Shadow, Jun 9, 2011.

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  1. Islander
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    Islander Senior Member Contributor

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    It's as if Shakespeare had been forced to go into the theatre business, Ernest Hemingway had to earn his pay as a journalist, or J.R.R. Tolkien had to work as a university professor.

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    Madness!
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  2. Bright Shadow
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    Bright Shadow Member

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    Like I said, most people have the dream of being an "elite writer" as you call it, even if it is very difficult to do. I know that I have a small chance of making a living as just a writer, but it is still a chance. If the professional writer vanishes, than were is the incentive to write? What goal is there to obtain by writing?

    Look at it this way: how many kids would be playing sports and really pushing themselves if professional sports teams were to vanish? Sure, they would do it for giggles, but the core of sports is the dream of being in the major, and even if they fall short (which most do) it's the fact that there is a possibility of being a pro that pushes them harder.

    If there is no longer a possibility even of being a Best Seller someday and you know from the get-go that the most you'll make is twenty bucks, than why would any one write, and re-write, and re-write, and re-write YET AGAIN?

    People like Neil Gaiman and William Gibson aren't what most of us will be, but it is something that most of us aspire to be. If such success stories cease to exist, then we will have nothing to aspire to be.

    In short, if ebook piracy kills the professional (elite) writer, all new fiction will end up looking like Fan Fiction, because people only create quality when they have some chance of being rewarded for it.
  3. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    The reason you write is to some day become rich and famous? I'm not sure if that's inspired or delusional.

    And I know tons of people who played sports, some even semi-pro, and not one of them were mainly fueled by the .001% chance of someday being a super star pro athlete. Most, myself included, knew that wasn't a possibility from an early age. Being 5'10 with zero hops in high school sort of killed any dream of playing in the NBA, but I kept playing because I, get this, simply loved to play the game.

    Thinking the main drive for writers, particularly ones nowhere near success yet, is to someday strike it rich is depressing to me, frankly. I know you think the whole 'art for art sake' thing is 'lame,' but seriously if you aren't starting out from a place of simply love or even just obsession with writing and reading and literature and language, and your main motivation is someday making it big, then I don't know what to say but sorry, because that path seems foolhardy to me.

    There are literally minimum wage jobs that are easier and make more money than many, or even most, aspiring writers can ever hope to make from their writing. If your aim is to get paid, why on Earth would someone want to be a writer?

    So, yeah, I suppose if that's your only goal, your main motivator, then perhaps e-book piracy effects the bottom line. Though I don't believe it will have that big a dent into the big don't-need-a-second-job writers (and most need to be pretty big for that to occur), and for the rest of us, well, we'll have our second jobs anyways and e-book piracy is almost a thrill that that many more people are reading and being moved by what we write.

    You can't honestly think e-book piracy is going to kill the profession or run would-be Stephen King or JK Rowling writers to the poor house (who, again, like those two, probably didn't start writing with the hopes of some day making it big).

    Your perspective on writing depresses me. It truly does. And not even because I'm all 'lame' and blindly support art for art sake, but instead because someone with the motivation to make a livable wage by going into fiction writing is so statistically slim as to be impossible. What kind of depressing world must one live in to come up with writing fiction as a business model?

    You don't think Neil Gaiman would still be writing and telling stories if it weren't for pay checks? Or you're saying he'd only still be doing it some day in hopes of finally getting rich?

    Maybe not. Maybe I just live in a delusion where I'd feel lucky to see any monetary rewards for doing what I feel passionate about, and surely don't have financial success as even my top 5 goals, much less expectations, as a writer.

    Really, is it so bleak that the main motivator for most aspiring writers is to make bank? I mean, I've met a few such writers (who all, across the board, were absolutely terrible writers). Most writers I met are writers, plain and simple, it's what they do because they're writers and writers write, not because they're writers and they figure they'll stick it out as long as there's a chance to make a living at it. Most writers who are serious enough to consider themselves to be serious know that's probably never going to happen.




    I literally can't conceive of an argument that supports that 'if' though, is my point I guess.

    And, it wouldn't, as there are already plenty of ways most writers make money that isn't in direct sales to the point most writers have to have some other means of making money that isn't direct sales...

