If You Can Buy Books but Choose Not To, You're Stealing

How reading free ebooks online can harm someone's livelihood.

If You Can Buy Books but Choose Not To, You're Stealing
Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash

How reading free ebooks online can harm someone's livelihood.

"If you can afford books but choose to read them for free, you're stealing."

That’s what I said in a book club meeting where the day's topic was book piracy. I'd presented my view that pirating books is wrong, especially if you earn enough to afford books.

I thought it was always evident: piracy is wrong and can hurt the author's livelihood.

But the members of the book club reacted in surprising ways. Most of them used absurd arguments to defend against piracy. The logic was flawed, and I could see many loopholes.

I realized there was a lot of ignorance in the reading world about what it means to write a book and how hard it is to make a living just by writing.

Most people often assume that writers are hugely famous and crazy rich and they can afford to lose the few bucks made from each book sale.

A 2016 study conducted by scholars from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka revealed that "piracy exists as a result of the high cost of books, people's quest for ‘quick money’, high rate of unemployment and availability of modern means of reproduction such as photocopying machines, among other reasons."

According to a report by Forbes, eBook piracy doesn't appear to have dwindled much over the past few years. It continues to drain hundreds of millions worldwide from the publishers' income. U.S. publishers lose $300 million annually to eBook piracy.

This post is a collection of questions readers might have regarding piracy, and what we can do to curb it. You might have similar questions if you've read a pirated book online. Read on for what might offer a complete shift in perspective.

Q. If I’m a thief, who am I stealing from?

The author.

The author has spent years of their life researching, writing, editing the book, and struggling to get it published. They’ve invested in cover designers and publicity experts.

And you’re reading it for free just because you don’t want to spend what’s probably less than what you spend at a roadside cafe to buy a book and support an author’s dream.

You’re stealing away their happiness, their chance to earn a livelihood by doing what they love.

Q. I’m a student. I don’t earn anything. Books should be free.

Books are accessible in places called libraries.

The only difference is that the books are paid for in a library. One person can only read one copy of the book at a time.

If you pirate an ebook, you can make a thousand copies, and thousands of people can read the same book at once, causing a massive loss to the author.

Also, making education accessible for students is the government’s job, not the writers'. State health care is free for everyone, but do you expect all doctors to treat you for free when you’re unwell? Why do you expect authors to give away free copies just because you’re a student?

Q. If a book is $1, how will it harm the author if I read it for free?

The author has priced the book at $1 for a reason: so it can reach more people who would then write reviews of the book, making it more appealing to other readers who buy the book.

If you pirate it, you rob them of the chance of getting more readers, of widening their digital footprint.

Worse, if you share online that a copy of this book is available for free, you entice potential buyers and make them even less likely to spend on the book.

It's not you that solely hurts the writer, it's everyone who reads the pirated book after you. Do you want to be a part of this chain?

Q. If piracy is so wrong, why is it so easy?

Because piracy is one of the unintentional loopholes of the internet.

It's almost impossible for authors or publishers to monitor the piracy market. Given how easy it is to circulate digital data, piracy can’t be kept in check without massive capital investment.

It falls upon you, the reader, to ensure your favorite writers feel supported and that piracy engines are stopped. Of course, you can’t account for every reader. But you can account for yourself. And that in itself is a massive win.

Final words

Piracy is a complex topic to discuss, but it’s also one of the most important, especially in the world of books and reading.

If authors continue feeling unappreciated and unpaid for writing, what incentive would they have to continue what they do? And if they stop, where will that leave us, readers?

I hope this post gave you something to ponder upon. I welcome contrarian opinions and any counter-argument you might have. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

I did my best to make this article as value-packed as possible. If you enjoyed it, join my email family so that I can send more of my work (including tips in creativity, productivity, and self-love) straight to your inbox weekly.

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