And so it begins…

… A funny thing happened on the way to the Internet. Starting about five to six weeks ago, the first page of Google search results for all of the titles of my fantasy books began containing links to free downloadable e-books of my novels, usually at number two positions right under my official home page, or beneath the ever-reliable Amazon link for any book you care to search for. Most web sites would kill for a no. one listing for a specific search term, including mine, so hats off to the e-book pirates as to how they are gaming the Google search algorithms.

And, much like the zombies in the new The Walking Dead TV series, as quickly as you stomp those SOBs down, another one comes lurching into view seconds later. HarperCollins, my UK publisher, now has a dedicated person to forward these links onto, which is great, but there’s only so many take-down notices she can serve in a day. Only one month in, and it’s already beginning to feel like a losing battle – one not helped by the fact that my U.S. publisher hasn’t produced e-book versions of my novels yet – so I don’t have any e-books yet for sale on, just, so I can’t even say to USA-based readers, ‘Hey, please support me by buying the real thing! Don’t give a couple of cents of Google AdSense Revenue to these pirates when you view their pages while downloading my work for free.’

I keep on thinking I should get myself a Kindle or Sony Reader, but still haven’t got around to it yet (I’m holding off until the next set of Kindles hit the street: which one of my industry contacts tells me will be in colour and a lot more functional). The pirated files for my novels are compressed in a .rar format, which I think is similar to .zip, and the end file is promised to be EPUB + MOBI, .mobi being Kindle-friendly as I understand it.

So my first question to you, dear readers (with dedicated e-book reader hardware), if you click on this link, do you actually get a genuine HarperCollins pirated e-book, or is this some inferior scanned-in monstrosity, or perhaps a digital turd re-keyed badly from a paper copy by third world child labour? My second question, which you can feel free to answer anonymously in the posts below, is whether you do now, or will in the future, get your e-books using these kind of links without then buying a genuine copy? Amazon already allow you to download the first chapter free of any e-book they sell – a great feature, my e-book owning friends tell me, so the full pirated version doesn’t seem to me to offer much extra utility in the way of free taste testing to convert pirating readers to paying readers.

Also, if you’re a name author, have you noticed a similar experience with a sudden explosion of pirated content? The only ones who seem to be making money out of this currently are Google, by helpfully directing readers to the pirates’ sites, then sharing the AdSense revenue with the pirates. Do No Evil? Hmmmmmm. I wonder if my fellow HarperCollins-published author, Cory Doctorow, has any advice on this subject? He’s bang on about the arms race between DRM and the content industry – you can’t beat the file sharers, history shows us that every time. Sadly for my future, unlike U2 and Take That, I suspect not many of you will be turning up at the O2 arena for £300 a seat to hear me read my book to you.

Oh well. If you’re in the UK, you get the genuine e-book for Secrets of the Fire Sea from here. If you’re in the US, the only legal way to do it is still by buying the old-fashioned paper copy here.


I am an author of various fantasy, science fiction, crime and other genre books from Gollancz, Hachette and HarperCollins. Some day I hope to grow up and be an astronaut. Exploring Mars would be nice.

29 thoughts on “And so it begins…

  • April 17, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Hi Stephen,

    It sucks that you’re having this issue. I’ve noticed it a few times when I’m searching for new authors to read that the first page of links is always to sites with free downloads. Usually, my first port of call is Amazon – for the reason you’ve stated, because I can download the first chapter and get a feel for the book. If I enjoy it I’ll then purchase. But occasionally in a search you’ll come across a site where the download does look legal, and this is compounded by the fact that there are many books available for free (legally) as well. For people who only use the internet for simple things, this can cause confusion as a lot of them believe they’re legally downloading a book, but in reality it’s a pirated book they’re getting.

    Being a huge booklover, I am happy to continue paying for my ebooks over free downloads, because by doing so I’m supporting the author and showing them that I want them to continue sharing their work with us!