    People only create quality when they have some chance of being rewarded for it? Sure, I suppose I agree, though I don't agree the only way to be rewarded is by monetary profit, and, again, most writers are rewarded for their writing in ways that aren't always via direct book sales generated profits.

    If I had your perspective, honestly, I'd quit writing in a second and do something more lucrative... like flip burgers. You probably have a greater chance of working your way up to manager and some day owning a franchise than becoming a best-selling writer (keeping in mind I bet many best selling writers still don't make a livable wage).
  4. Jewels
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    Jewels New Member

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    As someone who is taking a break from teaching at the moment I just thought I'd give you a word of warning - you won't have as much spare time as what you think. I guess it depends on what grade & subject you teach but I found it quite a shock to the system as to how much work was involved, even during the breaks. On the plus side though teaching writing to my students really helped to inspire me to start doing my own writing, and gave me heaps of story ideas.
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis magnetismus Contributor

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    This shows a remarkable lack of understanding of the subject. When you share a physical copy of an item, you share that one physical copy. In fact, under copyright law, you can even sell that physical copy to a used book store, who can then re-sell it.

    Sharing an eBook with someone by duplicating it is not remotely the same. It's more like photocopying the one physical copy of a book that you have, and then distributing those photocopies to friends. Except with eBooks you get a more perfect reproduction.
  6. psychotick
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    psychotick Member

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    Hi,

    Its my thought that ignoring security measures like DRM (which I'm now wondering if I shoul have ticked the box for on my books), the likelihood of a book being pirated comes down to two main things - do people want to read it and how much are they willing to pay? Now my novels are sitting at 2.99 on the kindle, and I'm quite happy at that. I'm not getting rich but I sell a few books a days and am quite pleased with that.

    Now if my books became huge best sellers, then presumably the demand for them would increase as would the demand for pirated copies. So I could then I suppose raise the price and cream in some well loved dosh. But my thought is that I wouldn't. Raise the price, raise the consumer resistence, decrease the legal sales, and increase the number or pirate 'sales'.

    Maybe the best defense against piracy is price cutting! And at the same time keeping prices down means you should get more sales so the loss in revenue would be less then you'd expect.

    Cheers.
  7. Bright Shadow
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    Bright Shadow Member

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    Not just teaching, but plenty, if not most, full time jobs make it all but impossible to find time to write. I mean, you work a nine to six thirty job (who ACTUALLY ends up only working till five?) get home at seven, have to do chorus and this and that and be in bed by twelve. That leaves you with like five hours on your own to do things to live...how is writing time going to fit in?

    There is a reason why full time writers end up making quality writing: their pay checks that let them make a living off of writing give them the time to write, while the rest of us struggle with only a few hours a day.

    If piracy makes it impossible for the good writers to make a living off of writing, than that means quality will go WAYYY down.
  8. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Boohoo. Hundreds, no thousands of writers seem to manage... but it's somehow just so impossible. It's just not fair!

    There's a reason I wrote a parody lampooning writers and the industry called "Cuz I'm a Writer!!!"

    As if being a writer means we're entitled to some sort of privilege. I know tons of musicians and painters and dancers and athletes and just about everyone passionate about anything that manages to MAKE the time, yet boohooo I have a job it's not fair.

    Sorry, but complaining about what most writers do manage to do just comes off as a bit entitled and limited to me.

    Yeah, because all full-time writers got there by... wait, they mostly got there by balancing a full life and MAKING the time to write.

    /facepalm.

    Especially ridiculous because quality writing isn't exactly the bulk of writers that make a comfortable living writing. Yeah, sure, there's arguments how catering to a market IS a form of art and quality, but lets just say most full-time writers making a decent living are doing so by churning out page-turners, not by pouring their heart and soul, or even their time, into finely crafting works of high quality.

    I've personally heard stories of famous writers intentionally keeping their work as shallow and banal as possible. When they get to a really strong passage of characterization that gives insights and emotions, they cut it, knowing it will just slow down the rate of page turning. It's a choice they make from a financial standpoint, but it specifically has to do with focusing far less on quality than on any number of other things that sell better.


