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The striking characteristic of the replies was their self-righteousness. Wikileaks, a website dedicated to the publication of classified documents, told me it was "fanciful" to expect poor Kenyans, who did not own international credit cards, to use Amazon. Before removing the PDF link, it wanted evidence I had taken concrete steps to "inject" my work into Kenya. "The importance of the work in Kenya as an instrument of political struggle eclipses your individual involvement," I was told. "It is your baby...But it is also its own adult and Kenya's son." As a novelist friend chortled when I relayed this bizarre exchange: "Congratulations. You've just been nationalised!" 

Another unapologetic pirate told me I was sadly out of date, a dinosaur: "These debates on copyright are so 20th century. Look what's happening in the music industry, or in the film industry." I was coming up against a problem with which the Madonnas and Coldplays of this world are wearily familiar: a generation of consumers who expect their entertainment to be delivered free of charge. But there was a key difference between me and Madonna, I said, and it went beyond upper arm muscle tone. She could make up for lost royalties by charging loyal fans hundreds of dollars for concerts that filled stadiums. I was rarely paid more than £50 a speech. In a world stripped of copyright — so old-fashioned — how was an author supposed to eat?

I rang HarperCollins, begging them to combat this pirated PDF with a legitimate electronic version. Even this, I discovered, was not exactly straightforward in Africa. First-generation e-books are designed to be downloaded on to Kindle-style readers, gadgets unknown in Kenya. HarperCollins was going to have to come up with something new: a PDF that could be downloaded, just the once, on to a laptop or computer screen, without the use of a reader. 

While arguing with websites, I was using the simplest of methods — the personalised courier service — to try and undermine the boycott. Facebook came into its own. Appealing for anyone flying to Nairobi to get in touch, I loaded roller cases with signed copies of the book, wrapped in concealing newspaper, and met my mules in central London. Discreet pick-ups in Nairobi were arranged with impatient Facebook users. I felt like a Colombian drugs baron. 

Sadly, books are somewhat heftier than cocaine. The mules were game, but the numbers I was shifting were tiny. And some of the routes these books traced were ridiculously circuitous. One consignment flew in a journalist's suitcase from London to Kinshasa, where the plan was to place it on a domestic flight to the eastern Congolese town of Goma and then, via an aid worker, to Burundi and on to Kenya. My books were notching up enough air miles to buy a romantic weekend for two in Paris.

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July 17th, 2009
9:07 PM
Can only agree to the previous commenter. You have gone viral, as your friend put it, and thats for example how I heard about it. I read it and bought it when it came on Amazon. And I think thats how it goes for most people that have the money for books. We all love real paper. As you say there are "few less enticing prospects than reading an entire book on a flickering screen." Masses reading your book on a screen honors your work, and the moment it was printed most of those that could afford to buy it, did buy it. Saying there will be less books like this, when you are printing more than with any other book so far, is just the wrong perspective.

July 17th, 2009
1:07 PM
>But I can only guess how many copies I would >have sold had it not been for the double whammy >of boycott and piracy. Or how many less copies would have been bought, if the availability of the book across the globe didn't raise it a bit on a scale from obscurity to popularity...

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