Splice the mainbrace and read me a novel

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Last year I had the pleasure of appearing at the Manx Literary Festival alongside other, more stellar literary luminaries including Chocolat author Joanne Harris. Generally, I find Joanne's words of wisdom on the writing life spot on - particularly her recent campaign to get writers paid for appearing at literary festivals (I'm pleased to say we were paid for the Manx Festival). However, I've got mixed feelings about her recent, interesting piece on piracy.

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely agree that piracy is wrong. People should pay for a book (or borrow it from a library) if they want to read it. I am not in any way condoning piracy.  Book pirates should be locked up and the key thrown away. Full stop.

The only point I'm not sure about is whether piracy is as much of an issue with books as it has been for music. There are two big reasons for this. One is that when music piracy was at its height there were glossy sites like Napster to get the free downloads, while there weren't easy ways to get paid downloads. By comparison there are easy way to get paid ebooks (though some publishers still stupidly price them as if they are hardbacks - I have some ebooks priced at over £13), but the pirate book download sites tend to be sleazy sites that feel as if they are going to give you a virus, and in many cases they will.

The other reason is the demographic of the customer base. The kind of people who tend to access the most music also tend to be the kind of people who are most likely to download pirate material. But the kind of people who read lots of books tend to be the kind of people who shy away from pirated stuff and prefer to be legitimate. It's a generalisation, I admit, but I think it holds true pretty well.

I get tens of alerts a week that pirate copies of my books have been put up. I used to pass these on to the publishers, who muttered that half of them didn't work anyway, but they'd work through them. Now I tend not to bother. I could be wrong, of course, but I genuinely believe that I am not losing many sales at all to pirates, and as such it's not a big issue for me. I still hate it. I still want it to stop. But for most authors I doubt that it has a huge impact on earning a crust.