    Sorry, I don't want to get personal, so believe me when I say I'm not responding to you personally, just the content of the posts, but this all strikes me as a lot of woe is me BS that I usually see from artists who think they're entitled to some sort of free pass because they're an artist. But, but, but, I'm a WRITER! I shouldn't have to WORK like common people to be given a chance for the world to see and appreciate my genius.

    Uhh, why not? Sorry, but sometime reality comes into play. You can wish in one hand, etc.

    If you're in writing for the business, you're in the wrong business.
  9. Bright Shadow
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    Bright Shadow Member

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    I never said that. In fact, I said repeatedly that my dream is to have a one bedroom apartment and a new Jeep Wrangler sport...how is that "living the high life" I don't know. I just said that I wanted to make a living off of writing some day, not be the next JK Rowling.


    The Soviet Union collapsed for a reason. One of the biggest was that the Marxist economics system did not work because people rarely, if ever, work for the common good. People are greedy and need the motivation of reward to work. The bigger the possibility of reward, the harder the work out put.

    Look at it this way: people play the lottery all the time, because there is a small chance of having a million dollar jackpot. How many people would play the lottery if they were sure they wouldn't win anything?

    My father buys a lottery ticket every week, same numbers every time. It's only a dollar, so he doesn't hurt him and he obviously doesn't count on winning. But, he always says that SOMEBODY has to hit it, and why not him?

    Somebody has to be the next some-what successful writer, and it might as well be me.

    My aim is to get paid doing something I love, and I love to write.

    There is a middle road between writers who write for a living and Stephen King you know.


    I actually go to technical school for automotive electronic systems specialist certification. I will maybe start at $25,000 a year and in a few years I could get up to $40,000 a year. Now, if someone told me that there was never any hope of being a successful writer and never having to look at an engine again, I would most likely quit writing.

    BUT, there is another draw of writing that NO ONE denies is huge: recognition. I met R.A. Salvatore once and he said that he gets fan mail from, AND I QUOTE, "China, India, Oman, Ghana and Brazil". That is an even bigger draw than making a million dollars, being known and appreciated around the world...but, in the "art for arts sake" model, a writer might as well finish a well polished manuscript and throw it in a fire place, because art for recognition is NOT, BY DEFINITION ART FOR ART'S SAKE.


    If he was working a full time job and writing, his writing would be no better than a certain author of books about sparkling vampires... AND IF SHE CAN GET PAID FOR WRITING, ANY OF US CAN.



    There is always a chance. If he can't hope and dream than you have no business being a fiction writer which, by its nature, requires dreaming.






    Yes, again, its recognition. Like I said, art for arts sake is writing a book and making sure it never sees the light of day, least one's "Imagine by John Lennon" mojo be spoiled by *gasp!* being appreciated for your work!

    Like I said, I'm going to be a mechanic and get my sommelier next year (yes, wine and engines and fantasy fiction, weird fascinations that don't jive together I know) Between restaurants and cars I will be able to pay the bills. Only a full would think they have a GUARANTEE of making money off of writing. My point is its a dream that should be kept alive. If there was never going to be another billboard chart topper, would people be as passionate about singing? If American Idol stopped offering a contract and just gave the winner a handshake, would thousands of people still addition?

    There is a reason communism was a failure.
  10. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder New Member Contributor

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    This is exactly what I've been saying forever and for some reason no one ever seems to agree with me. Look at the profits that go to the author on kindle and isn't it obvious that publishing houses are slowly going to become obsolete? Sure, it's gonna be a slow decline, just as we're seeing in the music industry. But just as in the music industry, it will be the industry clinging to their share of the profits while the artists slowly cut the industry loose as they learn that new distribution methods more profitable to themselves are available. The impact on writers is going to be minimal compared to the impact on the publishing houses. How anyone could miss that is beyond me.

    In the end piracy is awesome, dude. It means lower price point for the consumer, higher profits for the artist, and cutting out the middle man. The industry is just going to have to adapt.

