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Books The Almighty Buck

What Can I Do About Book Pirates? 987

peterwayner writes "Six of the top ten links on a Google search for one of my books point to a pirate site when I type in 'wayner data compression textbook.' Others search strings actually locate pages that are selling legit copies including digital editions for the Kindle. I've started looking around for suggestions. Any thoughts from the Slashdot crowd? The free copies aren't boosting sales for my books. Do I (1) get another job, (2) sue people, or (3) invent some magic spell? Is society going to be able to support people who synthesize knowledge or will we need to rely on the Wikipedia for everything? I'm open to suggestions."
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What Can I Do About Book Pirates?

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  • by Shikaku ( 1129753 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:08PM (#27957087)

    Ask for money for a printout.

    • by princessproton ( 1362559 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:14PM (#27957157)

      (I'm not trying to be inflammatory, just honestly asking, but) How is this different from what's occurring now? The ebook is being obtained for free, while printed copies require a purchase. The author states that the free copies are not helping with his sales, so how would him being the source of those free copies change that?

      • by ta bu shi da yu ( 687699 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:39PM (#27957685) Homepage

        I think he's already found his solution. Now that he's been published in the NYT and on slashdot, Google presents searchers with, the NYT and slashdot in the top 10 search results.

        Problem is solved, time to move on.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Chabo ( 880571 )

          This was my first thought: if you don't like the results Google gives you, work to change them. You don't have to be malicious, but getting your name, and your work, more visible to the public is easy to do, even while avoiding obnoxious advertising techniques.

        • by J Story ( 30227 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:57PM (#27958039) Homepage

          Cory Doctorow: "[M]y biggest threat as an author isn't piracy, it's obscurity." (

          I suppose it's a different issue if the book is required for a course, in which case we delve into questions of monopoly prices and substitutes.

      • by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @06:29PM (#27958537) Journal

        How would the author know if free copies are helping his sales? All he knows is that his sales suck and he is frustrated and wants to blame piracy.

        That doesn't mean the free downloads are hurting his sales or aren't responsible for them. Seriously, its a data compression textbook. Exactly how incredible do you really think his sales are going to be? If that many people really had need of his textbook or found it that useful they would buying hardbound print copies they could have open on their desk while working with the material.

      • by Marful ( 861873 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @06:31PM (#27958563)
        The free copies are in fact helping his sales. He is just not aware of this fact.

        Baen Books has been giving out free e-books for years now and because of the free e-books that these books sell for longer on the shelves and the hardbound versions sell more than the ones that don't offer the ebook.

        Eric Flint has a commentary on baen's free library website here: []

        I, ah, disagreed. Rather vociferously and belligerently, in fact. And I can be a vociferous and belligerent fellow. My own opinion, summarized briefly, is as follows:

        1. Online piracy â" while it is definitely illegal and immoral â" is, as a practical problem, nothing more than (at most) a nuisance. We're talking brats stealing chewing gum, here, not the Barbary Pirates.

        2. Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.

        3. Any cure which relies on tighter regulation of the market â" especially the kind of extreme measures being advocated by some people â" is far worse than the disease. As a widespread phenomenon rather than a nuisance, piracy occurs when artificial restrictions in the market jack up prices beyond what people think are reasonable. The "regulation-enforcement-more regulation" strategy is a bottomless pit which continually recreates (on a larger scale) the problem it supposedly solves. And that commercial effect is often compounded by the more general damage done to social and political freedom.

        In the course of this debate, I mentioned it to my publisher Jim Baen. He more or less virtually snorted and expressed the opinion that if one of his authors â" how about you, Eric? â" were willing to put up a book for free online that the resulting publicity would more than offset any losses the author might suffer.

        The minute he made the proposal, I realized he was right. After all, Dave Weber's On Basilisk Station has been available for free as a "loss leader" for Baen's for-pay experiment "Webscriptions" for months now. And â" hey, whaddaya know? â" over that time it's become Baen's most popular backlist title in paper!

        And so I volunteered my first novel, Mother of Demons, to prove the case. And the next day Mother of Demons went up online, offered to the public for free.

        Sure enough, within a day, I received at least half a dozen messages (some posted in public forums, others by private email) from people who told me that, based on hearing about the episode and checking out Mother of Demons, they either had or intended to buy the book. In one or two cases, this was a "gesture of solidarity. "But in most instances, it was because people preferred to read something they liked in a print version and weren't worried about the small cost â" once they saw, through sampling it online, that it was a novel they enjoyed. (Mother of Demons is a $5.99 paperback, available in most bookstores. Yes, that a plug. )

        • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @07:16PM (#27959079) Journal
          I'm all for Baen; but the notion that it is a useful data point in this instance seems a bit shaky.

