Book Piracy – Ethics and Opinions

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Book piracy is a long standing issue ever since the first download sharing site was born. It’s a controversial topic that has many people in an uproar to defend it or fight it. To talk about any topic I must first define what piracy means to me. Piracy is the means of using, reading, partaking in any product that is not regularly available for free.

Example, torrents are a form of piracy, downloading content that is available elsewhere for a price but are downloaded for free. (Plus a free bonus of the occasional virus that might be hiding in a file.) However, I do not believe torrents are stealing if the file is not available for purchase elsewhere, this does not include things that are not available for purchase “YET”, as something in process of becoming available is still considered piracy.

Now that we have my definition in place we can get to the topic at hand.


Jolly Roger Flikr

Piracy, what is it good for?

As in, what are you actually stealing?

The problem isn’t piracy itself, but the ideas/rationalizations a person has for doing it:

  • They make enough money, no need for me to be the one to pay.
  • Writing is a pleasure/hobby that people do because they love it, not for the money.
  • I’ve just paid $25 on a book from a famous author, I deserve a few freebee perks here and there. I’ve already contributed money to the writer cause.
  • I don’t have enough money to spend on books, I’ll just pay it forward by spreading the word about the book. Free marketing.


Now these reasons aren’t bad, I can understand them, but these reasons only seem rationalized because the whole truth behind the writer industry isn’t fully known to people who aren’t writers, spending hours, days, and years researching their field, building their brand, and writing books. Have you pirated books before? What are your reasons? I love the passion people have for what they do, and I’m excited to see if your opinions change after reading what the price is for an author to write a book. If it doesn’t then I’m equally interested in the reasons why. Feel free to create a dialogue below. Try to keep it more debate style instead of attack mode style.

What a good pirate should know:


A writer/author has expenses to bring the book (or any other form of media) to market, available for all good pirates eyes/reading pleasure.


  • Website:
    • If the writer loves their readers they pay for hosting and a domain name to make sure their readers aren’t bombarded with advertisements. And if a writer happens to not be tech savvy, they also have to shell out some money to a developer or designer to make the website you are viewing visually appealing, welcoming, and not chaotic. $10 a month for hosting, and luckily only $10 a year for the name. This does not include the price for designing a website… anywhere from a $100 template design, to $2000 for a professional webdesign. That’s a yearly cost of around $240, not including cost of design.
    • In book terms that means just to cover their website this author has to sell 480 e-books at $2.99 at 70% profit just to cover the cost. For most Indie Authors selling their books at 99 cents, usually now only making 35% profit the author would have to sell 692 e-books.


  •  Editing:
    • In order to save their readers from having to slog through repeated words, typos, book format errors, consistency errors, continuity errors, confusion, and so forth an editor is hired… and paid, to bring a smooth and enjoyable reading experience. And average editor charges anywhere from $500 to $2,000 to edit one, single book. Reason? well it takes an editor on average anywhere from forty hours (1 week) to one month or 16o hours, at a cost of $20 to $40 an hour. This is the reason why so many indie books out there don’t have that extra layer of polishing, it costs money to do it if they don’t have a really sharp-eyed friend to help for free.
    • On the conservative side of $500, they would have to sell another 1446 e-books at 99 cents each.


  • Book Cover:
    • Someone designs those book covers. There is an artist that needs to get paid to make that, if the writer doesn’t try to learn an extra skill to save money. (Though even if the writer did make the cover, don’t you think they deserve the same amount of profit from it as if they hired a designer?) Average pricing for a book cover can be anywhere from $50 for a super cheap, probably not so hot looking, version up to $300 for a single cover design.
    • That’s another 868 e-books that need to be sold at 99 cents each.


