I get a lot of email messages from people who read my blog, my SQL Server Magazine articles, or my answers to questions on the public newsgroups. Many of these email messages give me the impression that people think that because I write technical articles, and answer technical questions, I won’t mind answering private email messages. I’m sure that with a few minutes thought, most people would realize that although answering questions on a public forum can potentially help many people, questions answered in private email messages are only helping one individual. I have a life, including a husband and children, and when I find some time to help people online, I choose to use that time to help many people at the same time. Sometimes I will respond to these email messages briefly, suggesting that the senders ask their questions in a free public help forum, but if the email message is rude, with no introduction or apology for intruding, I might not even do that much. For example, I regularly get email messages that just start with “I have the following problem,” and then there are many paragraphs describing the problem in detail, and the email message closes with “What should I do?” “I usually don’t read the entire message in this case, or respond at all.”
Last week, I received an email message that did include a pleasant greeting and introduction, which was followed by a list of about a dozen questions regarding the behavior and management of SQL Server’s transaction log. Again, the assumption was that since I write technical information on my blog, I should be willing to answer a long list of questions in a private email message. The list of questions was very detailed, and it would have taken several thousand words to answer them all. But, of course, I have already written hundreds of thousands of words that answered all of his questions. I’ve written several books that include details of how SQL Server’s transaction log works, so I referred the sender to my website for details on my books. He wrote back and told me he had found an electronic copy of my book online and was searching through that. Because I knew there were no publicly available electronic copies of my most recent books, I replied and suggested that if too many people started using unauthorized electronic copies of my books, I would have to stop writing. He responded once more with the following:
“Yes, I am aware of it. But, then your books are too costly. I am from <he named the country> and can’t afford that much..:) But, don’t stop writing books. People like me make their whole career by reading such books.”
So am I supposed to keep writing books to be pirated, with ever decreasing royalties, to help further the careers of the pirates? I don’t know whether I was more shocked by his attitude that piracy (in other words, stealing) is OK if you can’t afford to buy something, or by his blunt admission of his actions.
It’s true that royalties are decreasing and most technical authors I know make very little money from the books they write. There’s so much information available for free on the Internet, including white papers, product documentation, webcasts, and, of course, on the public help forums, that sales of technical books have fallen dramatically. Many technical authors are declining to write books and even deciding not to update their books to a new version. And I’m sure if piracy continues to increase, many more authors will just stop bothering to write.
So what’s the solution? Are printed technical books going the way of the dinosaur? Is online content that contains smaller chunks of information all you need? Or are there books you would actually purchase so that you have them in hard copy? I realize there’s no easy solution to the problem of piracy, but if no one really wants or needs printed books anymore, and therefore no one writes them or tries to sell them, then piracy becomes a non-issue.