Dear reader, I ask that you accompany me on a little sojourn into the land of the music industry to take a gander at their sales model. First let’s consider the chief sales device: the albums. Years ago there was much ado when Napster came into widespread use and people proceeded to download albums–for free. Those albums, ultimately still creations of artists, yield very little by way of money to the performers and instead serve as a great tool for the execs to make $$ off the creative types they’re *cough, cough* bank-rolling. For revenue upon which they can actually live many performers rely upon merchandising as well as concert tours. In fact, due to the low payment on albums, some artists even let their fans download albums for FREE from their own websites. So, if you decided to not pay for the album but did decide to put that money toward a concert ticket you actually have supported the artist/band far more fiscally than if you bought the album then sat at home when they came around and performed.
Let’s take a little jump over to the publishing industry and see what it holds for us. [In the interest of brevity I am going to skip over some steps here but, suffice it to say, an author doesn’t “just” get published when the book is finished. At least most of them don’t, ‘kay? ‘Kay.] An author writes a book and it gets published. Now that e-readers are gaining some pretty serious heads of steam I think it is quite certain one can say that most books will be available in the e-pub format thusly making it that much easier to have access to it without actually buying it (i.e. STEALING it). Authors generally get a meagerly advance when their book is sold to an editor/publisher then, after paying out of that advance for their own publicity so the book will sell, wait a couple years for the royalties to start rolling in. There is no concert or merchandising in most cases just that one little product that more than likely took someone several months of their life to create. [Not all books are made into movies so put down that copy of Twilight, the calendar as well as that T-shirt and pay attention.] When that author who might have written the best book you never paid for goes to look for a publisher for the even better best book you never will pay for and the sales records are lousy- do you think he/she/they will get a big advance? For that matter do you think they will necessarily get a publishing deal? All things are possible but if we’re talking about a firm putting forward capital so a book can get published they’ll want to be sure the risk of flopping will be minimal. This means those sales records of the previously published work matters a great deal.
The people who can weather such storms are those who sell so many copies REGARDLESS of the amount of pirated issues circulating are in the very slightest minority of published authors. People like Dan Brown, Nora Roberts and Stephen King, who were already established publishing industry heavy hitters before the big e-reader boom. That is not the market we have today. In twenty years or so, when those authors have passed on to write their novels in the great beyond and we can’t read them anymore- who will we be left with? Okay, so we’ll probably still have Dan Brown writing about Tom Hanks, errrr, Robert Langdon and Meyer talking about Team Jacob, but who else? What other newly minted phenom will be able to write books every year or so to keep us entranced by their prose and enraptured by their characters if stealing digitally formatted manuscripts takes off the same way Kindle sales have?
I would contend the literary community would be sorely lacking in new, thought provoking material but, even if I’m wrong- how would we ever know? The best book you never paid for could very well wind up the best book never published and languishing in a land of obscurity due to the extreme economic hardship of the publishing industry and the unwanted risk. To break into an industry like publishing is incredibly difficult and takes a good deal of luck, a great deal of tenacity and still there’s no gaurantee of getting that big fat advance some authors have made headlines with. The least we can do, should we want to read a book and we don’t want to wait for it to arrive on our library’s shelves is to pay for it. And, let’s face it, aren’t those hours spend in front of your e-reader, or even getting ink upon your fingers from the pages, totally worth the price of admission?