    • Writing the book itself can take years. If you condense the time actually worked on an averaged sized book, for a full-time writer. It can take three to six months of forty to sixty hour work weeks just for a first draft. Then they have to edit it themselves before another pair of eyes takes a look at it. That can take another three months of full-time hours for the author before they send it to an editor. You can see why a book can take years for a writer that isn’t full time. Let’s look at the time involved:
    • Time involved: 40 hours X 4 weeks in a month average X 6 months = 960 hours. Then another 40 hours X 4 weeks X 3 months editing = 480 hours. With 960 hours + 480 hours = an estimated 1,440 hours for an author to complete a book. This doesn’t even consider the time for authors that need to preplan their books with research, or plotting, or developing a whole new culture, and backgrounds for character creation.
    • At minimum wage 1,440 hours X $10.50  = $15,120 that a normal person would get paid for that time at McDonald’s. They give that time up in advance for remuneration later when people enjoy their work.
    • They would have to sell 43,750 e-books at 99 cents to just make minimum wages.


  • Conferences:
    • Going to writer’s conferences to continue their learning, networking for agents to bring their book to market. Those conferences cost money: usually $500 for just one.
    • Again another 1446 e-books.


We are now at needing to sell 48,202 e-books at 99 cents, or 33,434 e-books at $2.99 at 70% profit from the Amazon only option, JUST TO BREAK EVEN. This is BEFORE a single bit of marketing is put into a book.

  •  Marketing:
    • This is a cost that varies between authors, but I’m more than excited to have any authors out there comment here to let me add on to this point later. Can range from nothing (and you probably don’t hear about those books very often) to thousands.


Cost of the book that the author takes upon themselves:


$240 average basic website (per year with hosting and domain), $500 low end of editing, $250 a decent book cover, $15,000 a VERY low end salary for hours worked, $500 for just one conference to get the attention of an agent or publisher.


Set up cost total $16,490 on the low end, not including marketing, or book tours, or the percentage cost the publisher/printer/website takes out of the cost of the book to provide it.


Cost of a book: It takes between 6 to 12 hours to read an book, average it out to around 8.5 hours of reading enjoyment for an average sized book. The book for most independent authors is $2.99, sometimes even just $0.99. That is less than a quarter, 25 cents, an hour for entertainment.


How many books need to be bought legally to break even?


Most royalties are 35% , so for every $1.99 book sold the author gets $0.70

Most Indie Authors are 35% at 99 cents, the author gets $0.35

Amazon does provide a 70% royalty option, so for every $2.99 book sold the author would get: $2.09


$16490 / .70 = 23,557 e-books

$16490 / .35  = 47,114 e-books

$16490 / 2.09 = 7,890 e-books


At the high range of $2.09 profit from a self-published pricing range with the average amount of books sold by an Indie Author being (100 to 700 books) Not per week, not per month, not even per year… EVER, that is $209.00 to $1,463.00, lucky for most writers that amount of money means that they don’t have to claim the amount during tax season, have to reach $600 for that, and even after $600, they would have to reach $600 after all of their expenses that were put into it (not including hours worked).


Most authors who put in money for marketing are looking at spending around:


  • around $500 for ISBNS/BARCODES/COPYRIGHT submissions.
  • Maybe $250 for some e-marketing book swag like bookmark design, or promotion images for their website and social media.
  • $699 for a single review on Kirkus Reviews
  • $695 for two reviews from BlueInk Reviews
  • Probably $300 on free printed books for reviewers, family, and friends
  • Maybe $500 and up to $2,000 on promotion/marketing/advertising


That’s barebone marketing not even including if they hired a promoter.


Some authors can track how many of their books have been pirated if they are proactive. And usually those books are the difference between breaking even, being in the black, or being in deficit, the red.


Most Indie Authors are in the red based on average sell sheets, so when you try to reason with yourself about why it’s okay to download a free version when the book is only $2.99 or even part of the Kindle Unlimited Service, please remember this post and know that you are only spending 25 cents an hour of entertainment and the author is probably getting paid negative or less than minimum wage for their time and effort to bring that entertainment to you.


Have you ever been a pirate before and if so what were your reasons? Do you still feel the same about those reasons now? Love to know your thoughts on this.


Support Indie Authors, also if you are a supporter of Indie Authors, please join the Goodreads group Author’s Needing Reviews and join in on Monthly Book Reads and help support authors!


S.M. McCoy

Author of upcoming Paranormal Fantasy Blood Crescent.

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