Saundra Mitchell has put up a post on her feelings about downloaders. I posted a fairly lengthy reply, but I felt a somewhat edited version of it belongs up here.
One of her points (if you don't go read the post yourself) is that she hasn't quite earned out on the one novel, and yet it's being downloaded by the carload (3,000 copies a week in the early stages!). So she points out that if she actually SOLD that many, she'd have hit the NYT bestsellers, and even if she only sold a TOTAL of 3,000 more copies over the entire period she'd have more than earned out. And these are painful numbers to look at, because one thinks that if only some small percentage of those people would pay, you'd be rich. Or at least making decent money.
The fact is, though, that 99% of the people doing this WOULD NOT PAY even if you could stop them from downloading. Arguing against people doing this is like shoveling back the tide. It’s like the foolishness of the MPAA and RIAA trying to stop downloads of music and movies. It can't be stopped and the people doing it are completely (deliberately) oblivious to the implications of what they do.
There is only ONE way to mitigate this activity; make the book available easily, very cheaply, online. This is why iTunes makes billions; they recognized that people WILL pay for stuff, but they won’t pay what they think are excessive prices, and they won’t pay ANYTHING if it takes them ANY effort to go looking for it, sign into some arcane website, and — eventually — they learned that they don’t like DRM, either.
All of my books are torrented, I’m sure. I don’t really care that much, because I know that the torrenters DON’T MATTER. The ones who WOULD buy my book… probably will, eventually. Those who won’t, weren’t customers, and them getting a (often very crappy!) E-copy of my book DOESN’T COST ME A THING. They weren’t going to buy anyway. They are NOT LOST SALES. This is a lesson the MPAA and RIAA *still* haven’t learned.
What the torrents MAY be is free publicity. Maybe not; I’m not contending that they’re necessarily good — but they could be, because the enemy of any author except, possibly, J.K. Rowling is OBSCURITY. The fact that 99% of the people who WOULD like your book DO NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU. This is true even of people like Stephen King, though in his case it’s probably only 50% instead of 99%.
That said, the torrenters/downloaders are *RUDE*, and I object to them on that basis; I just don’t worry about their possible effect on my sales, because it’s unlikely to actually be significant. I *know* how these people work — I was (unfortunately) involved in one of the early filesharing companies (it started out as a completely different kind of company and morphed into this while I was there; worst job experience I ever had).
So my position is hey, I'm not going to try to stop them (unless they're SELLING my book, in which case I want them hurt, or at least have their assets seized and given to me) because they're a bunch of rude bastards for the most part, but they're also irrelevant rude bastards and fighting them would gain me exactly nada.