    Depends what kind of writer you want to be. I've been looking into commercial writing, and while the present is still pretty grim, I'm starting to think maybe this is not such a useless skill to have after all. Lots of people make good money writing the stupidest stuff you can imagine. Whole other conversation though.
  11. Bright Shadow
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    Bright Shadow Member

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    I agree with everything you said. DRM is useless. It only takes ten minutes to get rid of it and there are tutorials all over the internet on how to remove DRM from ebooks. It just ends up frustrating paying customers. If they gave ebooks without DRM and cut the prices and treated customers well, there would be less incentive for people who are on the fence about piracy to do so.
  12. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder New Member Contributor

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    I hope it's not just billboard chart toppers who make people sing. Have you listened to the radio these days?

    The entertainment industry is full of empty promises and has been for years. It always will be. Your prospects at becoming the next literary sensation have nothing to do with the bad men downloading Stephen King novels. They have everything to do with your talent, determination, and ability to take advantage of the right opportunities.
  13. what the dickens
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    what the dickens New Member

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    Perhaps you have the answer there.

    ebooks priced at 2.99 ... 1.99 ... or even .99 are the best defence against piracy as for such a small amount of money is it worth the hassle for most people to source out a pirated copy on the internet and risk the wrath of ??. Maybe the majority of people wouldnt mind paying an Author that amount for a good read? Of course there are always some who would begrudge such small amounts of money, but then there always will be.

    At such small amounts of money even .99 of whatever currency, if most if not all of it went to the Author they may be better off financially than what a publisher may pay them for their work (unless they are a best seller).

    If it were true and workable it would be great to get the true amount for your work instead of so many others having a cut of your hard written ideas dont you think?
  14. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Well, it's not exactly the piracy that's awesome, but the new, more accessible forms of media that lend themselves to easier piracy that really is. :p

    Are they intentionally writing stupid stuff that appeals to the masses, though? That's the fascinating thing. Far and few between are the writers who're simply selling out and creating a mediocre product they know will sell. Most writers I've ever talked to or seen interviewed at least publicly still think they're writing from a place of passion and genuine interest.

    Meyer didn't target a market and sell-out, she simply wrote a story she was compelling to write and was lucky enough to find the masses bought in. I mean, aside from the vague notion that all writers want to find success, I think very few writers who do are intentionally sitting down thinking 'okay, how do I write the next best selling novel.' If it were that easy, it wouldn't almost always seem like a shot in the dark fluke whenever a book took off and found widespread success.

    Granted, I have no doubt there are certain writers who are aware of the fact they could crap in a box and stamp there name on it and it would be a best selling novel. But that's different. We're talking amateur writers here, and my best guess (and what I've seen) is the writers who're trying to write specifically for commercial success, not because they love that market, but because they love the potential profits of it, are usually the crappiest writers around who simply don't have the skill or passion to pull it off anyway, as they aren't even at least enthralled with their own work enough to be interested enough to give it their all.

    But, who knows. Maybe it is as easy as 'hey, I could write the next best selling romance novel' and tadah, you start getting checks, I'm just too naive or caught up in personal pride to think it's worth it.
  15. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder New Member Contributor

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    Another point -- the effects of downloading are minimal in comparison to the changes in technology. It's estimated that file-sharing is responsible for less than 30% of the decline in sales in the record industry:

    http://www.rufuspollock.org/economics/p2p_summary.html#id20495360

    That same link suggests that 75% of artists make more money as a result of file-sharing. The top 25% (who are making kazillions anyway) suffer.

    That's just one source of evidence that the entertainment industry likes to whine a lot. Do your research and you'll see that's most of what this is all about. Don't fall for it.

    You'll likely see a similar thing happen in the publishing industry, assuming people care as much about downloading books as they do about downloading songs. If you were planning on working in publishing, it means you'll have to reassess the role you'd play. If you were planning on being a writer, it means you might even make more money.
  16. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder New Member Contributor

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    Sorry -- to be clear, I'm talking about marketing brochures, B2B letters, ad copy and such. You think passion even enters the picture? Yeesh. I'll save my passion for my poems and novels thank you very much. But a good freelance commercial writer can make as much as a lawyer or a surgeon. So just don't say there's no money in writing. There may be no money in passion -- at least no guarantee of money.