  • April 17, 2011 at 10:28 am

    I did not check all the links on the page you gave, but the one I did look at through filesonic is no longer available. Most ebooks I have come across were sent to me by someone else, or I downloaded from a free site (like I understand the frustration involved with seeing your work digitized and ripped off, but physical copies of books are becoming a luxury most can no longer afford to buy. While some people download illegally for the thrill of getting away with it, some do it because they are too poor to enjoy what they’re getting any other way. I don’t know how ebooks are created by pirates, but of those I’ve seen, most tend to be par on for spelling, grammar, punctuation and seem to be exact replications.

  • April 17, 2011 at 10:34 am

    In answer to your second question – no. I never have and never will download an illegal ebook. I would much rather my money support the publishing industry and fellow writers than go into Google’s back pocket.

  • April 17, 2011 at 10:37 am

    I’m sorry to hear about your troubles Mr Hunt, I had read on Mashable a few months ago about the rise in pirated EPUB files and the same damage being done to the book industry as has hit the music and video sectors so badly.

    I can’t say I’d be quick to steal these digitised books but then again despite having a smartphone, an e-reader just doesn’t appeal when compared with the paper product. Must be a luddite!

    Here in NZ the government has just passed a 3 strikes law for downloaders, I can’t see it having much effect to be honest given the resources needed to police such things. But the thought counts as the content markets shift.

    That’s not going to make you happier of course when writing is your business and life, best of luck fighting the pirates. I’d subscribe to a weekly podcast or such delivered direct like the old fashioned radio plays of years gone by….

  • April 17, 2011 at 10:37 am

    I love your stories – they’re this year’s fantastic discovery. It’s a sort of backhanded compliment to be pirated. Very much in the spirit of Jackals I would say. But I’m not sure how you can prevent it; costly legal battles only make lawyers rich. Perhaps the best way is to offer added ‘extras’ on the official site that only come when the e-book is downloaded. True fans want you to do well and carry on writing so they will go for the legit e-books. But, there’s a big problem if the only digital copies available in the US are prated ones; your publishers have seriously missed a trick there. They need to get their act together. Good luck with it.

  • April 17, 2011 at 10:53 am

    This site has all four of the Jackelian series and the appear to be full on ebooks. I looked at Court of the Air (and compared it to my purchased paper copy) and it appears all there. That said, it’s NOT a genuine Harper Collins book (or if it is, all copyright information has been stripped. In fact, the metadata it came with is from the Tor edition (again, compared with my paper copy).

    Hope this helps you combat the pirates!

  • April 17, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Thanks, Jaq (and everyone else too: Hi Chris) – that’s useful.

    Looks like a 3rd world re-key and splurge job, then. Probably shoplifted the USA Tor editions… too cheap to even pay for the UK HarperCollins e-books with a stolen credit card.

  • April 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Hi Stephen,

    I understand why you’re feeling miserable over this, must be hard to be an author these days when publishers and the whole industry are facing heavy change.

    Being the most pirated steampunk author by Google, could give you one benefit if any: publicity.

    Now here are really just my five pennies but how about you turned that publicity to your profit? It all begins by thinking the market and people. What people want? How much are they prepared to pay for it? And most importantly: how people want to use it?

    In your case your readers want to read your book using their tablets/kindles and most likely they do not want to pay lot of it. And even if there are those who want to support you, they can’t as your e-books are available only at for 5£ each. Here the piracy is a natural outcome of not coming along with market demands.

    To turn tables requires that you and your publisher face reality of market demands. As you stated yourself fighting against file sharers is foolish. But your analogy where you compare yourself to U2 is horribly wrong, ’cause as a writer your “stage” is not in the O2 arena, it’s right here in the Internet.

    Ok, so now you got some publicity, how about you started writing something to the net? Let the people follow how you work, and maybe you could benefit from their comments. This way you would grow a community, which could help you to spread the word of your books, thus giving you even more publicity. So now your precious stories would be online for free for everyone, so where’s the profit?

    By gaining publicity people become aware of your products and start to buy them. Of course some well placed pricing could increase this but people still want those paperbacks to their bookshelfs and ebooks their kindles. Put I doubt no one is interested in downloading pirated ebook of your works – if they can read the story legally from your site.

