$300,000 In Lost Royalties…

I always knew my book was going to be stolen. One of the risks of having a PDF version of the book was that people were simply going to copy it and spread it around and I’d never see a penny of it for my work. The other problem I had was that people in far flung countries wanted the book and without a PDF version, they were going to have trouble reading it. So I figured the foreign sales would balance off the theft and all would be well.
I was wrong.
I’m getting paid for about 5% of the copies in existence that I know of. Apparently my book is a popular download.
And there’s probably lots more to find…
So the ones that I could be bothered to count up came to around 40,000 copies. And considering my cut of the $10 PDF is $7.60, the math suggests I’ve been shorted $304,000.
Now I know that if people actually had to pay for the book, 40,000 extra people wouldn’t have purchased it, but if even 10% of them did, that’s still a fair chunk of change and to be completely blunt… I deserve it.
So the question is what to do from here….
(1) I’m emotionally okay, and mainly viewing the mass adoption of the 2011 Primer as advertising for the 2012 edition.
(2) There will never be another PDF version of anything I ever put out. From now on it’s paperback or Kindle. No exceptions. Sorry, the Internet has spoken.
(3) The PDF version available on Lulu.com will be vanishing on October 15th. $10 is an extraordinarily fair price for the information in the book. If you’ve found yourself with a free copy, please pay for it.
Jennifer and I took major risks with the MMSL project, and we are not out of the woods fully just yet either. Your support is very much appreciated.
Edit: If the download sites are all spoofed numbers as revealed in the comments, this is less of a concern. It’s maddening to try and figure some of this stuff out.
Edit #2: I got it thanks. Closing the comments.


  1. While I understand the hard position you are in here are a few more facts that could be taken into account:

    1- The fact that you don't offer a PDF version doesn't mean one won't pop up eventually (offering a kindle version makes it even easier)
    2- If you don't offer a non-kindle electronic version, those that don't have a kindle and who are willing to pay for an electronic copy will resort to a pirated PDF which will indeed mean a lost sale.
    3- Some people are interested in your book but have no means of getting it if not downloading an illegal copy (some people don't have a credit card, nor a kindle nor any way have it shipped from amazon)
    4- People reading your book (be it legally or otherwise) also provide mouth-to-mouth marketing. Maybe someone downloads an illegal copy, but if they like the book they may decide to get a copy or recommend the book to someone that will get a copy.

    I do not intend to condone or justify piracy and it is completely up to you to decide what to do on the matter. Whatever you choose I'm sure you'll have your reader's support.

  2. To belabor the obvious those "downloads" are made up and totally uninformative (try searching for some random phrase on those same sites).

  3. Another option you have is make an open anonymous poll. Ask how many readers used a legal copy and how many an illegal one and aks the latter group why they decided to go that route.

    You may get a few new ideas on how to increase sales.

  4. Two things are going on here 1) many of these website just say they have whatever you are searching making up names and download statistics 2) lots of website that actually have a pdf just download any pdf they can find on the internet and host it. Thus these things tell you very little about how popular it is to pirate your book.

  5. There will always be thieves, and they will be more aggressive, smarter, and generally a bigger pain in the arse as your popularity increases.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, you can safely ignore those "Sponsored Links" numbers at the top of torrentz.eu – they're total fabrications.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Just something to think about:

    I bought the pdf on lulu because I don't want a hard copy; I want to read it on my PC. You'll lose customers not publishing to pdf.

    Also, if you release on Kindle, the DRM will most likely be removed and put on the download sites anyway. Just google 'Kindle DRM' to see how accessible it is.

  8. Miles Anderson says:

    In addition to "these stats are meaningless"[1] you don't have a term in your cost function for how the thievery of early versions acts as revenue generating marketing for you.

    It isn't clear to me that DRM is a viable long term solution. Things are in a lot of flux but you might think about how you use your books to drive revenue other ways (advertising, speaking, training, etc.) rather then how do you use other ways to get people to buy a book.

