It’s a pleasure to receive a wholly original question, unlike any of the hundreds I’ve received in the past.
As a foreword to my reply, I’d like to say that a couple of years ago I received a letter from a poor nation (that I’d best not name), asking permission to print a translation of Ishmael without obtaining the needed license from the publisher, which they couldn’t afford. I told them it wasn’t in my power to give them such permission (any more than I could give them permission to print a translation of Stephen King’s latest book) but that I personally had no objection to them putting their translation into print. Doubtless my publisher would be very cross with me, but, after all, my saying no would simply have denied my book to hundreds or thousands of readers without putting a nickel in anyone’s pocket. It was a case in which no one lost anything.
When it comes to shoplifting copies of my books to distribute, the situation is somewhat different. If it were just a matter of “taking food off my plate,” I’d probably say, “Sure, go ahead, a buck or two isn’t going to kill me,” but in fact shoplifting my books doesn’t cost me anything at all.
A bookstore has to pay for the books that leave its premises whether they’re paid for or not, so the matter of shoplifting is different from the other. Someone definitely does lose, but it isn’t me, it’s the bookstore.
Of course, bookstores routinely expect to lose two or three percent of their profits to shoplifting, but this doesn’t mean I can endorse it as a means of promoting my work. On this, your conscience must be your own.
updated: 09 Jul 2004