    Certainly this is not the only way, you could use other methods to make some online profits. Or you could get some lawyers and whine to some lobbyist association, so we can get more totalitarian laws to guard profits from obsolete systems.

    And by the way… To this day I haven’t had heard about you or your books. Thanks to those pirates I did, so I’ll be heading to a bookstore next week. 😉

  • April 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Honestly, yes. If the book is unavailable otherwise, I’ll take a pirated ebook. I have even told authors and publishers this to their face. “I have a copy of so and so book on my Nook Color right now. When can I buy a ligit copy from you?” Those were my exact words.

  • April 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Forgot, to follow up… I also told the publisher I had bought the hardcover of said book (which I really had). I just really like the portability of ebooks.

  • April 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    This might be a naive question, because I simply have no experience with amazon downloads… but can’t the US readers buy the ebooks from Amazon.UK?
    I mean, I can also buy things from and Or is this somehow blocked?
    Anyway, I’m kinda old fashioned, I still buy real books, I still buy real CDs, and according to my (about) 500 DVDs I also buy real movies. I like to support the artists and another important point is the “hardware”… I want to have something in my hands. I never thought of buying an ebook-reader and Im very skeptic about it. I hate reading long texts on screen and I highly doubt that the difference between my macbook screen on my lap and kindle on my lap is big enough to satisfy me.

  • April 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    This doesn’t answer your questions directly but is related to the topic. Many years ago, due to the rise in piracy, etc publisher started their Free Library. The idea was that Authors published by Baen could give up electronic versions of any novels they wanted to completely for free with the idea that it would lead to future sales. There is a long article behind the reasoning.

    I don’t know how well it has worked for them but I know that their methods snared me. Before life became very busy for me (thus cutting down on my reading time) I read a few books from their site. Because of those free e-books, I was exposed to a few authors (Weber, Flint, Ringo) that I would have likely never read and now I own 45 of their novels (combined), almost all of them hardbacks.

    In my case at least, e-books made freely available to me lead me to purchase physical copies of other books by the author, including the ones I had already for free.

    I hate piracy but love free ebooks (but not as much as I love real books). Sorry for what you are going through.

  • April 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I have several friends who are aspiring authors, one who is an e-book publisher and one who is an audio book narrator. All of them do it because they love the craft _and_ they hope to make money doing what they love. I, myself, am a software engineer, another industry plagued by pirates through the years.

    The bottom line is that pirates do get something for free that they would most likely not have paid for. The key point was made by Lisa… it is when people download things for free because they believe that is OK. So, getting the word out is the first step. Your true fans, the ones who would actually pay for your work, will continue to support you. In fact I feel confident in saying that some of the folks who downloaded the “free” version in the US were doing so simply to have the convenience of your book in eReader format after having purchased the paperback version.

    So, what to do? Connect directly with your audience. Give them something that a pirated copy of your words does not give them… access to you.

  • April 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Stephen, I own and use a Kindle and buy my books. As a writer, I know better than to opt for “free” books; that’s insulting to writers on the face of it. What we’re testing, it seems, is how many of your fans are honorable, how many are freeloading scum. I suppose a splinter percentage may also simply be poor and desperate for their Stephen Hunt fix, but come on, folks: Free Public Libraries still (barely and despite GOP attacks) exist. Anyway, all I’ve been able to come up with is to offer value-added aspects to purchased work. Same conclusion you came to. That, and disclaimers on your work asking fans please to avoid free downloads for the simple reason that they are theft, and criminal, and insulting to the work all writers do. Hope you continue to thrive. –Gene Stewart

  • April 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    having pirated work is unavoidable it seems now a days. but if you go and look and see how others are dealing with it in a positive matter that might give you some ideas on what to do.
    the link is a case study a few years back that was done on Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and after watching that it made me have even more respect for Trent. I am not sure how much this will help you out though with getting ideas on how to fight pirating.