          Baen's stuff is largely trade paperbacks. Fairly cheap, per book, and read largely for pleasure. TFS's compression textbook is a textbook. Considerably more expensive, and presumably read for a course, or for reference.

          Reading on the screen, in short chunks, isn't bad at all, and it is also exactly what you would do to a reference book. Reading long, focused, sessions on the screen kind of sucks, which makes paper novels more valuable. I'd strongly suspect that, with the exception of classic reference works sold to students who are thinking ahead, textbooks are substantially more vulnerable to being replaced with pirated digital copies than novels are.
    • by middlemen ( 765373 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:14PM (#27957173) Homepage
      Actually, maybe offer the e-book for say 2$ and see how many buys you get. 50$ for a book might make people think twice before they buy, but 2$ for the book might actually generate more volume of sales for you. Those who pirate only do so either because they are not interested in buying the book at all, or they cannot afford it. But by making an authentic e-book version affordable you can increase volume sales because it becomes really cheap to buy. Replication of an e-book copy really costs no money unlike its dead tree counterpart, so instead of asking the question about how to control piracy, why don't you ask the question about why should e-books cost so much as the dead tree versions ?
      • by Sad Loser ( 625938 ) * on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:28PM (#27957453)
        I have recently written a textbook, and I have written it for a series that I know will get widely pirated, because the pages are A4 sized and photocopy really well and it will appear as a torrent quite quickly.

        I will not make a lot of money from the book - probably $5k per edition, but writing it will enable me to share my vision with a lot of people, and I regard that as a privilege. The more it is pirated, the more it will help my career.
      • by peterwayner ( 266189 ) * <> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:30PM (#27957495) Homepage

        The publisher is handling the Kindle pricing for this title. They've set the price at Amazon [] at $51 for the print on demand and $41 for the Kindle.

        That's actually a fair representation of the costs. The printing probably costs about $5 and the shipping/handling about $5.

        The real cost is in the time it takes to prepare the book. It's not fair to compare the cost of a data compression book with, say, a romance title. The size of the markets is vastly different. I would be happy to sell my data compression book at the price of a romance novel if I could sell as many copies.

        Synthesizing information isn't cheap. It took me a long time to write that book. If society doesn't reward people for their time, they're going to stop doing it. I realize that the Wikipedia is very cool and much better than my books in many ways, but I don't think we're ready for it to be the only source of information.

        • by mdwh2 ( 535323 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:41PM (#27957713) Journal

          I realize that the Wikipedia is very cool and much better than my books in many ways, but I don't think we're ready for it to be the only source of information.

          No one claims Wikipedia should be the only source of information - in fact, Wikipedia explicitly disallows original research, and instead is meant to reference other sources. Even if you offered your "synthesized information" to Wikipedia for free, it most likely wouldn't be the appropriate place to put it (just as with any encyclopedia).

          I'm not sure what your concern is with Wikipedia, as you seem to be repeating this point? I don't see how it's related to the issue of piracy for your book. If you mean that only free material will remain - well yes, it would be bad, not because free material is of poorer quality, but simply because of less material being available. Whether downloading copyrighted material results in less material being produced is of course a matter of much debate here on Slashdot.

          But my point is, imagine a commercial software developer asking Slashdot about piracy, and then dropping a comment about "Imagine if we all had to rely on Linux!"? Yes, I think that commercial material is very important too (after all, I use Windows myself), but this comment doesn't come across well, and just reads as an insult to free information.

          • by Absolut187 ( 816431 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @06:05PM (#27958169) Homepage

            I think he is pointing to Wikipedia as a generic term for open-sourced, free, collective content aggregation. And I think he is arguing that Wikipedia, while cool and neat, is insufficient for many purposes (e.g. cannot replace detailed college textbooks).

            I don't think he is insulting Wikipedia or free information. I think he is merely pointing out that it is not a panacea, as some anti-IP rights people on Slashdot seem to believe.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by tsm_sf ( 545316 )
          I don't know if this works, but I've seen comments on TPB torrent pages from authors asking people to buy a legit copy (include details!). The ones who are polite about it don't really get razzed as much as you'd think.

          I'd also keep in mind your target audience. A student, without financial aid, is probably going to look askance at the $50 price tag considering the size of the book. If you have a company or a government buying books for you it's probably not that big of a deal. I'd say that you're wo
        • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @06:08PM (#27958207) Homepage Journal

          > Synthesizing information isn't cheap. It took me a long time to write that book.

          I published a book some years ago, and there were a lot of other people involved, too: copy editors, reviewers, typesetters, artists. All of whom require management, secretaries, paper clips, etc etc etc. The publisher spent a lot of time and money marketing that book.

          You are probably receiving only $8-$10 of that $41 in Kindle sales. The publisher's overhead probably only accounts for another $10-$15, leaving a pretty considerable overhead. Much of that is making up for projects that didn't happen, books that failed to turn a profit, etc.

