The pirates of Port Perry

My friend Pat over at Nine Day Wonder (who, by the way, did a great interview with me that you should check out right here) is a big crime fiction fan.  So big, in fact, that she’s dragging me into the genre.

Not that I’ve avoided it.  I’ve been reading and loving Elmore Leonard’s stuff for years, as well as Dennis Lehane and a few others.  But in the last few years, Pat’s encouraged me enough to judge unpublished manuscripts of the CWC’s Arthur Ellis awards, got me out to a book launch for a local crime writer, Howard Shrier and even to try my hand at a mystery novel myself…which is a story in its own right.

Anyway, long story short, I remember walking around a bookstore with her a few months back and, in my hazy memory, I seem to remember her telling me that Ian Rankin was a great author.  Fair enough, but I didn’t pick up any of his books at the time, as I’d already grabbed a few books on her recommendation and mentally noted to check him out at some unspecified future date.

Now, flash forward to last Thursday evening when I had occasion to be in the Port Perry hospital visiting both my mother and my aunt–again, another story all on its own.  Here’s the thing…on the way out from the visit, I walked by the gift shop, which was closed.  But they had a wheeled cart stacked high with books.  Taped to the side of the cart was a price list (Hardcovers 50 cents, paperbacks 25 cents, magazines free) and an envelope that you can drop your money in.  Totally on the honour system.

You gotta love small towns, don’t you?

Anyway, not ever able to resist a stack of books, I took a quick scan through and noticed an Ian Rankin book.  Hmm, I thought.  Good way to discover if he is any good.  For 25 cents, how can I go wrong?  Then I found a second book, then a third.

Then I noticed the whole row.  It should be noted that only one of these books even had the spine broken.  They looked brand new.

When I pulled them out and stacked them up and counted them, there was a total of 24 books.  $6.00 for 24 books. Even if I hate the guy, I’ve still spent less than I would on one of his books in Chapters.

I pulled out three toonies and put them in the envelope and trotted my new library out the door.

Then, on the drive back home, I started thinking.  Obviously someone at some time presumably went to a store and purchased these books at full price and Mr. Rankin dutifully received his cut.

The owner then either read the books, or cast them aside, eventually donating them somewhere that they would end up in a cart under my questing fingers.  And the hospital got the rough equivalent of four Tim Horton’s coffees out of my pocket.

So, here’s where my thoughts went: How is this different from internet piracy?
Let me put it another way.  If I went online today and managed to find a copy of the latest John Grisham or Danielle Steele or Patricia Cornwell or Stephen King or the aforementioned Elmore Leonard or Dennis Lehane.  Pick your famous author.  Let’s say I found an ebook version of one of their books that could be copied.  Let’s say I purchased that ebook for the full price.
Then, after reading the book, it’s just sitting there.  Now, let’s say I’m a disciplined guy and I offer that ebook up on the internet for 25 cents to the first person that reaches out to me.  And they pay me and I send them the book.
That’s piracy.  Arrrrrr, ya scurvy dog!
I can be fined or sentenced to jail time or whatever.  It’s Not Good.  Right?
Now, I’m not naive.  I know that whenever music files or movies or ebooks are shared, they aren’t just shared with one person.  That’s the thing with an electronic copy of anything, it can be copied as much as possible without any loss of quality.  So when they’re shared, they’re shared with the world.
And here’s another thing to think about.  If the Port Perry hospital had had only the one Ian Rankin book, I would have tossed my quarter into the envelope, and from there, read the book and possibly enjoyed it enough to go pick up another book or two from Rankin, thereby adding to his income.
Instead, from what I can tell, I got the full collection of his Inspector Rebus novels, as well as a bunch of others.  24 books spans a lot of years of writing.  Unless Rankin releases something new, I’ve got a ton of his books, enough to last me a couple of years at the very least.  I won’t be buying anything new from him for a long while.
So, did this help Rankin?  Or hurt him?
I’ve gone out into the Twitterverse and talked about how I think piracy can help as much as it hinders.  I’ll admit to downloading an illegal copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club which I then enjoyed immensely.  To prove my point, I then posted the picture of the 11 Palahniuk books I purchased at full price, including Fight Club.  The first Harry Potter adventure was the first audiobook I ever listened to and, not sure that I would even like audiobooks, I got a copy from the internet.
Not only did that cause me to purchase audiobooks going forward, but it also spurred me to buy every book J. K. Rowling released.
So, in these cases, did piracy hurt Rowling?  Or Palahniuk?  Or the audiobook market?  Hell no.
And personally, if my book Vanishing Hope ever gets released in ebook format, personally, I almost hope it’ll be pirated.  Yes, it won’t earn me any money, but I guarantee a lot more people will know my name, get exposed to my writing and perhaps, going forward, decide to purchase something else I wrote.
But back to the 25 cent books.  My question is, why is it legal for all the used book sellers to do so?  The authors aren’t making money off it.  The publishers aren’t.  And yet, within a half-hour’s drive, I know of at least stores of the top of my head that engage in this process.
Why aren’t the publishers going nuts over this?  How many stores sell used books nationally?  Internationally?
But which is sexier?  Online pirates are definitely sexier.  They’re the Captain Jack Sparrows to the retail stores…Cap’n Crunch (sorry, I couldn’t come up with an unsexy pirate).
And yes, the online pirates definitely have more reach.
But seriously.  In my opinion, online pirates have led me to actually spending money for stuff.  The Pirates of Port Perry got six bucks out of me and stopped me from paying retail for Ian Rankin.
Think about it.
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3 thoughts on “The pirates of Port Perry

  1. The Barrie Library has a bookstore like the cart you encountered and I never get by it without spending at least $3.00 (the most difficult part for me is trying to carry the books home!) Hope your Mum and Aunt are feeling better, Elizabeth.

  2. Selling used books is protected under first-sale doctrine, publishers do hate it but it’s the law here. You’re allowed to sell anything you have paid for and own, including books, provided it doesn’t break any other laws in the process.
    But yes, I completely agree that piracy is not the problem the entertainment industry makes it out to be. And giving creative works away for free to increase exposure and sales is something the recording industry came up with itself when it started promoting songs on the radio.

  3. Pingback: Booklust, Is the Romance over or just gaining momentum? | Inkstroke's Blog

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