This question is on Quora: “Where can I download the book The Queen of Jasmine Country?” As the author of the said novel, I’m uniquely qualified to respond. Not about where to illegally get a free digital copy of my book, but about what happens when you do.
Writers may be creatives, but publishing is a revenue-based corporate industry. Publishers invest in authors (from accepting their submissions to allocating a promotion budget) based on how their work is projected to fare on the market, and then does. If book piracy undercuts profits, it significantly impacts the author’s career, and prospects for future books in its genre.
You may think it’s just one little download – but just like “one vote” or “one plastic straw”, you’re not the only one. Collectively, that’s a lot of lost sales. To be considered a bestseller in India, a literary fiction book in English only needs to sell around 2000 copies. The author makes just 8%-10% on royalties. Once, I bought a box of sweets for former colleagues when I signed a book contract. As I stood at the counter, I calculated that in order to pay for it from my royalties, every single person in that mid-size agency would have to buy a copy. I think three did.
Which brings us to day jobs and side gigs. Here’s the secret: if they don’t come from or marry into wealth, authors in India earn their incomes from something other than their books. Mine is from content writing, ghostwriting and journalism. Tell me: if I’m hustling constantly for paid work, growing disillusioned because making literature is so financially unviable, how am I going to find the time and headspace to write more? It’s a practical question.
Even bestselling commercial fiction writer Durjoy Datta has gone on the record to say, “You cannot expect to pay rent or even the electricity bill with a writing income.” Imagine the situation for lit-fic or poetry.
Libraries and piracy are simply not the same; it’s not classist to oppose the latter. With a library membership, you contribute to and participate in reading culture in a meaningful way, keeping books in circulation, supporting spaces in which they are sacred, and making them accessible in a fair way. Book piracy, on the contrary, has detrimental effects on this culture. It actively limits which books enter the market.
Don’t have a good library close to you? Look harder. Chennai, for instance, has: Madras Literary Society, Connemara Library, Anna Centenary Library, British Council and American Consulate Libraries, Roja Muthiah Research Library – and these are just the major ones. You can also access free online collections, such as Open Library, which work in exactly the same way.
There are only a few cases in which the downloading of illegal e-books is marginally acceptable, such as for prohibitively expensive academic texts, out of print works and banned books. But for a new book available for the price of a designer coffee, and deeply discounted through online retailers? Why would you hurt the author that way? If you want more books by them in future, buy (or borrow) the ones they’ve already written.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 14th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.