A week later, I uploaded it to The Pirate Bay for free.
I know what you’re probably thinking. “Well, that was stupid.” That’s exactly what my girlfriend, a few of my friends, and the voice in my head all said.
It took me two stiff drinks to work up the courage to prep the file. I wrote up a half page letter to the reader. This has been uploaded by the author. It took ten years and countless hours to create this book. If you like it, consider buying a digital copy for a friend, blah blah blah. I added links to Amazon, I inserted this into the book. I labeled the file: Pirate Edition. I hit upload.
Then I went to bed.
I woke up wondering if I didn’t dream the whole idea. When I checked my computer the torrent file now had 12 seeders and 5 leachers. Other torrent sites had it. As of writing this, if you Google my name plus the book title, a torrent is the top hit.
So why did I do what some might call the stupidest thing an artist could do?
Because I used to pirate as well.
Like many, all through college I struggled financially. I found a hundred ways to survive off ramen. I learned to eat at Trader Joe’s for exactly three bucks. I dodged my landlord on rent days until my miserable paycheck had cleared. During the really bad times I borrowed my friend’s Costco card and went there for the free samples and cheap pizza. Somewhere in Los Angeles there’s an Arby’s that recognizes me on sight.
If I had to buy software for a class, I went to the internet. If a friend suggested a musician, I did the same thing. The cycle persisted well after graduation and into my twenties.
(I feel like I’m confessing to murder here.)
And then something happened. As I started getting more and more financial stability, I stopped pirating as much. I started buying. iTunes replaced Limewire, DVD’s replaced .avi files. I went back and bought the albums and movies I loved, many of which I discovered back before I paid for them.
If you look on my movie shelf you’ll see hundreds of movies I bought at retail, half of which I probably downloaded at one point or another. Most of my music now is linked to an Amazon or iTunes account. My Xbox is unhacked. I pay for my apps. I make a teacher’s salary. It’s not much, but it’s enough. If I save I can get a few toys.
I bought an iPad the day it came out. I couldn’t wait to read on it. A friend emailed me Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. He said I’d love it. I did. But about halfway through one thing bothered me. I hadn’t paid for it. So I went to iBooks and paid the $9.99. Probably too much, but I know the author didn’t set the price, so whatever.
Same with Shit My Dad Says. Same with Game of Thrones.
I did this because I no longer eat ramen or have a sample buffet at Costco and can afford a few things. Do I buy indiscriminately? Absolutely not. I can’t afford to.
But I feel I owe it to those who wrote the stories I like.
So why did I upload something for free that I spent roughly ten years writing?
Because I believe you can’t turn readers into pirates, but you can turn pirates into readers.
Because I believe some people will pay for quality writing, they may just not pay right then.
Because I don’t think of each copy downloaded as a purchase lost, but a potential reader gained.
Because I believe most people don’t find their favorite author or musician on a bookstore shelf or on a CD they paid for. They find them by borrowing a friend’s copy or hearing a song on the radio.
And mostly, because I believe I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t.
Maybe it sounds like socialism, maybe it’s disruptive, I don’t know. What I do know is that ten years ago I set out to write a book that scared me, hoping someday readers might enjoy it. That hasn’t changed.
And really, what’s the worst that could happen? People don’t buy it? I’m hardly Stephen King so that’s not a problem.
So I’ll see how this experiment pans out. Did I nuke my writing career before it even started? Perhaps. I can’t imagine a single publisher would ever be interested in working with an author who uploaded his book for free. Did I do the wrong thing? I don’t know. If anything, it feels kind of right.
But then again, ten years ago I never thought I’d pay $9.99 for a bunch of ones and zeroes that I could download for free, so who knows?