    The older I get the more I think it would be nice to have enough money to you know, maybe buy a house, visit Paris -- all those things that being a starving artist doesn't allow. I wish when I'd graduated someone at the career centre had said "hey you can actually make money with this skill!" instead of looking at me like another reject when I said I wanted to be a writer.
  17. Islander
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    Islander Senior Member Contributor

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    This discussion is starting to get interesting.

    I respect those who try to make a living off writing, but there are precious few who can make a living ONLY on writing. Even successful writers have to do things like writing courses, book signings and other things related to their writing.

    People need rewards to do boring jobs. You need to pay people to get them to clean toilets, lay pipes and process invoices. You also need to pay people to do the *right* job - someone who makes wall paintings for fun might agree to do one for free for you, but you don't get to decide the motive.

    But people do creative jobs just for the satisfaction all the time. People paint, write, sculpt, knit, play instruments and sing in choires with no intention of making money from it. Granted, many of the successful artists are partly motivated by money, fame or the knowledge of being among the best, but if they're creative, they usually have an inner need to express themselves through their art.

    The artists who are motivated primarily by money or fame tend to not be very creative - they just give the public what they think the public wants. The creative artists give the public what they want. The ones who're in it for the money tend to produce their works in quick succession, with only the minimum effort required. The creative artists spend more time on each work.

    Case in point: J.K. Rowling. Even if some people criticise her writing skills, her books are very imaginative and it's obvious she puts her heart and soul into her characters and stories. She could make tens of millions by writing an eighth Harry Potter book, but only seven were needed to tell the story, so that's where she ends - at least until she comes up with another good story.
    Case in point: Dan Brown, who churns out very similar books, because that's what works and makes him money.
    Case in point: Terry Goodkind, who started out as a creative writer with depth to his stories, then started signing contracts for three books in a row, and these days only seems interested in extending his series as long as possible and produce commercial spin-offs (like a mediocre TV series).

    People play the lottery for the thrill, and there needs to be a small chance of winning to give them the thrill. But from a purely economical standpoint, buying lottery tickets is insane. On the average, people lose a lot more than they win.

    If there was absolutely zero money in writing (but it was still possible to reach a wide audience with your books), I think most writers would continue to write for free, but some of them would need to spend more time on their day job and less time on writing.

    I soo disagree with this. If you love writing, you take the time to write well, and will write your books at a slower pace if you're forced to have a day job. If you're in it for the money, you'll spend the minimum effort required on each book, churn them out a high enough pace to live comfortably, and spend the rest of the time sipping marguaritas by the pool.

    There seems to be some famous writers who are only motivated by self-expression. For example, Franz Kafka made his friend promise to burn his writings after his death. Luckily for us, the friend failed his promise. He did have to edit Kafka's stories to make them suitable for publication, though.
  18. psychotick
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    Hi Guys,

    There seems to be a counter current running through this thread, the idea that most writers can't make a living from writing. I beg to differ on this. Certainly at the start its unlikely, and short of writing a best seller, a miracle in itself, the returns will be small. But small returns add up.

    So now say you're like me, and you've written a book which sells two copies a day more or less on the kindle. You've priced it at 2.99 and you're on the 70% royalty scheme, which when all is said and done because different countries still give different royalties, means you get say half of that back. Essentially you're looking at three dollars US a day, not enough to live on.

    But here's where it gets interesting. Say you keep writing books for ten years, you put out two books a year, not an unachievable goal, and all of them reach and then linger at that lowly sales rate. Now three dollars a day has become sixty, or a bit over eighteen thousand bucks a year. Still not a huge salary or anything, but you see the potential. And the best part of it given that copywrite is seventy years or so, is that this is for life. So you still get this money when you retire.

    Now given this scenario we have to look at piracy in a slightly different light. Someone here foolishly said that piracy doesn't affect the authors, it affects the publishers. That's actually true, but completely overlooks the fact that if you are self published, you are the publisher. That's money out of your wallet they're pinching.

    Be complimented all you want that someone liked your work enough to illegally nick it, but compliments don't buy you your bread for breakfast at the local store. And don't assume that just because the odds are hugely against any one of us making it huge and becoming the next JK, that you can't make money from doing what you love, and therefore piracy doesn't matter to you.

