The LendInk Disaster [Updated] / by Josh Guess

[Updated for clarity on a small but important point. Important to me, anyway]

I usually avoid much topical discussion here, but since the recent events involving eBook lending site LendInk involve many self-published authors like me, I want to weigh in with my two pennies.

For those of you who don't know, LendInk was (the site is still down as of right now, so we'll stick with the past tense) a site where Kindle and Nook users could search through every book on both those platforms and try to find a person to let them borrow it using the 'lending' feature. For the record, this is completely in accordance with the rules set by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, so LendInk wasn't doing anything wrong.

The basics of the story are this: a bunch of authors found LendInk's website and were like "Ruh-Roh, this isn't Amazon/Barnes & Noble, yet my book is listed here!"

Apparently not a lot of investigation went on. Instead, Twitter happened.

If those initial authors had done a tiny bit of digging, they'd have discovered that LendInk was not, as they simply assumed, pirating every eBook in existence. Instead it was just a meeting place for people who wanted to borrow books from each other, much like a book club.

So a ton of authors assumed that all the pretty pictures of book covers meant PIRACY OH NOES and decided to send out tons of DMCA notifications and various other means of getting the site shut down. A few of them even threatened the page admin for LendInk--from what I understand, a disabled veteran--and I firmly hope the jackasses who did that get in all the legal trouble they deserve.

The real gist of this post, other than to decry the thoughtless actions of people that were too lazy and angry to bother taking ten minutes to figure out if they were actually being pirated, is that even if LendInk were pirating their work, I don't think it would be that bad.

Let me explain.

An author friend of mine actually sent me an email about LendInk as all this was happening. As someone who pays some bills with his writing income, my first reaction was to be upset. Not because I have any reason to, but just a gut instinct. After a few minutes I remembered that the whole reason I started Living With the Dead in the first place was because J.A. Konrath convinced me that piracy could actually be a good thing. [Update/Edit: I want to make it very clear that the friend who sent me the email in question was NOT one of those spazzy people who freaked out. Her publisher was even concerned about copyright issues, but instead of going on a rampage, she acted responsibly and did her homework. Less than an hour later she sent a second email with the right information. She didn't call for anyone's head or try to join the Twitter jihad. I meant to put this in the original post but the words kind of got away from me. I feel the need to correct now because I worry she thinks I was lumping her in with the others. I'm not. She's full of win, and I'll fight any man that says different.]

See, Konrath is one of the pioneers of digital self-publishing. Early on, he gave away his books as DRM-free files. As the free copies multiplied across the interwebs, his sales generally went up. I know, that seems to fly in the face of what the movie and music industries have been saying about piracy, but it was enough to convince me. That's why I started the blog and gave it away for free online. People like free. Sometimes a whole lot of them.

My guess is that the people who most viciously attacked LendInk were probably the ones who needed it most. Reasonable professionals (or at least semi-professional) will take the time and effort to make sure they're being infringed before invoking the deadly forces of internet censorship. Those folks tend to be the ones who make money writing. I won't swear to it, since I haven't researched the people who did this to a legally operating site, but I'd bet money that most of them are indies who really need the sales. Self-publishing is hard and often thankless. I can see someone struggling to make a name and some money getting royally pissed that a website was stealing their stuff.

Except they weren't. And if they'd taken a minute to think about it, they would have realized how wrong they were. I mean, if freely available versions of our work were a bad thing, then why the hell would anyone do free promotions? I do them on Amazon regularly, and they boost my sales. Piracy is essentially the same thing; giving it away for free. Sure, true piracy is out of your control, but there are seven billion people on this planet. If a few hundred thousand of them pirate my books, and that means a few thousand actually pay for them as a result of their popularity, then I'm a happy camper.

Granted, that scenario hasn't happened for me, but it's preferable to committing career seppuku. That's what is happening to the authors who took part in this. Their short-sighted behavior and terrible attitudes, on the internet for all to see forever and ever, are tantamount to giving up writing. There's already a backlash against many of them on Amazon as people deliberately sabotage their pages with one-star reviews. I don't think that's right, but as an author I'm biased.

All told, it's a bad situation. Maybe LendInk could have avoided this by putting a huge disclaimer on their homepage stating that they were affiliated with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but the fault isn't theirs. The blame has to put squarely where it belongs: on my peers. As independent authors, we are business owners. It's our responsibility to know exactly what the particulars of our agreements with Amazon and other platforms entail. We have to be careful not to give in to instant rage and righteous indignation. We have to make sure that when we make a stand, it's based on fact.

To do otherwise makes us look like ignorant amateurs. I don't know about the rest of you, but I've put in too much time and love into my work to let that happen.

Just a thought.