Letter from a Polite Pirate on “The End of Materialism”

I recently received a most surprising email from a young man from abroad, I’ll call him Aaron, regarding my recent book, The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together. He wanted my permission to pirate it! Here’s his email, and my response. Interesting….

name: Aaron email: topic: Piracy comments: Dear Dr. Tart, My name is Aaron. I’m a 23 yr old student of whatever from a small island nation. May I scan my copy of “End of Materialism” (or nick it from Google books somehow) and release it on the internet? Usually I won’t ask but out of immense respect to you I felt I had to.

Do you feel you have made more money than you deserve for writing the book? because only then, i think, will you be content in knowing that your book has been pirated.

People still would buy the book. We love to hold a book in our hands when we read it, do we not? eBooks just don’t do that for us, thus the invention of whatsitcalled.. er.. the Kindle and stuff alike.

Where do you stand on Piracy?

I know this is a contradictory subject. So you may not reply and I will assume your answer is “No, you may not pirate my book, thank you”. Thank you for your time, Aaron

P.S. Weird eMail I agree too… sorry if I insulted you in any way… That was not my intention :

( I felt moved to repond: Dear Aaron,

> Weird eMail I agree too… sorry if I insulted you in any way… That was not my intention 🙁

Yes, certainly one of the most unusual emails I’ve ever gotten – and I get a lot of them from people who want to tell me about their unusual experiences. Because you seem sincere and are unsure about pirating my book, I think we share enough values that it’s worthwhile to share some thoughts with you.

> Do you feel you have made more money than you deserve for writing the book? because only then, i think, will you be content in knowing that your book has been pirated.<

What a complicated question! Who knows how much I “deserve?” Or anyone? I hope I am never put in a position of having to decide what someone does and doesn’t deserve. When I was young the “good” guys and the “bad” guys were quite distinct, now I have some appreciation for how complex we all are.

As an academic book writer, I have been far more successful in terms of sales than 90% of academic writers – but if I figured out how much I made in terms of the hours I spent doing the writing, not even counting the many years of relative poverty as a student that I put in preparing myself so I would have something to write about, I would guess I earn something like a dollar an hour from my book sales.

Of course I think the path I have followed in my career of research and teaching has been a good one, and will hopefully be of help to people. I think, e.g., that we are spiritual beings in some real sense and the too widespread denial of this in Materialism is harmful to people. Hopefully the book will help people recognize what is really spiritual in them. Readers have already written me that the book has helped them, that’s very rewarding.

Now the bigger question than what I deserve personally. Do authors deserve to make a reasonable living as authors?

Almost all books commercially published are financial failures – they don’t earn enough money for the publisher to pay for the costs of publishing, and the author is only getting a fraction of that. You never hear about these books, of course, only about the best sellers, which makes being an author sound lucrative. Less than one percent of authors have best sellers, the rest, going by a survey the Authors Guild did a few years ago, can’t earn enough to make a living, they have to depend on working at another job or a working spouse to get by. The consequence of this on the publishing industry is that they are less and less inclined to publish a book simply because it has valuable information: if it’s not likely to appeal to mass tastes and become a best seller, they don’t want it. You can’t get statistics on what doesn’t happen, but more and more books that would be of great value to some readers never get published since they won’t be popular best sellers.

Now add in pirating. If a publisher thinks he may only sell a thousand copies before a book is pirated, and he needs five thousand sales to recoup his expenses, he’s not going to publish the book.

Personally, at the money level, I don’t care too much if my books are pirated. I can live on my retirement income from my years of teaching. I care very much for authors trying to earn a living, though, as pirating is going to kill the publishing industry, and so many good authors are never going to publish.

I felt like telling you the above as I don’t think people who are starting to pirate books realize they are going to kill book publishing. I’ve heard the argument for pirating music, it give bands exposure they would never get otherwise and they make money from people who come to their concerts. When was the last time, if ever, you paid to hear an author speak, though? I’m a good speaker and occasionally get paid to speak, but I’m one of the very few authors who does – and I couldn’t make a living and support my family even if I added speaking fees and book royalties together.

> May I scan my copy of “End of Materialism” (or nick it from Google books somehow) and release it on the internet?<

It’s very courteous of you in a strange way to ask for my permission, but no, I won’t give it. Indeed my publisher would probably sue me if I did! If I’m ever held up at gunpoint, though, I hope the robber is as courteous…. I’m also pleased that you find “The End of Materialism” worthwhile enough to want to share it with others, even if I can’t approve of the way you plan to do it.

Charles T. Tart

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