          So you can't sell that book for $2 online and expect to have that mean anything. The author and the host of people assisting him or her put in a lot of hours. It could probably be less than $40 and still turn a profit for the publisher, but it's still going to be pricey ($20-$30).

        • by gmack ( 197796 ) <> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @06:21PM (#27958405) Homepage Journal

          There are a lot of people who talk about piracy. The publishers because they need someone to blame things on and the pirates like to make noise about how what they do really benefits society. I suspect the real truth is that it doesn't really do much of either.

          You need to know that in our society you have people who pay for things and people who steal things. People who pay for things generally pay for things and people who steal things generally refuse to pay for things.

          Years ago a some people I know got into the warez scene. For some reason and to this day I still don't understand one guy I know had $50 000 worth of software on his PC. He had no use for most of it and didn't even bother installing the larger part of his collection and most of it was for industries he neither understood nor had any interest in. He simply grabbed it so he could have a huge value of stolen software on his computer and he been forced to actually pay for it he would have dumped 99% of it.

          It's the same with people in the town I grew up in stealing shopping carts taking them to a secluded area and bashing them open to get the dollar coins out. (yes I'm Canadian) Best they could be doing? $2 to $3 an hour. They would make better money collecting tin cans or working at McDonalds' yet they continue.

          Do you honestly think that most of the pirates have any interest in programming compression algorithms?

          In the same way the most pirated songs are also the ones with the highest volume sales so you should keep in mind that these are not actually causing much if any lost sales. The internet just makes it much more noticeable.

          The few real programmers with an interest in learning about compression algorithms will appreciate the work you put in and want to reward you because that's generally what decent people do.

          My advice to you is to grow thicker skin. I'm certain it would bother me if I were in your shoes but idiots will be idiots and no amount of lawsuits, technological fixes or attempts at guilt will change that.

        • by AnalPerfume ( 1356177 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @06:31PM (#27958565)
          The world is littered with creative people who believe they are good enough in their chosen art form to deserve a handsome lifestyle from their efforts and spend their days working a normal job like everyone else to pay the bills. Do they stop doing their art because the world won't co-operate and pay them for their art? Anyone who believes they will stop is deluding themselves. Art is created because people have something they want to say, in the form they want to express it, regardless of whether or not anyone else "gets it", or even sees it.

          It's a nice dream to make your living from your art but only a small fraction of creative people ever achieve that. It's been like that from the start and will continue that way. It's the golden carrot offered to the contestants on shows like Pop Idol "it CAN be you but in all likelihood, it won't be you.....or it may be you for a short while so make the best of it before you're dumped back to reality."

          Trying to fight against the internet is futile too, unless you want to waste your time and money following the RIAA / MPAA model of suing your customers. The internet has steamrolled many business models which were previously very lucrative, your best option would be to look for ways to adapt to it and use it.

          Offer something of added value like signed copies of your dead tree versions and cheap (or even free) ebook versions. Go for the Creative Commons approach and allow your customers to adapt your characters and stories with their own fan fiction. Stories, regardless of their medium are about connecting with the audience, some of that audience are creative too, in fact most of them are probably more creative than they realize but would never act on any impulses. By allowing your customers the freedom to live with the characters they've connected with, it will win you more loyalty, with more of them likely to want to reward you by buying a signed dead tree copy even if they never open it, just to support you. Let them build a community around the world you've created, or set a website / forum up yourself and encourage participation of art work etc.

          In short...engage your audience, allow them to get involved in the world they've connected with. You will reap what you sow; if that's DRM and lawsuits your rewards will be that many of your audience who would like you, will have no compunction NOT to pirate your stuff feeling that you deserve to be ripped off. Engage them, encourage them and reward them and they will reward you in return.

          The choice is yours, all it needs is some thought, attention and enthusiasm. For a creative person this should be second nature.
      • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:41PM (#27957717) Homepage

        It might have something to do with the fact the book is $50 because the content is worth it. Printing and distribution are a very small fraction of the cost of a book and it is valid that these costs be removed from the price of an e-book. So you take the $50 book and charge $45.95 for the e-book.

        Look into it some more, don't just assume that printing and distribution is extremely costly. As the author of a $50 book ( [] for example), I know the costs of shipping a box of 22 books from the publisher is like $10. The printing cost is also not significant. A book like CD and DVD Forensics might cost $5 to print in relatively small quantities.

        Either the content is worth it or it isn't. The physical book is essentially cost-free as far as anyone is really concerned.

      • by Kamokazi ( 1080091 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:52PM (#27957957)

        I think you could get more than $2....$5 is a very reasonable number. Maybe even $10, but probably $5.

