Piracy “Doesn’t Matter”

I’ve said that “piracy doesn’t matter” several times, and people like to argue with me about that. Of course, it’s a phrase said for effect. Piracy matters, but: publishers can do little to influence piracy. Giant conglomerates like the RIAA, MPAA, and BSA are incapable of stamping out commercial and non-commercial piracy. Does such an organization exist for publishers? I don’t know, and I don’t care.

(As usual, when I say piracy, I mean non-commercial duplication of content without paying for it. Commercial piracy is a whole different ball of wax that is harmful, but not something that I personally encounter in my industry.)

Piracy doesn’t matter because we can’t stop it, and we can’t control it. If you can’t control it, it’s a waste of time to worry about—so I worry about the things I can control and influence:

  • Improving my books so people want to buy them.
  • Building titles in formats that people actually use.
  • Marketing and distributing my works to new venues.
  • Empowering existing fans so they want to and can more effectively share the love.
  • Continued business practices focused on respect for our markets, partners, and customers.
  • Not vilifying pirates; no use making enemies out of people that might become or are already customers. (You would be surprised how many people comment on torrent sites using handles that they use on other sites … including the publisher’s own site.)

And that’s just off the top of my head, big-picture things. Plenty to work on, productively, with actual measurable results; and an ongoing learning process towards producing and selling Better Stuff. Stuff that matters.


  1. Great words. I absolutely agree. I can download some stuff here and there, but I will certainly buy things useful and enjoyable for me. As for people who never buy things – they wouldn’t buy them anyway, so why bother?

  2. Before gaming companies got smart, and started offering their PDFs early and affordably(well…except for AEG and Wizards of the Coast..but they are both technophobic, anyway), I would get the pirated PDFs of books I owned already, because, well, PDFs are useful to have over all.

    Of course, I have also gotten pirated PDFs when I wasn’t sure about the game(Shadowrun 4, for instance), and bought the book afterwards.(I sometimes think that I am the kind of person Adam is talking about when he talks about pirates being future customers…I have spent more on getting the dead-tree versions of books after looking at a pirated version, or even came across pirated music by a band I had never heard of, and promptly bought the album)

  3. In this age of digital sales, RPGs have a very distinct advantage when it comes to piracy. At the end of the day, to play an RPG, you really want a paper copy of the book in front of you. I’ve tried gaming with PDFs on a laptop and it’s just way to annoying, especially when you need to jump between multiple books.

    A lot of the books I’ve ‘pirated’ have actually been books I owned in hard copy, but wanted a pdf copy for ease of transport. Of the others, they fall into two categories: books for games that I read, liked, and ended up buying hard copies of (Shadowrun 4th, Eclipse Phase and Splicers come to mind), and things I downloaded, flipped through and haven’t touched since.

    With the advent of the non-printable “Green” pdf, I think there’s a good marketing opportunity here. Sell a copy of the pdf at the usual price for such things (33 to 50% of cover price) and provide an option for the person to buy a physical copy of the book at a similiar discount at a later time, since the pdf is unprintable. I know a couple of places have offered PDF/Hard Copy combos, but you have to buy both at once and often times they bill you as though they were selling you two products, as opposed to the same product in two different formats.

    You can’t stop piracy; I have a pdf copy of Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing, 3rd edition which was designed to be “unpirateable” due to game design. But I think tabletop RPGs are in a unique position of not needing to.

  4. @Ryan
    I think you might be mustaken. 🙂
    Since about 2008 I use only digital copies and I don’t need printed products at all. It’s much easier to run games from my notebook really. So it’s hardly an argument.

  5. Personally, I don’t want to sell crippled files to my customers, and I don’t think most customers want to buy a crippled file anyway.

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