Arr you a book pirate?

The first definition of piracy is “the practice of attacking and robbing ships at sea”.  However, the third definition opens the real discussion for today: “the unauthorized use or reproduction of another’s work.”

Digital technologies have brought a sharp drop in the degree of control that producers exercise over how and where those goods circulate. Historically, pirate publishers played two key roles: they printed censored texts and introduced cheap reprints that reached new reading publics. (Balázs 2011) Both actions created a public that was more informed and knowledgeable, regardless of their social standing or status. Book piracy is as old as the publishing industry itself. The extent of piracy continued to increase, particularly, in the second half of the previous century. An unprecedented increase has taken place after the emergence of new states as a result of decolonization and a rapid growth of higher education in the newly independent states. (Mahmood and Ilyas 2005)

As individuals passionate about the publishing industry, we disapprove of piracy with all our heart. Considered “intellectual theft”, piracy threatens to end the publishing industry entirely. For writers, authors, designers, and other people whose main talent is their creative skills, it is their right to demand payment. (White 2018) As a rule of thumb, any author who has a book in the top 1000 on Amazon can expect to have their eBook pirated. (Salvette 2014)

There is no way to be sure of finding out whether a book is as good as the reviews say it is. A business that thrives on making sure very book will earn a prize, be a bestseller and has review quotes from the top personalities in the industry, the reader often feels that paying an average of CAD 17.95 is not a safe bet. Many individuals, like myself, would prefer reading a sizeable (and preferably free) chunk of the book before deciding if the hard copy is worth the money. Since most books do not offer a sizeable chunk of material for free, piracy takes charge of the wheel.

A Reddit user, who is an avid consumer of pirated books says, “I’m poor and I like to read, but I can’t pirate food, so I pirate everything else.” On every piracy platform, a specific public comes into existence for a specific book before it is supplied. There is a demand that fuels piracy. Piracy freezes the regular pay-for-a-service system. Many book pirates think of themselves as Robinhood; they take the desire/needed object and hand it out in troves to the ones who cannot (or do not) want to spend money for it.

The internet is excellent since it gives us access to information, we could have never otherwise experienced, seen, heard or read. That is the paramount advantage of the internet. Naturally, book piracy is on the upward trend. With 17% of all online eBooks being pirated, (Flood 2017) a lot of authors and publishers are at a loss to control this activity.

When Neil Gaiman, the acclaimed English author, found out his work was being translated into Russian and then being heavily pirated online, he decided to do a rather fun experiment. Gaiman put up an eBook of his well-selling frontlist title for free on his website. The results were shocking: actual book sales went up by 300% (these results are from independent bookstores which were the primary sales channel). Gaiman said “…you can’t look on that as a lost sale. Nobody who would’ve bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free. what you’ly doing is advertising, you’re reaching more people and raising awareness.” (Gaiman 2017) What Gaiman said was put succinctly into one sentence by Robert Kroese, “Authors should be more concerned about obscurity than about piracy.”(Penn 2017)

Taking forward what Gaiman experienced, said sales cannot possibly be lost for titles that:

  • Are unavailable as eBooks (before eBooks became a perfunctory format, the very dedicated pirate would scan the book, page by page, from print)
  • Are downloaded as a torrent (since neither reading habits nor sales through torrenting cannot be tracked)
  • Underwent a change in format (e.g. epub to mobi)
  • Are downloaded by people who have absolutely no intention of paying for anything and would not purchase if they had to pay

Pirated books affect neither the sales nor does the royalties of any book. Instead, it helps people who oft times do not have access to a book, e.g. citizens who:

  • Do not have access to a modern library
  • Do not have modern book stores in their city/town of residence
  • Live in areas that do not have a high literacy rate
  • Live in areas of the world where Amazon is not the biggest retailer
  • Do not have the financial means to order certain books from another country

Piracy is their glimpse into the fast-paced world of knowledge. Like Gaiman said, this raises awareness and helps advertise books and their author. In Pakistan, printed pirated copies of books reign supreme. Very popular examples of such heavily pirated books include (which remain constant on every small shop/vendor selling pirated books):

  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • Orientalism by Edward Said
  • The Essential Rumi
  • Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
  • The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series)
  • The Last Prophet by Leslie Hazelton
  • Rich Dad Poor Dad Book by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter
  • The subtle art of not giving a f*ck by Mark Manson
  • 1984/Animal Farm by George Orwell


My argument here is that while it breaks some moral barriers in the country of a book’s origin, piracy is the only answer to someone’s troubles who cannot possibly gain access to book(s). In the absence of international publishing houses, the price of an imported book we pay is equal to that of international level which encourages book piracy. Unethical and illegal as it may seem, we should not forget the fact that book piracy to some extent compensates for the virtual non-existence of libraries in our country. Not only it helps developing reading culture in students but also makes us a part of the global readers community.  (Younis 2011)

In conclusion, piracy is an immoral and illegal activity, but it has helped many individuals grow; those who did not have access to books, libraries or online retail stores.




Works Cited

Balázs, Bodó. 2011. “Coda: A Short History of Book Piracy.” SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COUNCIL.

Flood, Alison. 2017. The Guardian. November 6.

  1. eBook Piracy and the DRM Debate. Performed by Neil Gaiman.

iIMAGINEblank. 2017. YouTube: Why Do People Pirate Books? (And How to Get Free/Cheap Books). November 9.

Mahmood , Khalid, and Muhammad Ilyas. 2005. “Copyright and Book Piracy in Pakistan.” IFLA (International Federation of Library Association) 324.

Penn, Joanna. 2017. Publishing Tip: Why Authors Shouldn’t Worry About Piracy. February 23.

Salvette, Paul. 2014. Understanding Book Piracy. May 22.

Singh, Ravinder. 2017. YouTube: The book piracy debate! September 23.

White, Jack. 2018. The Independent Publishing Magazine. February 28.

Younis, Habiba. 2011. Why book piracy in Pakistan. February 3.





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