        The bottom line is, anyone who does not want to pay for your book, IS NOT GOING TO PAY FOR YOUR BOOK. It doesn't really matter why. Don't even bother with anti-piracy measures, they won't work (Other than making your own site and working up some SEO magic to pagerank a bit higher).

        What you want to do is to find the magic price point where virtually everyone who wants to buy your book, will buy your book. For an ebook, I think $5-$10 is probably it, depending on the book (ie a textbook normailly retailing for $100+ may be able to get more). This will eat into the paper sales too, and I'm definately not qualified to give you a good method to calculate what would be best. But the point is, you want a cheap, DRM-free, ebook.

        Now there might be a way to recover some of those lost piracy sales. Host each page as an image, one per webpage, and stick an ad on it. It's really hard to say if this will generate enogh traffic to be worth the cost to do it, but I think it's worth a shot. For $5, I'd sure as hell pay for a downloadable ebook, as this would be ungodly annoying for practical use. And yes, it's easily piratable this way, but remember...they're going to pirate the ebook format regardless.

        Anyway, just my two cents on the matter, take it for what it's worth.

      • by Absolut187 ( 816431 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @06:01PM (#27958097) Homepage

        Those who pirate only do so either because they are not interested in buying the book at all, or they cannot afford it.

        Dubious, unsupported claim ^^

        I can think of an obvious third option: college kid who CAN afford it, but would prefer to spend his textbook money on beer.

    • by peterwayner ( 266189 ) * <> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:16PM (#27957197) Homepage

      I do this with my book Free for All []. It's a great success if you measure success by the number of people who read my work. But it's contributed zero to my income since I released it in electronic form. No one asks if they can buy printed versions.

      There is a slight way to measure the effect. Used versions trade on Amazon and they've stayed at roughly the same price.

      BTW, I've read the electronic version on a Palm and it's very easy to read. This may have been a viable strategy during the TRS-80 years, but not during the iPhone years. I wouldn't be surprised if the iPhone has better resolution than some of the sketchy laser printers I've seen.

      • by TheRealMindChild ( 743925 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:29PM (#27957483) Homepage Journal
        Firstly, your site says your paperback edition of "Free for All" is out of stock. Doing a google search shows Barnes & Noble carry it. I think the average human is more likely to take a trip to the book store to also browse other books than to go through the trouble of contacting someone for a copy who advertises they don't have anymore.

        Also, "Free for All" is a story. Apparently story readers are happy reading such things not on paper. However, me and just about every other colleague I've ever dealt with wouldn't stand for a reference book coming from anything but paper. I need to be able to scribble on the pages, highlight things, doodle in it, place sticky notes of varying colors everywhere. Very likely, the people "pirating" this compression book are not actually using it and would have never bought it.
      • by jrbrtsn ( 103896 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:32PM (#27957531)
        Hey Peter, You don't suppose no one is buying the printed version because your website lists it as "out of stock"?
      • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:41PM (#27957723) Homepage Journal

        SO, how much did you pay the people that contributed to the books? I do notice you dodge actually citing many them.
        I mean, if you should get paid for your effort, shouldn't they?

        Who is your target audience? I grabbed the PDF, read the first 20 pages, and the last 5, plus some in the middle. The part where you talk about Disney.

        Who is interested in it? It seems to me at this time it is only interesting to people who where involved in some manner i the last 15 years, but since they were involved in IT during that time, they know the story. SO why would they buy?

        Honestly, If Linux becomes a dominant force the book you linked to will be considered a gold mine to historians, but for people living through the time? I don't see it.

        BTW, sine a downloaded the PDF to sample your works are you counting that as a lost sale like piracy? becasue if you are, rest assured I would never have bought it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mirshafie ( 1029876 )

        As a person who often pirates books (those that I can not afford at least) my suggestion would be some sort of tip jar. If people don't pay you directly, maybe they would at least be willing to send you $5 via Paypal.

        On the other hand you should not equate downloads with lost sales. I guess you've heard this already, but lots of people actually download huge collections of books that they never even read. Someone that is serious about learning cryptography, and wants to do so by reading a book on the subjec

    • Sorry, submitter, but Slashdotters believe absolutely everything that they didn't make should be made available to them for free. If anyone makes them feel guilty about it in any way, they'll invent bad guys to make themselves feel like good guys, such as the MPAA or RIAA. "The RIAA made me do it!" You may as well accept that the leeches of society are going to pirate your book and think nothing of it, because that's the kind of personality that the internet breeds. Just read Slashdot comments for a sam

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:09PM (#27957105) Journal

    Any thoughts from the Slashdot crowd? The free copies aren't boosting sales for my books. Do I (1) get another job, (2) sue people, or (3) invent some magic spell? Is society going to be able to support people who synthesize knowledge or will we need to rely on the Wikipedia for everything?

