Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

Lending Isn’t Piracy and Piracy Isn’t Worth Fighting, Anyway

Last week, I became tangentially aware of a fairly new website/service called LendInk. The concept behind this site was pretty simple: people with lendable Kindle or Nook books could sign up for the site and list the books they owned that had an available “lend.” They could then also use the site to search for books they wanted to borrow from other users.

This is all perfectly legal, because the lending feature is enabled or disabled by the publisher at the time the book is listed on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. All LendInk was doing was facilitating the interaction of readers who wanted to lend or borrow their already lendable books. Despite this, LendInk’s website is currently suspended and inaccessible because many authors, convinced this was piracy despite numerous explanations to the contrary, raised a hue and cry and got the site shut down.

:head meet desk:

I’m not sure how to be clearer about this: if you are an author, lending is GOOD for you. A lent book is not a “lost” sale, but a potential gained reader.

Look at it this way. If every reader who bought one of your books lent that book to another reader, and even a small fraction of those readers liked it enough to buy that book (so they could keep it permanently in their digital collection, since lent books revert to the original owner after a period of time) or other books from your backlist or the next book when it comes out or some combination thereof, that one lend has potentially resulted in multiple sales. And those sales can grow exponentially as the reader converted by a lend buys your book and lends it to someone else, who then does the same.

Readers who like your books enough to want to share them with are your friends. They make your books discoverable. They are the best marketing money can’t buy. Cutting them off at the knees by complaining that what they are doing is akin to piracy is…well…dumb.

I am such a believer in lending, in fact, that I’ve started adding a note on my copyright page encouraging readers to share my books beyond any lend feature offered by the retailer. Kindle and Nook lending is limited to a single lend per book. Once my book has been lent via that feature to another reader, it can’t be lent no more through that feature. But I don’t want readers who are enthusiastic about my books to feel they have to choose only one person to share it with. For that reason, I don’t DRM my books and tell my books’ buyers they have my permission to strip any DRM that might have been added by a retailer.

“But Jackie,” you’re saying, “aren’t you worried that your books will show up on actual pirate sites? Aren’t you worry about lost sales?”

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: My books are going to show up on pirate sites no matter what I do. DRM or no, encourage sharing or no, there are always going to be some people who will upload my books to torrent sites so anyone and their mother can download them. And I’m okay with that, for two reasons.

The first is that I actually believe some of the people who pick up one of my books from a pirate site will, like those who get my book via a legitimate lend, be converted into buyers. It may not be many, but the fact that my book is on that site is another point of discoverability.

And discoverability is the second reason I don’t particularly worry about piracy. NOT being discoverable is worse, I believe, than anything else, up to and including wholesale free downloads of your book. In this game, visibility is everything. If your book isn’t being pirated, that’s when you should worry, because it means either no one is interested in your book or no one knows it exists. Both of those are the kiss of death in this business.

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