    If you could get a good measurement of thievery I'm still not convinced it means that much. In the music world somebody might casually steal a pop song. They get their 1 or 2 favorites from an album and the studio loses the sale[2]. I claim books are different. People don't casually grab a book and absorb it in the same way. I think fewer book sales are lost to casual download. There are some books (tech books) where getting a chapter or two has some value but you don't want the whole book so sites like Safari exist. I don't think your book fits in that category.

    [1] Statistical logic is becoming more and more important these days and very few people do it well. Relevant to you I see a lot of broken thinking in social science.

    [2] If the artist is worth anything it doesn't really hurt them as they should make most of their money performing. Studios don't want anybody to realize this.

  9. As a professional writer, I, too, have been hit with online theft. I even learned that a friend made copies of the audio version of one of my books and was distributing it freely, thinking she was helping me by "getting the word out."

    Anonymous 11:36 is right. You will lose a lot of sales if you decide not to release a PDF version and it will still be poached from your Kindle version anyway. The only way to avoid most (although not all) online theft is to publish a paper version only, and then you'll watch your sales plummet.

    I take the attitude of community service. I do my best to keep my books from being stolen, and I pursue the most egregious cases legally, but for the most part, I just tell myself that I've helped a lot of people. While that isn't as satisfactory for my bank account, it keeps me focused on my writing and providing written work that people want and that will help people.

    Sometimes sending a letter to the owners of the offending download sites can help for a while. A harshly worded letter from my attorney has also been successful in stopping some of it. Good luck!

  10. There is a certain segment of your readers that will always get a hold of the pdf without paying. Even if you make a print only copy, someone will scan it in and post in online. It is a huge industry. Search the ebooks section of some of the larger torrent sites to see what I mean.

    I'd also venture to say that a large portion of the readers who've illegally downloaded the book would never have bought the book in the first place.

    I would say to add an appeal to the beginning of the book, something along the lines of:
    "If you've downloaded this book without paying for it, and have benefited from it, please consider donating some money to my paypal account."

    See how Jonathan Coultan puts it, with regards to his music:

    Also, for an author starting out, especially a self-published one, the most important thing is awareness. See this article about a guy who decided to "illegally" upload his own book to the internet, so that it could be introduced to new audiences:

    Consider every year putting up last year's ebook for free as an advertisement for the current version. It would be an easy way to advertise your new book.

    Also, like everyone said. Those sites are bogus. See if you can find an actual download of the book. If it is a torrent, you can usually find stats of how many people downloaded it from that site.

  11. When people want to "share" it, they will. Believe me, someone will scan your entire paper book and post it online. It is a very common practice, actually.

    Removing the PDF person will only harm yourself. The pirates will keep pirating.

  12. Just to add to my answer, check this post for Jeff Atwood from Coding Horror. He talks about software, but the outcome is almost the same:


  13. I wouldn't worry about the pirates. Your price is low enough that the people who can afford it won't even think about pirating.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I am actually one of the guys who purchased your book from LULU. Although I am still 50 pages short to finish it. I think it is great advice! I also purchased other books such as rooshv' but they are LTR/marriage-based. It is less than a dinner out with a most likely life changing experience how to deal with an important part of your life. So you cannot go much wrong to purchase it. And one would like to reward the efforts of the author too.

    Those ebooks I know of are technical books, e.g. this book increased sales http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/itprnn/book.html once published on the web. It is a leading technical reference book on machine learning and information theory. People read it, thought it is great, and then purchased the hardcover for reference.

    I plan to re-read from time to time because you always start to get betanized when you are in a relationship and tend to forget to use game. Of course, I could print it out. But then you always forget where you put it. So maybe you should promote it more as reference books so people are more likely to buy a kindle version or hard cover.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Anything great on the internet always seems to get jacked and given away. ><

  16. Ian Ironwood says:

    Athol, as a fellow writer (and a fellow Kindle and lulu.com writer) let me give you a piece of advice: worrying about "lost revenues" from a book that has been pirated is pointless, and will lead you to more aggravation than anything else. I know writers who aggressively chase down every potential copyright infringement because they are adamant about their "rights" . . . and that's time they could have been more productive writing.