    Here's a thought: Have you noticed a recent substantial decrease in sales or income that isn't characteristic across other publishers (maybe based on the recession)?

    You seem to already have the negative caged-animal attitude that suing the shit out of everyone is your only option. It's not. Just acknowledging that there are some individuals out there with no respect for your IP is also an option if you're not being sent to the poor house when normally you'd be raking in dough.

    My advice would be to try to not sue anyone unless you're absolutely sure no one is buying your book and the social norm is to screw Peter Wayner by pirating it. You have every right to litigate just like I have every right to try to sue my parents for not giving me a better education when they sent me to Catholic school. It's up to you whether or not you sue book pirates.

    Why are you taking up the cross and not your publisher, O'Reilly Publishers. Isn't it their job to deal with this and your job to write books? Let them be the big bad evil here.

    If you are unsatisfied with the Google hits, maybe you should blog about your books and provide links to them? Or ask your publisher to get an Search Engine Optimizer (SEO) ... not sure if those actually work though.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Khashishi ( 775369 )

      How would he notice a decrease? Relative to what?

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:22PM (#27957327) Homepage Journal

      Funny but when people violate the GPL then people on Slashdot are gung ho about legal action.
      I suggest a take down notice and then contact your publisher and let their legal department go after them. How to fight pirates? And your asking here?

      • Funny but when people violate the GPL then people on Slashdot are gung ho about legal action. I suggest a take down notice and then contact your publisher and let their legal department go after them. How to fight pirates? And your asking here?

        What a terrible terrible analogy. The companies that violate the GPL that get sued are making money and are solid entities with legal statuses. The book pirates are making nothing and they are part of the vaporous cloud of the internet. You would be more effective suing ghosts. They are sharing books that they derive entertainment or information from--not money! I will encourage the EFF to prosecute violators of the GPL. I will encourage O'Reilly to sue these people if they see a loss.

        The GPL is a license, violating a license is not the same as violating copyright. You aren't suing over money, you are suing to have the source code released. There are so many differences between your analogy and what's going on here I don't know where to start.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

          The GPL is enforced under copyright law.
          Sueing pirates is probably not worth the effort but a take down notice is fair.
          The main difference is that you agree with the GPL and you think pirating a book is just find and dandy.
          In both cases it is somebody violating the right of the Author to have some control over product of his or her work.
          In one case the author wants money in an other the author wants to control what is done with the work after the fact.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            There's a fine, but important, distinction between the typical GPL violation and book piracy: claim of authorship. End-users rarely, if ever, claim ownership over the pirated goods. If anything, they'll show it off to (hopefully more scrupulous) friends who might go and purchase the actual thing.

            There's another point about the GPL though that doesn't make it completely incompatible with saying piracy is ok: the GPL is partly a reaction to excessive protection of copyright, and is designed to play the copyri

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            The GPL is enforced under copyright law.

            The GPL uses copyright law against itself. Copyright law exists to restrict what the end user can do with the copy he receives so that the author can benefit.
            The GPL's intent is to maximize what the end user can do with the copy he receives without respect to the author's benefit.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Zordak ( 123132 )

          The GPL is a license, violating a license is not the same as violating copyright. You aren't suing over money, you are suing to have the source code released. There are so many differences between your analogy and what's going on here I don't know where to start.

          You clearly don't understand the GPL. The GPL is a license to a copyrighted work. It conditionally grants the licensee the right to do certain things that are reserved exclusively to the copyright owner under copyright law. It purports to rely solely on copyright law for its enforceability (I asked RMS point blank at a public appearance about a month ago whether he thought it had any contractual provisions, and he said "No. It's strictly a license"). That means that if you violate the GPL, the only leg

    • Here's a thought: Have you noticed a recent substantial decrease in sales or income that isn't characteristic across other publishers (maybe based on the recession)?

      I concur. I sell images off my website. In arbitrary units, in the last 10 years I've been selling between 3 and 10 a month. Since last summer I've sold only two. Maybe the rise of flickr is for something in the wild availability of quality images, but I'd bet on the crisis and everybody holding out for better times...

      Specialized tech books don't get bought by individuals who may also be cheap asses and willing to pirate them. They get bought by _employees_ who need them in their works. And an employee doesn't care how much they cost and they are certainly not willing to get fired for a torrent download in order to save the company 50$ !

      Also remember that tech books have a short shelf life. If I want a python book and I see it 3 years out of date, I'm pretty sure there's something more recent.

    • First, O'Reilly isn't really my publisher, although I did contribute a chapter to the book Beautiful Security.

      Second, I don't think that people are out to screw me personally. At least most people that is. But I do believe that humans take the path of least resistance.

      Third, I think that students are already under a great deal of financial stress. The temptation to save a few dollars by grabbing a free copy of the textbook is very understandable to me. I just wish people would look at text book authors as the good guys because I think we provide much more information per dollar than the universities. Alas, I don't think I'm going to change people's ideas on that very soon.

