At the end of last week I did a search for my books on Google, as you do, to see if any of them had been recently reviewed.
What I discovered came as a total shock. My first book, Caligula, appeared on dozens and dozens of new sites and every one of them was offering it as a free illegal download. How does this happen? I have no idea, but it came very soon after the book was released on Kindle in the US and most of the sites were US based.
According to the numbers on one site Caligula had been downloaded 30,000 times. Multiply that by ten or twenty and the figures are astonishing. Yet the author, who has invested a huge amount of time and effort and more importantly, the publisher, who has invested enormous amounts of money to turn a gem of an idea into reality, don't get a single penny.
I did a little research on the subject and discovered that a lot of people on the web think it's great fun and something to take advantage of. But the figures are astonishing. A study in the United States into a thousand published books in different genres found that over nine million pirated book copies have been downloaded. They estimate that this represents total losses to the already hard-pressed publishing industry of almost three billion dollars. Online piracy now adds up to around ten per cent of total US book sales.
A few years back I used to laugh at the big name stars who moaned about their music being downloaded illegally. Now I know how it feels. As if you've been mugged.
Sure, you can argue that Caligula has now been seen by several thousand people who probably wouldn't have paid to read it, and maybe I have a wider fan base than I had before, but that doesn't help the book's sales figures or my chances of getting the new book deals that are now my lifeblood. The internet is a huge part of all our lives, and its impact will undoubtedly become even more significant in the coming years. But it can break as well as make. As a journalist I'm not generally in favour of censorship, but surely its about time to introduce some form of international regulation to control what appears on the web and how its used.
The net is a wonderful phenomenon, we shouldn't allow it to continue to be a breeding ground for crooks, terrorists and perverts.