    The fact is, the publishing industry has changed the game the same way the music industry and the motion picture industry got changed. We're living under new economic rules now. You can't look at the faux numbers online as "theft" — because even if the numbers were accurate, only a tiny fraction of the people downloading it would ever have paid for it.

    Have you "lost" a sale you never would have had? It's hard to say. Has someone who downloads your book "stealing" from you, if they never would have purchased the book if it hadn't been free? Hard questions, and only you, the author can answer them. But . . . after doing this for years, I recognize that 90% of the people out there are honest enough so that they'll be happy to buy your stuff, once they realize it's good. So the best strategy for a modern eAuthor is to work the "long tail" and don't expend energy on any but the most egregious offenders. Remember just how well suing all the downloaders worked for the music industry.

    Also, I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but if you want to increase sales you might consider dropping your price-point. Try it for a month and see if your numbers go up. I did that with one of my novels, and it went from 60 copies a month to 1700 copies a month — and my money from Kindle went from $100 a month to $3000 a month. Big difference, more people are familiar with my work, and when my sequel comes out I have a built-in audience.

    Your first book is like serving lunch at a restaurant. You don't make money at lunch, you make friends. You make money at dinner. Dinner is all the books after your first one.

  17. That's the problem with modern copyright isn't it?
    If I purchase your book in physical format, I read it… my brain takes in information. Then I chuck the book Jerry's way… he reads it, his brain takes in information. He chucks it Bob's way, rinse and repeat, He chucks it Jill's way, rinse and repeat. Etc….

    In the end, 150+ people will acquire information, yet there has only been 1 sale! Same for PDF's I guess only the ratio's may be greater because digital copies are easier to pass around. I guess, the only up side is you are being read, by a lot of people.

  18. Damn Athol, I would be so stinking mad, too. I know you and Jen deserve better.

  19. If you go kindle only, you will 1. Lose me and many others as customers (I only read PDF books) 2. Still see the book reverse-engineered, stripped off the Kindle DRM, then pirated just as much. Which means I will probably be getting the book of 2012 through torrent sites myself (and probably paypal you the price of the book).

    Make it convenient, if you want to sell more. Dont lose customers.

  20. The Private Man says:

    Thanks for this info. It could have an impact on how I decide to publish my upcoming book.


  21. Anonymous says:

    Well you gotta do whatcha gotta do. I bought the book but wound up buying the pdf too. I can print out a few dozen pages at a time and read it more discretely that way.


  22. Sorry that people are stealing your work – that has to be frustrating. I did my part – bought the Kindle version first (to read it discreetly and check it out!) then the paper version for my husband. Also wrote a 5-star review on Amazon, which I encourage others who like the book to do also.

  23. The Outsider says:

    This whole thing hinges on that percentage – how many of the ones who downloaded for free would have bought. You've anchored yourself to your first estimate of 10 percent. But really, it could be 100 percent or zero. You don't know. When you consider how few books actually sell 30,000 copies, a lower number seems more likely.

    Instead of torturing yourself with the thought that you're out hundreds of thousands of dollars, why not comfort yourself with the thought that you sold some copies you wouldn't have otherwise.

  24. MarkyMark says:

    The price of your book is so affordable that, when I'm ready to read it (too busy right now to do much reading), I'll buy a copy. Shoot, $10 is the price of ONE TICKET to a first run movie these days-and that's outside of NYC! Unlike the movie though, the book can be read over and over again…

  25. Anonymous says:

    I paid the $10 for the pdf book and I enjoyed reading it. I do not own a Kindle or similar device and do not shop bookstores. If it were not available as a pdf download I would not have bought it at all.

