Arr, Me Hearties!

With the Kindle having landed in the UK, concerns have turned to the wave of rampant piracy that is – we are assured – bound to follow. However, rather than a traditional band of marauding villains storming the bookstores en masse, the reality is somewhat bleak and uninteresting. For those who are unaware of the methods involved in book piracy, a brief overview:Unlike copying a CD to your computer the book copying process is tedious and awkward. The fastest method is to scan each individual page into the computer, and then distribute the resulting mass to those immoral individuals who download such things. The problem with this method is, as these criminal masterminds tend to foolishly overlook, that scanning the copyright allows the infringing content to be identified.
In the event of copious amounts of free time, the ‘pirate’ could of course type the book out. With books varying from hundreds to thousands of pages, averaging at four hundred to eight hundred words per page, who wouldn’t take such an attractive option?

Of course, even bad-guys get lucky, and on occasion an electronic proof file can be pirated.

With this notion in mind, the prospect of using DRM with e-books has been dredged to the surface. With the addition of this protection, consumers would be limited as to how many times (if at all) their purchase could be moved from machine to machine.
Needless to say, this suggestion has been met with opposition. Cory Doctorow, Science-Fiction Author and Co-Editor of Boing Boing blog, stated;

“DRM is not an effective way of preventing copying nor is it a good way of making sales. There isn’t a customer out there saying ‘what I need is an electronic book that does less.
It’s as if Borders do a deal with Ikea and say you can only read this book under an Ikea bulb and have it on Ikea shelves.”
(Cory Doctorow, BBC.co.uk, ‘Are We Due a Wave of Piracy?’, 19.10.09)

So, aside from the anti-piracy squad kicking down doors in a bid to prevent e-books from being passed around as freely as their physical counterparts, what could be driving people to turn to pirated e-books?
Looking briefly at the highly anticipated release of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, not to mention Random House’s E-Book Catalogue, we can pick out a trend: E-Books are being released at prices that are pretty similar to their standard versions. Even Penguin, who recently cut their e-book prices, are only willing to match their lower paperback costs.

Thinking back a few years, one could almost draw a parallel between this and the release of music online. In both instances the online products were being released at the same price as their physical counterparts. And what did the music industry do: Why, they lowered the price of their products. Whilst granted this has not entirely eliminated the piracy problem, it has allowed music providers to do the one thing that matters.
Increase sales.

Far be it for us – the consumer – to suggest how big businesses do their jobs, but perhaps in this instance a little hindsight could go a long way.

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2 Responses to Arr, Me Hearties!

  1. Thassa says:

    It’s interesting how, whenever this discussion comes up, few people recall the lesson of Baen and the Baen Free Library. After making portions of their back catalogue available for free in several different DRM free formats, including plain text, authors participating in the Free Library found over all sales of their entire catalogue increased. Between this and their online e-bookstore (also DRM free), Baen has found that e-book piracy is less of a problem then many would have you believe.

    As Eric Flint (a popular SF author, you can read his entire comment at the link) put it “One of the things about the online debate over e-piracy that particularly galled me was the blithe assumption by some of my opponents that the human race is a pack of slavering would-be thieves held (barely) in check by the fear of prison sentences.”

  2. jonnypcw says:

    Agree with Thassa. And Cory Doctorow makes many other good points. Not least the following:

    “Most people who download the book don’t end up buying it,
    but they wouldn’t have bought it in any event, so I haven’t lost any
    sales, I’ve just won an audience. A tiny minority of downloaders
    treat the free ebook as a substitute for the printed book — those
    are the lost sales. But a much larger minority treat the eBook as
    an enticement to buy the printed book. They’re gained sales. As
    long as gained sales outnumber lost sales, I’m ahead of the game.
    After all, distributing nearly a million copies of my book has cost
    me nothing.”

    (Doctorow. C. (2008) Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future; San Francisco: Tachyon Publications from http://craphound.com/content/Cory_Doctorow_-_Content.pdf [accessed 28 July 2009]; p.71)

    So one view is that it’s all about balance…

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