  • April 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Stephen, It must be disheartening to see you work stolen like this. Anon (the second response to your post)says: “While some people download illegally for the thrill of getting away with it, some do it because they are too poor to enjoy what they’re getting any other way.” This is what Public Libraries are for. No one should be denied the opportunity to read because of their economic status. Although many libraries around the country are shutting down because the government is cutting funding, the library as an institution is not dead yet.Libraries are also loaning out e books now. I’ve heard that Harper Collins is selling e books to libraries but only letting them circulate it 27 times. A library having to re-invest in a book, newspaper, DVD etc after every 27 circs would have to shut it’s doors forever!Are the doing this in the UK too? I don’t own a Nook or Kindle yet but I’m more than happy to read a print version.

  • April 17, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    I am (im)patently waiting to read it until the e-book is released in the US. I will never support pirates, because I support the authors. However, I don’t have a dedicated e-reader. I read almost exclusively on my cell phone using several different e-reader softwares. That way I can read almost any format a book comes in, and I ALWAYS have my books with me.

  • April 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I’d like to add to what Heidi said concerning Anon’s ‘too poor’ excuse. Too poor to afford e-books (many of which cost pennies or are legitimately free) but can still afford an e-reader to read them on? I don’t think so.

  • April 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks for your comments, all – lots of food for thought here.


  • April 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    small though on the discussion,
    it is not objective to think of illegal downloads in terms of English speaking/ western countries.
    What about those places that the hard copy of book will never be distributed because of import cost or unreliability of the postal system?
    Or those films and TV series that will never see the light of day on local televisions?

    Because of nationalities and copyrights for a lot of the world much of modern entertainment is unavailable.

    I’d like to make a counter example of pirates and legit working together.
    For those who are unfamiliar, scanlation is when a manga or comic is scanned and the text bubbles are translated. Then it is posted on line and if there is enough interest western publishers will buy the copyright. There is an unspoken agreement between manga escalation groups and English publishers that when a new title becomes available in printed form on the English market the digital copy will be taken down from the site. Obviously this is not always followed, but is still solves the grey area between unavailability and copyright.

  • April 18, 2011 at 7:08 am

    Scanlation – interesting idea.

    You have to wonder if a Chinese author copied, say, a George RR Martin book, translated it themself, and just changed the names of the people and countries in the book, if anyone in the West would ever notice given how few people over here can read Han-script.


  • April 20, 2011 at 8:57 am

    A very interesting discussion. A bit of a late contribution sorry. I am not a great reader. I find that I have to limit my reading of books to my holidays and the occasional stolen weekend. As a result I probably only read about 10 books per year. I read in English and German and live in the UK. I was thinking of starting an e-book collection on my iphone. However when I first researched this I found that I could not download German titles using Apple’s Bookstore or via Amazon. If you are using a PC to access amazon in the uk and go to the German site you can not download e-books. Apple’s Bookstore is the same however I can buy German Paperbacks from the German amazon site and I can also download German Audiobooks from the German itunes site. I can see why this situation might lead others to seek out pirated e-books. I really really hope that this situation changes soon. Actually, I’m off to check my facts again. Wish me luck.

  • May 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Gooooooooood Morning.
    I see I am a bit behind, since this post is three weeks old, but someone I know linked to it on Twitter this morning so I came to look. I have, in fact, never heard of you before today (I apologize for that) but I wanted to answer your questions about eboook downloads.
    I never knowingly download a pirate ebook (or movie or music for that matter). I understand that some of the pirate websites are very legitimate looking so it’s possible, I suppose, to do so unintentionally. I don’t think I have personally, because I’m disinclined to download free anything from a site I can’t verify – I am paranoid that way.
    I have an opinion I’ve not heard shared anywhere before, though, that I thought I’d toss out. I happen to be dating an author – locally popular, has won several small awards, about a dozen small-press published titles – and we observed her last book available in a pirate ebook several days before the paper book was released. It was a good copy, with the cover art and such intact. There really were only two places this could have come from, either the publisher (unlikely, given his degree of anger when informed) or someone working at the printer. The latter is what I suspect of a great deal of the higher quality pirate ebooks – someone at the printing house makes a copy of the digital file(s) sent by the publisher, does a quick conversion – or sometimes not – and starts uploading/sharing/sometimes selling. Maybe they think they’re doing everyone a favor, getting people interested before the book comes out. Maybe they think they’re underpaid and they’re making up the difference. Hell, maybe they can’t get published and they’re taking revenge, I don’t know… But I can’t think of anywhere else that the higher quality ripoffs are coming from.