    Thanks for writing it.

  26. Athol, you are absolutely right to ask for support and to chastise pirates. However, the question of whether you should put out a PDF version is separate from that and a practical one. So, please be careful not to confuse the two issues.

  27. Ok Athol, so I discovered you two days ago, bought this book on Amazon, immediately cracked the DRM so that I could read it on my nook, and read through half of the book so far.

    Halfway in and I'm already getting my wife back, who I thought was a lost cause. I feel like I owe you way more than $9.99, and so when I just read that it's available without the DRM on lulu I bought it again.

    So, you got two sales out of me, I'm on your mailing list, and will probably be buying the next edition.

    Trust me man, you've got a good product here, those of us who need this information will pay you for it. To a married man who is not getting enough sex, (your target demographic), $20 for a lifetime of enjoyment out of one's spouse is still cheaper than a hooker or a girlfriend on the side.

    Don't let the pirates get to you, they wouldn't have paid you anyways.

  28. Athol Kay says:

    You do all realize you can read a Kindle on a PC right? Takes about a minute to download the free app.

    I'm still thinking on this.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Truthfully, your threat of removing it from pdf format is going to send me over to lulu to buy it after I post this. I have been putting it off, working my way through other books mentioned on TAM and other sites.

    If you go back to Torrentz.eu and type in ANY combination of words you will get the same results on that top page. Try "monkey pain sex funky" or "Republicans for a new world order"

    I am actually quite familiar with torrent sites, getting most of my tv from them. The major players and servers that actually carry file lists, instead of membership signups do NOT have a copy of your book. Google the top 10 torrent sites, and your book is not listed as an available torrent on any of them that provide actual torrents ( I literally just tabbed out to check, but Ill still buy it ;)). Torrentz CLAIMS to have your book, and my monkey pain sex funky book, and my republicans for the new world order book, and I can assure you that my personal financial loss on each of those books, obviously having been written by me, is, oddly, just under 20,000 downloads each like yours. So im out twice what you are in royalties… heavens, If I get REALLY creative I can be down a few million bucks by bedtime here.

    Tell Jennifer to slap you upside the head for being a doof and get off the crappy torrent sites. Seriously, if you want to fantasize about all the money you are not getting to spend, buy a lottery ticket like the rest of us and dream bigger than $304,000.

    John VI

  30. :(

    I have a Nook…

  31. Anonymous says:

    goldgesso.com seems to be a phishing site. any title will come up as a result. you enter your credit card before 'downloading'

  32. Downloads are not lost sales. Not all of them anyway. Last figures I saw on this showed that about 80% of downloads would not have translate into sales otherwise. Still a decent amount of money lost though. On the other hand, if the book is good then those downloads are free advertising as they get passed around to friends of the downloaders who may or may not buy it on their own.

  33. johnnyshornofplenty says:

    Ouch. That sucks.

    Athol, knowing what you know now, how would you market your book differently?

  34. Looking Glass says:

    Well, I come from the "tech" side of the pirate equation, so a few thoughts, bridging off others.

    - Anything in print will be replicated on the internet, in some form. This can't be stopped, at this point.

    - Torrent site stats aren't real.

    - What downloads are real, for an open site, probably 1/2 of them are other "Bots" downloading copies to show off for themselves.

    - This is an Ebook, so the odds, even if there are 300k copies around on the internet, I'd say maybe 300 of them actual got past the first page.

    - As annoying as the numbers might possibly be, for the most part they aren't lost sales. Maybe a few dozen are, but your audience isn't normally one to be a bunch of torrent users.

    So, yeah, it sucks a bit. But maybe write it off on your taxes as a charitable donation? (Not sure if that is allowed, lol)

  35. Anonymous says:

    I know there is a Kindle PC app, but I bought the PDF anyway. When you buy through Kindle, Amazon gets to see which page you're on, look at any notes you write in the app, or even later revoke your access (see kindle 1984 incident. Yes I know bezos said they wouldn't do it again. The point is, they can). If a PDF version were not for sale, I would probably just not buy a copy. For most books I would instead buy hardcopy, but for some like this it's nice to not have it lying around to be discovered by others.

