Today, it’s not uncommon for music and movies to “leak” before their release date. I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure how it happens, but somehow, someone gets a hold of a song or a movie and sends it to his or her friends all over the Internet. It’s not really big news when it happens anymore. Actually, it’s almost like we expect it to happen; I’ve seen blog posts complaining because all of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture weren’t yet available for free (and illegal) download.
On the other side, it’s big news when the manuscript of a book gets out to the public before its release date. It’s not hard to remember the rumors of the security that surrounded the manuscript for the last Harry Potter book. In 2010, HarperCollins sued Gawker Media for posting 21 pages of Sarah Palin’s book America by Heart on their website a week before its release. Recently, Barnes & Noble accidentally delivered a shipment of preorders of John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars about three weeks before the book was slated for release. This was a news story covered in many publishing blogs and the author himself expressed his dismay over the fact that all of his readers wouldn’t get to enjoy the book at the same time. In reality, it didn’t affect his sales—the book debuted at number 1 on the New York Times Children’s Bestseller list—but it did prompt me to wonder why this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often.
Because books now exist in the same format as movies and music—digital files, easily uploaded, easily shared, and easily pirated—it’s not hard to imagine a future when the newest John Green novel won’t be leaked in physical copy, but in digital form. Ten years ago, the only way I could imagine book piracy was kind of ridiculous: someone standing at a photocopier, scanning every page of a novel to send along as a PDF. It was much easier to go to the store and hand over the $15.
While publishers have obviously spoken out against book piracy—they’re not blind to the collapsing music industry and the lower-than-ever box office numbers—Brazilian author Paulo Coelho doesn’t share their view. He recently encouraged readers to download his books on the infamous file-sharing website the Pirate Bay. “Welcome to download my books for free, and if you enjoy them, buy a hard copy—the way we have to tell the industry that greed leads to nowhere,” he said on his blog.
Whether it’s greed or simply a desire to stay in business, it will be interesting to see what kind of measures publishers will take to keep their rapidly changing industry from becoming a victim of piracy.