      Fourth, at some point the search engines and the web sites need to take some responsibility for what they display. I do blog about my book and I do use clean URLs to help the search engines do the right thing.

      I think there's just something plain broken about the search engine results.


    • by Nihixul ( 1430251 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:26PM (#27957401)
      You bring up some good points, but I didn't agree with this:

      You seem to already have the negative caged-animal attitude that suing the shit out of everyone is your only option.

      Considering this quote in the summary,

      I'm open to suggestions.

      I don't really think that's a very fair characterization.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:14PM (#27957153)

    Are you sure about that? What have you got in the way of data backing up that statement? I'm not saying you're wrong - but I think it would help to know how you know that is the case.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by peterwayner ( 266189 ) *

      1) Just royalty statements that show very few sales.

      2) I've watched the price of used copies of Free for All on Amazon. They've stayed more or less at the same price for the last ten years. The free copy has been out there for about 9 years.

      For the record, each month I still give away about 3000 or more copies of Free for All from my web site alone. If the free copies were really generating print sales, we would have seen a bump up. They're not printing any more.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:14PM (#27957163)

    Just look through the comments for any story relating to MPAA or RIAA, substitute movies/albums for books. There you go.

    People pirate your books because they are not good enough to pay for, because they aren't available in high quality open digital formats without DRM, you charge to much, you need to release the book as open source for free, and then make money on lectures and going on tours, and you can have a web page with a link which allows people to donate money directly to you without middlemen, and you can make money on advertisement.

    There you go.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      because they aren't available in high quality open digital formats without DRM,

      That's actually a big one for me. I buy un-DRM'd PDFs from people like the Pragmatic Programmers, when they're available. I don't buy DRM'd ebooks, period. No way I'm booting Windows or paying for a $400 device (when I already have a $2000 laptop) just to read ebooks.

      That would be my first suggestion. Clearly the DRM is doing you no good at all, so drop it. Once you've done that, you'll have to decide whether it's worth it to publish a digital copy at all, or whether to stick purely to print -- or, for that

  • What Can I Do About Book Pirates?

    Book pirates claim the partial income of several thousand authors yearly. Once book pirates get underneath the floor boards of your house, nothing gets rid of them. If you have book pirates, you'll notice tiny white dust particles near crevices and creases in your books and book shelves which are actually book pirate eggs. They will hatch and form book pirate larvae that can go weeks without books and still survive which makes extermination difficult. Once infected, a typical book enthusiast has nine to ten days before cells throughout the body are infected with the book pirate virus. You cannot cure book pirates but you can control them. There are means of prevention--a vaccine has been developed for book pirates type one and type two but there are several strains too rare and foreign to address. Book pirate build up occurs around the search engines and torrents of the internet and with them come social stigmas. Regular flossing and lawsuits will also help prevent book pirate and book related decay. If you or someone you know has book pirates or shows book pirate symptoms, get help, get tested and abstain from group readings.

  • by Farmer Pete ( 1350093 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:16PM (#27957195)
    You must be new here. Many of the worse case offenders live here. It sounds like you are pretty much damned if you do, damned if you don't. If you really think you can take on the pirates, good luck. If you figure out how, please don't tell the RIAA.
  • by rrohbeck ( 944847 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:16PM (#27957215)

    That should create enough links (from Wikipedia for example) over time so that you show up first. On that website, provide links to Amazon etc, and offer a download of the latest version. Mention that folks who bought the dead tree version are entitled to a free download and that other folks should send $X via whatever your preferred payment method is.
    Somebody who is interested in encryption knows about P2P so there's no way you can put the bits back in the bottle.

  • by retchdog ( 1319261 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:17PM (#27957241) Journal

    Write your next book using incredibly abstract language and concepts, so as to be useless to non-academicians. Then charge over $100 in order to milk this very limited market, who will hopefully never get organized enough to pirate the book.

    It's what other people seem to do. Seriously, any book with a title like "... for practical people", or "... for real programmers" will get pirated. Surprise! That's the "practical" way to get technical books!

    Take heart also that many of the pirates would probably not buy the book if that were the only option.

  • it's a trap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by j00r0m4nc3r ( 959816 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:18PM (#27957243)
    You're falling into the trap of noticing these two things:

    A) Book sales are flat or downward
    B) I found links to pirate copies

    and correlating them in your mind without any evidence or proof that B is actually related A. Piracy is item #374273 in a list of 1,000,000 possible reasons why sales might be flat or falling. If you can't prove any real loss from B, then what's the point of wasting time/money pursuing it?
  • by SlashDotDotDot ( 1356809 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:32PM (#27957537) Journal

    His strategy is to complain about it in high profile forms, thus getting highly placed google results. Results 2 and 4 when I search on his query string:

    2. A Victim of Piracy Wonders How To Fight Back - Bits Blog - May 14, 2009 ... The specter of piracy of my books materialized for me several weeks ago when I typed the four words âoewayner data compression textbookâ into Google. ...

