Ben Hoyle, Arts Reporter for The Times
Book piracy on the internet will ultimately drive authors to stop writing unless radical methods are devised to compensate them for lost sales.
Tracy Chevalier, the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring who also chairs the London-based organisation, said that her members were deeply concerned that the publishing industry was failing to adapt to the digital age.
The internet is awash with unlicensed free digital copies of individual chapters or in some cases entire books. Prominent victims of book piracy include Jamie Oliver and J. K. Rowling but the most vulnerable writers are less well-known poets, authors of short stories and writers of cookery books.
“It’s hitting hardest the writers who write books that you dip in and out of: poetry, cookbooks, travel guides, short stories – books where you don’t have to read the whole thing.
“Although people still buy [books by] Nigella and Jamie Oliver and Delia it is because of their celebrity. Cookbook authors are really struggling. I do it myself – if I want a recipe I go online and get it for free.
“For a while it will be great for readers because they will pay less and less but in the long run it’s going to ruin the information. People will stop writing. There’s a lot of ‘wait and see what the technology brings’ but the trouble is if you wait and see too long then it’s gone. That’s what happened to the music industry.”
In the 19th century and before, other models of paying writers existed, including lump-sum agreements and profit-sharing. She sees no reason why the book industry should not be equally innovative. She suggested four possible sources of income at an industry discussion on copyright law last week: the Government, business, rich patrons and the public. Government funding could take the form of an “academy” of salaried writers.