    On another note, I don’t care much about color in an eReader, and I don’t see how a Kindle could possibly BE more functional for what its stated purpose is. It reads like paper, on a screen the size of a paperback page, and fits in my back pocket. If they start adding a bunch of features to do other things than read books to me that’s a downside. YMMV, of course.

  • May 15, 2011 at 1:58 am

    I’ve really enjoyed your hardcover books but I have no more room for them in my teeny-tiny apartment. I will say this about buying e-books, though. If I can only get an electronic book through Amazon then forget it. I have an e-reader that DOESN’T use Amazon’s proprietary format. If it comes in a non-drm epub or pdf format I will be super-thrilled. Otherwise I’ll just wait for the paperback, type it in for my personal use only, and donate the dead-tree version to the local library.

    Besides having a Kindle-only format, I don’t like that Amazon can delete my purchased e-books any time they get a wild hair notion.

  • May 23, 2011 at 11:15 am

    I experienced the same with my audiobooks! Therefore, I ceased their production but I´m afraid same thing will happen to Ebooks, as well, although there´s still enough free stuff available in the web. Filesharers are killing cultural variety.

  • May 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    People who steal from others are not just stealing books, they are stealing the food off your table, the clothes on your back, and the well-being of your family. They probably don’t give this a thought when they do it, but this is your livelihood! I hope you see justice brought to these inconsiderate and selfish people.

  • August 1, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Why don’t you want my money? I found a pocket book copy of “t.C.o.t.Air” in a 2nd hand store and liked it so i went to a big book chain to see if there where sequels. Thats when i bought “t.K.b.t.Waves” but all the rest where still in trade paperback or hardcover. It has been a year. You craft stories and publishers manufacture books but most consumers will only part with their money if both story and book are acceptable. If either the form or the information is substandard then there is no sale. When it comes to series of books one of the standards is consistency of product. Most book collectors want their trilogies to have the same shape, size and cover artist. Yes i know a story should not be judged by the book’s cover, but a book should be. A book is a container that holds the story for transport from your mind to ours. Story readers who do not wish to keep the container after the story has been delivered typically barrow book from the library or from one-another. Publishing houses previously did two things; they culled the lacklustre story tellers out of the market and they manufactured books that book collectors wanted to keep. Lower book quality leads to lower book sales which leads to book store closures which spirals into eBooks being the only books left. Ebooks make poor mementos or trophies of the reading experience for most people and will thus not be paid for by most people. Once you eliminate paying for eBooks what you have left is begging, borrowing or stealing. There are many authors who i have stopped buying because their publisher failed to print a good enough book or an artistically consistent run of books in a timely fashion.

  • August 1, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    What can I say, LN. Your pain is my pain with what you’ve described. Sorry.

  • January 23, 2012 at 3:20 am

    Good news! today I found t,R.o.t.I.M in the book store in pocket book format and snapped it up instantly.
    So you will be getting your royalty from me on your next cheque from your publisher.
    You really want to talk to your publisher about why it took so long to get me the book i wanted. Not so much as a favour to me or to yourself but to the bookstore owner. She runs the SF and mystery speciality bookstores here in my city and was in the process of merging the two stores when i dropped by. Sales are way down and she can’t keep both locations open. Sales are down because few will buy hardcover or trade-paperback. By the time S.o.t.F.S goes to pocket book print will there be a bookstore to buy it from?
    No don’t blame eBooks for the failure of publishers to publish books in a form that people will buy, Even though free books could be had at any library pocket book still sold regardless of the state of the economy. Swapping free eBooks off the net for free treeBooks from the library does not reduce to desirability of pocket books.
    After the publishers have killed off the bookstores they too will die. Have you given any thought to how you will live off of your writing after that? Do you have any plans you can share with us?

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