    4. Slashdot | What Can I Do About Book Pirates? peterwayner writes "Six of the top ten links on a Google search for one of my books points to a pirate site when I type in 'wayner data compression textbook ...

    • by Parhelion ( 857262 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @06:33PM (#27958597)
      Yes, he DOES know exactly what he's doing! Go do a Google search for one of the unique phrases in his post such as "selling legit copies including digital editions for the Kindle" and you will see that he has posted exactly the SAME message on dozens of message boards over the past month. Slashdot - News for nerds, stuff that mattersOthers search strings actually locate pages that are selling legit copies including digital editions for the Kindle. I've started looking around for ... - Similar pages The YENRAB.COM BlogOthers search strings actually locate pages that are selling legit copies including digital editions for the Kindle. I"ve started looking around for ... - Similar pages ICT and technology news - 30, 2005 ... Others search strings actually locate pages that are selling legit copies including digital editions for the Kindle. I've started looking ... - Similar pages Linux News Feeds | OpenSUSE Linux RantsMay 14, 2009 ... Others search strings actually locate pages that are selling legit copies including digital editions for the Kindle. I've started looking ... - 29 minutes ago - Similar pages one hundred and tenth dot com | 110th.comothers search strings actually locate pages that are selling legit copies including digital editions for the kindle. i've started looking around for ... - Similar pages [RSS Tech News |]Others search strings actually locate pages that are selling legit copies including digital editions for the Kindle. I've started looking aro ... - Similar pages How to Home and Garden, Automotive, Help with your PC ...Mar 14, 2008 ... Others search strings actually locate pages that are selling legit copies including digital editions for the Kindle. I've started looking ... - Similar pages
  • by dex22 ( 239643 ) <> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:36PM (#27957613) Homepage
    Here are the questions I'd suggest you ask yourself:

    The downloaders are probably unlikely to buy your book at retail anyway, but they do bring you more exposure. Given that they are not costing you much income, how much time/money do you want to invest in pursuing them?

    The people offering the downloads are probably working on the assumption that you/the publisher don't care. Often, a simple contact from the author/publisher will get the result you want, as they prefer the easy route.

    My usual course of action is to ignore the downloaders. I usually drop the people offering the downloads a nice note saying that they're publishing my work, and if they'd send me half the money they made and stop it, I'd go away. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't but just go away. Those who continue, regardless, I see if the site is in the USA then send a DMCA notice. I also proactively work to ensure my own/publisher's sites are the primary matches for my publications.

    Most importantly, I don't lose any sleep over it, or invest much time in it. It's not a big loss to me, and the intangibles I gain from it are worth more to me as a specialist writer. I figure an hour of my time is worth $25, and if it won't earn me $25 in royalties, chasing these people is time badly spent.

  • by chkn0 ( 773790 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:36PM (#27957631)
    Thomas Babington Macaulay's speech in the House of Commons, 5 February 1841 on the obscene extension of the term of copyright protections:

    "I am so sensible, sir, of the kindness with which the House has listened to me, that I will not detain you longer. I will only say this, that if the measure before us should pass, and should produce one tenth part of the evil which it is calculated to produce, and which I fully expect it to produce, there will soon be a remedy, though of a very objectionable kind. Just as the absurd acts which prohibited the sale of game were virtually repealed by the poacher, just as many absurd revenue acts have been virtually repealed by the smuggler, so will this law be virtually repealed by piratical booksellers.

    At present, the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side. Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouths of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesmen of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law, and that feeling is at an end. Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot.

    On which side, indeed, should the public sympathy be when the question is, whether some book as popular as 'Robinson Crusoe,' or 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' shall be in every cottage, or whether it shall be confined to the libraries of the rich for the advantage of the great-grandson of a bookseller, who, a hundred years before, drove a hard bargain for the copyright with the author when in great distress?

    Remember, too, that, when once it ceases to be considered as wrong and discreditable to invade literary property, no person can say where the invasion will stop. The public seldom makes nice distinctions. The wholesome copyright which now exists will share in the disgrace and danger of the new copyright which you are about to create. And you will find, that, in attempting to impose unreasonable restraints on the reprinting of the works of the dead, you have, to a great extent, annulled those restraints which now prevent men from pillaging and defrauding the living."

    So these laws finally went through [], and the pirates are here. Surprise!

    Consider voluntarily opting out of the over-zealous protections offered by current copyright law. For example, check out O'Reilly's Open Book [] project. Among their options are the Founders' Copyright [], where works return to the public domain after 14 or 28 years (instead of the current lifetime + 70 years). Even better, given the technological revolution between then and now, consider even less restrictive licenses that would enable your customers to get even greater benefit out of your works.

