I'm torn on this issue.
I see my fellow authors up in arms over the sites who have pirated their books, and the unscupulous readers who have bought them, robbing authors of needed sales money. Don't get me wrong; I'm definitely on their side when it comes to these thieves! After all, my alter-ego lost sales when one person bought a copy of her book and passed it around to her friends. However, one person DID go back and buy both copies.
She wanted to read it again.
I've been lucky to not have been pirated. Should I be insulted or grateful? Insulted, that no self-respecting e-book pirate thinks my work is worthy to be hijacked, or grateful I'm still a relative unknown in the business, and therefore left alone? Ah the dilemma...
Seriously, all kidding aside, here's the issue that has me on the fence. I just read on the Three Wicked Writers blog that the new B&N Nook e-reader allows books to be shared for two weeks. It treats the file just like an actual print book; once it's 'loaned out', the owner cannot read it. And like a library book, after the 14 days are up, the file disappears from the loanee's computer/iPod/e-reader. That's a wonderful idea!
I've borrowed many books from the library and other friends. If I liked the book, I went out and bought my own copy, plus the author went on my 'radar' whenever I entered a bookstore or heard news about them. Case in point: I never would have begun reading Danielle Steele, Jackie Collins, Lavryle Spencer, Cathering Coulter, Nora Roberts, Marion Keys, or even WEB Griffin, had someone not loaned me the first book.
Maybe it's just me; I'm a book-hog. Yes, I'll loan you any book I own, but I'd better get it back. I had to do something drastic back in the early 90's and sold an entire box of books to a used bookstore, simply so we could put food in the house. I'm still replacing those books. The spouse is never happy whenever I bring home books, because since the move, I no longer have the space to store them. They go into a box to be put in storage until we move again. HOWEVER...the books received from fellow authors get placed in my Festival Tote, the one which goes everywhere with me when I'm 'on tour', and they go on display. No, they are NOT for sale, but if anyone expresses interest, I offer to write down the author's name, website, or publisher on the back of my business card for them.
I'm also a music-hog. I have tapes labelled 'Off Radio' and the year recorded. I used to tape the American Top 100 every New Year's Day (this stopped when I married and we had to go out of town. No access to a radio station which carried it!), and have a wealth of music from 1980-1990. Some of the tapes are too fragile to be played; others are completely broken. But I also kept a chart! Am looking forward to the day when I get an iPod/MP3 and can get all my music in one place again! Same with my LP's, 45's, and the tapes and CD's I did buy.
My point to all this rambling is this: Just because music and books were available for FREE didn't mean I stopped buying them. Yes, there are some idiots out there who will never buy another book ('because I can get it here for free!'), but there are also those of us who will borrow books until we can afford to buy our own copy. Will the libraries start stocking e-books? They currently stock audio ones. Can the e-books be very far behind?
So in this case, there is no black-and-white answer. What's the difference between loaning a print book to a friend and sharing a file with someone who's never heard of the e-book concept? Will you introduce someone to a new author or will you get a nasty email from a publisher/author, accusing you of piracy? I don't know the answer; nor do I know if it will ever be resolved.