  36. Anonymous says:

    As someone from a far flung country as long as there's a kindle version it's accesible and afordable for me by using Kindle for PC.

  37. To be honest, and to echo some of what has already been said here, give it up. Your numbers aren't right anyway, as you don't have the right equation to determine this simply because there is no real way to get the proper inputs.

    What three very major information sites have found is that when they give away their stuff for free, it enhances the revenue they receive from everything else, including the pirated books. One even decided to put everything they publish under a Creative Commons license and give away their source code, which allows people to freely set-up mirror sites around the world and do whatever else they want as long as they give proper attribution. Sales have soared as a result.

    "Theft" is a form of advertising and actually gets your material in front of people who otherwise might not have seen it. Not to mention that copyright was actually started by government(s) long ago to edit (i.e censor) what people wrote. It did not have its genesis in the private market.

    If you have value on your site, people will come and buy from you as a result of such pirating. I know that often a PDF book that catches my attention I will buy the paper version as I have a very bad case of what one author calls The Picard Syndrome. Now the Kindle has changed the landscape quite a bit since that article, but I still want printed versions of many Kindle books as well.

    In my own very small case, some of the info from my site was taken and verbatim put up on another site. I was going to write and tell the owner to cease immediately until I noticed I was getting a LOT of affiliate sales from that site (he had copied the code as well).

    Give unique value (and you certainly do) and the rest will take care of itself. Oh yes, as one commenter noted above, printed books and Kindle books get pirated online all the time. Better to devote your time and energy elsewhere.

  38. @Ted

    You can root your Nook to let its inner Android all hang out. Then install the Kindle app.


  39. Athol Kay says:

    Okay. I got it. Thanks. My lack of knowledge of piracy from my good-two-shoes life is showing apparently.

    Unplugged several comments from the spambox.

  40. Anonymous says:

    I didn't read all of the comments (there's a lot of really long ones there), so I'm sure this has been said already, but here's my take on it anyway:

    1) Somebody is going to pirate it and put it online regardless of how you release it. You do a paperback version only and somebody is going to scan it. Piracy is 100% not preventable.

    2) People who can afford $10 are going to buy the book because $10 is not a lot of money. Some other people might download the book and then buy it once they decide it was indeed worth their $10. You have no way of counting how many of those numbers overlap. I have, several times in the past, downloaded a book, read it, and then purchased it when I decided it was worth the money. People buying your book have no real way of knowing exactly how your method works or if it's going to work for them, so some might download just to get an idea of what's really inside. (For the record, I bought it. It was a little too late to save my marriage, but the info in there is solid. I learned a lot for the future.)

  41. Dear Athol – poor you – very upsetting!

    I like the idea of the pdf because it would be so easy to buy and then gift to a friend in need.

    Perhaps you can leverage the piracy by having extra value that is only obtained when one has a legitimate copy – the pirate download would then act as an advertisement and prompt the downloader to buy a legitimate copy.

    Perhaps you could also include background in the front so that people understand they are not ripping off some nameless corporation, but an average family.

    Good luck :-) C

  42. Anonymous says:

    I echo what others have said. Being in the online lead generation biz I can tell you that most of those numbers are likely made up or due to robots downloading files.
    Kindle, Print, PDF, holoscan, it won't matter – all media will be pirated. Count it as advertising.
    The best way I have seen this type of thing handled is to add a note at the beggining of the PDF to the effect:
    "If you are reading this and have not paid for it then you are likely reading a pirated copy. Please support the author and consider purchasing this book. It is only $10…blah blah."

  43. Athol Kay says:

    Okay… I got it.

    Closing the comments.

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