    Yes, this option requires that the public make some "nice distinctions" by recognizing that your works are (would be) more freely available than the typical work, and that they should correspondingly pirate them less. If you take this path, remember to proclaim your moral highground loudly and proudly, so that people notice. Also, encouraging your coworkers, fellow authors, publishers, etc., along the same lines and increasing the number of works so available will help the public to more often encounter and understand this issue, and again reduce the incentive to pirate your works.

  • by andrewd18 ( 989408 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:40PM (#27957697)
    The only way to be sure that nobody wants to steal your book is to write a book nobody wants to steal.
  • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:41PM (#27957727) Homepage

    A limited market for an esoteric textbook, imagine that.

    And the swappers that are passing it around aren't interested
    in buying it (or probably any other technical literature for
    that matter), imagine that?

    This is like kids passing around copies of Photoshop or Autocad.

    They are NOISE.

    They give the false impression that there is a market where there isn't one.

  • Book pirates? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Xelios ( 822510 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:52PM (#27957959)
    Book pirates? I'd pay the ransom dude, those guys are serious business.
  • by RevWaldo ( 1186281 ) * on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:57PM (#27958035)
    Having recently bought textbooks it seems the best trick is to give the audience little choice in the matter. Publish new editions every year with enough changes (actual new content, relocating chapters, new title, new typeface, new cover, new layout, new publisher etc.) that it makes using old and new editions in the same class all but impossible. Bundle the book with exclusive online content and make sure the professors require its use. Offer an electronic version but with the severest DRM available and charge the same price as the print version, and of course for a limited license (good for 18 months, say.)

    Also, counter-intuitively, keep the price in the how fucking much?! range. Once you've spent $150 on a textbook, the idea of being the nice guy who spends his weekends scanning it in so that everyone else can get it for free becomes far less palatable - "Why should I be the only sucker who paid for it?"
  • DMCA (Score:4, Informative)

    by burris ( 122191 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @06:03PM (#27958137)

    Send Google a 512(c) takedown [] letter. duh!

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @06:30PM (#27958541)

    Sorry, Peter; harsh reality time... ...but your book "Compression Algorithms for Real Programmers" is really a light survey work, something that someone would maybe read if they were a manager of a team that worked on compressions software and wanted to be able to know (generally) what their employees were talking about when they talked technical, and not what I would call a textbook.

    A textbook is something you put on your shelf and use it as a reference work. It's something like "Technical Aspects of Data Communication" by McNamara, or "Advanced Engineering Mathematics" by Greenberg, or "Algorithms in C++" by Sedgewick -- where it's about the only place you can go for something that you'd use in a day to day setting.

    I did technical editing/fact checking for Prentice Hall on "UNIX Internals: The New Frontiers" by Vahalia, and that is also a survey work, but it's also what I'd call a textbook. It's something a lot of the kernel engineers here at Apple own and put up on their shelves (and it wasn't evangelism by me that made them do it -- they did it on their own). It has chapter end information, it has technical footnotes that lead to useful papers, and it has student exercises. If you want, for example, to go look at algorithmic tradeoffs for kernel memory allocators as part of your job, you'd probably actually look at chapter 12 of this book; doing so will at least get the list of the seminal papers on the subject that you should be asking Citeseer to find for you.

    I really doubt that people aren't buying it because they are pirating it, but if they are pirating it, it's definitely not for use as a reference work, and probably not for use as a textbook, unless you've managed to convince some "Informations Systems" or some "Introduction to Computer Science" professors somewhere to require it for the class, instead of writing their own textbook and requiring that instead (which is usually how introductory college textbooks roll).

    It's anecdotal, but I have to say that absolutely none of the QuickTime engineers, and none of the people I know who are working on codecs for the iPhone, etc., have your book on their shelves for reference (or, after a brief verbal survey, anywhere in electronic form, such as for their Kindles, either).

    It's far more likely the the blame for your lack of sales is a result of the general economic downturn, rather than electronic piracy.

    I'm sorry you aren't making the money you think you should be making off the book, but not sorry enough to go out and buy a copy of it when I can't use it as a reference or pass the bill for it back to the company as a work-related expense.

    -- Terry

  • by 2TecTom ( 311314 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @07:07PM (#27958987) Homepage Journal

    First off, the best books are written because something needed saying, not because some writer needed a perpetual income. Secondly, if a writer writes about things that people feel a need to read, the writer will develop an 'audience', which, in a way, is a perpetual income. Third, and most important, if you don't put in any effort, would you really appreciate what you take out?

    In my experience, there's no free ride. You always pay, one way or another.

Radioactive cats have 18 half-lives.