    Look at it this way. Most of you guys are younger then me. So say you're twenty. You write only one book, and it malingers in the sales. You put all the dosh it makes into a seperate account for when you retire and never look back. So two sales a day, three bucks a day, eleven hundred bucks a year, and over forty years, forty four grand not considering either interest or tax. Now aren't you going to be pissed to reach sixty, open up your books and find pirates have eaten say thirty percent of your money - thirteen grand?

    Just a thought.

    Cheers, Greg.
  19. Mist Walker
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    Mist Walker New Member

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    This reminds me in places of people arguing for the legalisation of drugs. I can't help but think anyone defending piracy doesn't have a vested interest?
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis magnetismus Contributor

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    This is false, at least in the U.S., when it comes to reselling a book. Used book stores are not running illegal operations. If you buy a physical copy of a book you have every right to resell that physical copy. You cannot legally reproduce the work, however.
  21. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Thought we were talking fiction writing, not technical communication or business writing. Probably just a misunderstanding with the 'commercial' designation.

    But yeah, there's some money in technical writing. The people I know who do it still enjoy it and are passionate about it. And people like me that find it soul sucking don't do it.

    They're very different skills, too, and I don't know many people who want to be a writer and would have that dream sated if they became a business writer.
  22. Jessica_312
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    Jessica_312 New Member

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    /\ I'm a technical writer and I make a very decent living at it. Though of course my passion lies with creative writing :D
  23. Venusian31
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    Venusian31 New Member

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    While I accept that ebook piracy has an effect on sales, I don't believe that it will destroy the industry or discourage writers from producing more books. Music sharing has been a big problem, but musicians still produce their music and iTunes and other music sellers still have hundreds of thousands of people who legally buy the music, even after removing the DRM hassle. I think the same will hold true for ebooks.

    Most people are honest and prefer to buy stuff legally as long as the producers of the product don't allow greed to drive prices up to ridiculous levels. Price a product fairly and honest people will buy. Dishonest people are going to steal no matter what.

    Theft is always going to be an issue, no matter what the product is or how it is sold. Book stores and other retail stores deal with shoplifting all the time, amounting to millions of dollars in lost sales. It's part of the cost of doing business. There are always going to be people who steal. You do your best to fight it and move on.

    When VCRs first came out, people swore they would destroy the movie industry. They didn't. Then DVDs came out and destroyed the VCR industry, but we still have movies. CDs destroyed records and tapes, but mp3s haven't destroyed the CD industry, at least not yet, and music is still with us no matter what and it still makes money. Ebooks are changing things and that scares a lot of people, but I don't think ebooks are going to destroy books and I certainly don't think it will stop writers from writing them or from making money. The world will adjust and keep on going, just like it always does.
  24. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder New Member Contributor

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    Problem with this: the technology that allows you to make more substantial profits off of each book is the same technology that makes it easier to pirate books. If your book on kindle is selling 2 copies a day, consider the fact that before it was on kindle and before pirating it was an issue, it would perhaps have been selling zero copies a day. Also consider the fact that a significant portion of the people pirating the book are people who wouldn't have bought the book in the first place if they hadn't been able to pirate it. Is policing it really worth the effort? The only way policing book pirating makes sense from the writer's perspective is if the book has a high price point and you control the distribution.
  25. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder New Member Contributor

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    Fiction writing is a different skill than business writing, that's for sure. But I'm learning that as far as skills go, getting good at business writing is sort of like getting good at colouring books. The difference between it and fiction writing is that people are lining up to pay through the nose for it.

    I guess you could see it as soul-sucking, sure. And if you can find another means of income that's less soul-sucking then go for that. In my experience, what I'm good at is what I'd rather be spending my time doing. If someone would pay me to play chess then I'd be doing that.

    I take it this is distracting from your previous point though -- which is that the drive to write a good book isn't necessarily influenced by the amount of success or money that it would lead to. I think I agree with you. In fact there's a good argument that art evolved as a reproductive strategy. So the real drive to write a good book might simply be the desire to get laid.

    Or it could be something more profound than that. Who knows.
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