Fiction writers in "finally realising the Internet is there" shocker!
The Society of Authors claim goes that "book piracy on the internet will ultimately drive authors to stop writing unless radical methods are devised to compensate them for lost sales". Let's think the claim through.
(1) By combining the stats from Technorati and the China Internet Network Information Centre Blog Herald got to an estimate that there were about 200 million blogs in February 08. Let's be wildly optimistic and assume that the top, oh, ten thousand of those bloggers are making decent money from their blogs. That leaves...actually pretty much 200 million of us who are writing without getting paid. Why? Opinions differ - fun, learning, reputational gain or egomania are all good guesses. Whatever the motive though, it ain't money, let alone the sort of money represented by a guaranteed print author's advance.
(2) "But!" (I hear you cry) "blogs are not books!" Indeed. So - does anyone write books without any assurance they'll be paid? And the answer is that of course they do. First time authors write their books knowing that most submissions end up going nowhere. They write them anyway. (And some of them, on failing to secure a publishing contract, resort to so-called "vanity publishing" and print it themselves. Some just drop their writing onto the web and see if anyone picks it up.)
This year alone I've read a stack of great first books - The Lies of Locke Lamora, Then We Came to the End, Predictably Irrational, Kill Your Friends, Things The Grandchildren Should Know, The Making of Mia. People write because they want to write and want to be read. Then they try to get published (because a book publishing contract is historically the route to audience). Then one or two in a generation make a staggering amount of money (mainly from the film rights). Asimov once estimated that maybe 300 people in the United States actually make a living writing novels. Most do not. Most writers just aren't in this for the money. They can't be - there's not enough money there to make that a credible motive.
Sure, once an author is established and has chosen writing novels as a career and is paying the mortgage off the royalty checks it's going to be a hell of a wrench for the checks to stop coming in because people are just downloading their books off the net for free. (Perhaps they can take consolation from the fact that the same wrench was felt by the medieval scribes on the invention of the same printing press that allowed the C20th's authors to make a living. Perhaps not.) But there just aren't that many people in this position, and the argument that without the possibility of getting there people will give up writing simply isn't true.
Finally, an extract from when Neil Gaiman was asked what he thinks of peer-to-peer book distribution, via my friend Nicolai:
(possibly faulty in the exact details, this is from memory )
Someone asks how Gaiman feels about his works, eg readings of his books, being distributed on peer-to-peer networks
"So, how many of you discovered your favourite author by buying a book? You went and bought a book by an author and read it and they became your favourite author?"
10% of audience raise their hands
"Now how many of your borrowed the book or found it somewhere ... didn't pay for it?"
90% of audience raise their hands
"That... is my point"