Ebook Piracy is Up Because Ebook Demand is Up

My email, twitter, and “real-world” information stream is abuzz today with references to a New York Times story about the increase in piracy of ebooks:

“It’s exponentially up,” said David Young, chief executive of Hachette Book Group, whose Little, Brown division publishes the “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer, a favorite among digital pirates. “Our legal department is spending an ever-increasing time policing sites where copyrighted material is being presented.”

John Wiley & Sons, a textbook publisher that also issues the “Dummies” series, employs three full-time staff members to trawl for unauthorized copies. Gary M. Rinck, general counsel, said that in the last month, the company had sent notices on more than 5,000 titles — five times more than a year ago — asking various sites to take down digital versions of Wiley’s books.

The reason there’s an “exponential” increase in piracy of ebooks is because there’s an exponential increase in demand for ebooks:

That’s not a bad thing! It’s an indicator of unmet demand (and in particular for non-DRM encrypted content). I know I have no interest in buying an ebook that’s locked to a single vendor or device, and I’m sure many of these “pirates” feel the same. This is a good time to revisit Tim O’Reilly’s seminal Piracy is Progressive Taxation, which includes the following lessons:

  1. Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.
  2. Piracy is progressive taxation.
  3. Customers want to do the right thing, if they can.
  4. Shoplifting is a bigger threat than piracy.
  5. File sharing networks don’t threaten book, music, or film publishing. They threaten existing publishers.
  6. “Free” is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service.
  7. “There’s more than one way to do it.”

I’m not suggesting publishers stop sending those DMCA notices; but 3 full-time staffers? Putting those resources toward building new ways to meet that demand is a much better investment.

Coincidentally, our research report Impact of P2P and Free Distribution on Book Sales is now available.

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