We’re All Pirates

by Lisa Rosen on May 25, 2011

You’ve probably seen the cutesy little children’s book making the rounds on internet:  Go the Fuck to Sleep.  Links to it and comments have been popping up in my Twitter and Facebook feeds for weeks now.  Basically, it’s a picture book that was leaked, in PDF form, prior to its actual publication date.

Cuteness and brutal honesty about the exhaustion of parenting aside, the book raises an interesting issue:  piracy.

I’m a book person–obviously–and I’m hyper-aware of the intersection of art and money–should authors get paid?  Who should pay them?  How does technology change the structure of that market?–it’s all very complicated, and even the best minds in the industry are at a loss to predict how this is all going to shake out.

But.  Even with my own awareness of the sticky ethical issue of piracy, when that PDF popped up in my email box, I read it.  Then I forwarded it to Lee, and he read it.

I had confidently resisted all those links and raves and forwards that I had seen floating around, but when it showed up in an email, I didn’t even hesitate.  I admit that I was curious about it, and had been, and that part of the reason I hadn’t already taken a peek was simply a lack of time.  So it was easy, shamefully easy, actually, to click on that PDF without even wondering whether or not the author was going to get paid for the entertainment experience he gave me in that moment.

Now, if you read this article, you’ll discover that the author of this particular book is, indeed, going to get paid–this quirky little picture book is already at the top of Amazon’s best-seller list, and it still hasn’t been released.  And that article casts piracy as the mechanism that caused the surprising success.

But as a wannabe writer, that assumption makes me really, really nervous.  I just can’t get comfortable with the idea of giving away the product that I’ve worked so hard to create.  To be frank, I want to get paid.

I’m glad piracy is working for Adam Mansbach–really, I’m thrilled anytime a book gets attention as a surprising success story–but I don’t think it’s a workable business model for this aspiring novelist.  Not yet, anyway.


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