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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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Comments: 9

  1. e-book piracy is about the same as it has been for years.
    it’s not “up exponentially”.

    the publishers who think that “piracy is up exponentially”
    have only just started paying attention and _noticing_ it.

    oh, and e-book demand? that’s not “up exponentially” either.
    publishers who think “e-book demand is up exponentially”
    have only just now started noticing it because they have only
    just recently started _responding_ to that pent-up demand…

    if they only would have responded earlier, publishers would
    have seen the demand earlier. much earlier. it’s that simple.

    for years, publishers lived a dirty double lie.

    on the one hand, they said nobody wanted electronic-books.

    on the other hand, they said e-book piracy would kill them.

    they were wrong on both parts, and too blind to see that
    each of these lies cancelled each other: if nobody wanted
    e-books, then publishers had nothing to fear from piracy.


    p.s. congratulations, o’reilly, for getting your books on the kindle!

  2. so yes, i’m saying the new york times is wrong.

    and it’s wrong-headed articles like this one that
    make me unsympathetic to the coming demise
    of the corporate newspapers…


  3. I think Kindle has pushed eBook demand up a lot. Personal anecdote: I bought a handful of eBooks in Microsoft Reader format (even though I helped develop it) because there wasn’t enough content available that I really wanted to read.

    I have purchased 74 titles on Kindle since I got my first device.

    Amazon got it right. I know people will disagree with the closed nature of the device. But you can do DRM on a closed device and make it transparent to the user in a way you could never do on an “open” Windows device.

    Most Kindle users will be unaware of DRM. You buy a book, it’s downloaded to your Kindle, you read it. If you lose or destroy your Kindle (I’ve lost one and drowned another in the bath) then you go back to your locker at Amazon and download the books you bought to your new device. I’ve done it twice…

    The power of Kindle is that Amazon had already radically changed book-buying habits with Amazon.com. Millions of people became totally familiar with the process.

    On Kindle it’s exactly the same – except you get your book in under a minute, instead of having to wait for UPS or USPS.

    Two things were necessary for eBooks to really take off:

    1. A light device with long battery life
    2. An easy-to-use bookstore

    Kindle is the iPod of books…

  4. you guys know bill hill, right?

    anyway, bill, i think the kindle just _uncovered_ the desire
    that was already there; it didn’t actually “push” any demand.

    and bezos admitted as much when he named the thing…


    p.s. and you admitted as much when you said you would’ve
    bought e-books a decade ago, but the content wasn’t there.
    the publishing dinosaurs missed a window of opportunity
    that was _huge_, because they had absolutely no vision…

  5. If they are employing 3 full time staff to look for pirate copies, then it makes sense that they would find a whole lot more than before. I don’t think the numbers they give are very accurate, as there’s no constant there…

  6. that’s right, jenna.

    for years, it’s been possible to find any book you wanted
    — repeat: any book you wanted — on the “pirate” sites…

    and hello — today, you can still find any book you want.

    so how can anyone say the “problem” is “worse” now?

    there might be more people looking for “pirated” books now,
    but the publishers have only themselves to blame for _that_…

    like i said, they could have been out in front on this shift —
    gaining the full respect of their customers and _earning_ our
    loyalty and appreciation for doing the job we want ’em to do,
    the job we _expect_ them to do, the job we’ve been _paying_
    them to do — but instead they decided to exercise the most
    shortsighted “vision” to concentrate on next quarter’s profits,
    when they could’ve been capitalizing on this wonderful _gift_
    that has been delivered to us, the ability to copy and transmit
    cultural content at a variable-cost that approaches _zero_…

    what they did instead — and are _still_ trying to do — is to
    choke the baby in the cradle, to strangle this immense gift,
    to do anything in their power to enforce scarcity artificially
    so they can continue to extort their ransom. it’s _criminal_.
    or it would be, if they hadn’t already bought the lawmakers.
    and they’ve declared that _we_ are the criminals. imagine!
    but we answer to a higher law. they’ll be brought to justice.


  7. @bowerbird

    “and bezos admitted as much when he named the thing” ???

    From Wiktionary

    to kindle (third-person singular simple present kindles, present participle kindling, simple past and past participle kindled)

    1. (transitive) To start (a fire) or light (a torch).

    Please kindle a fire in the barbecue.

    2. (transitive) To arouse or inspire (a passion, etc).

    He kindled an enthusiasm for the project in his fellow workers.

    [edit] Synonyms

    * (to start a fire): ignite
    * (to arouse): arouse, inspire

    I think he believed he was lighting a fire, arousing or inspiring. I agree…

  8. some firewood was already there;
    all he had to do was get it started.


  9. ebook piracy is up because there is no policy on sharing pirated materials….many forums/blogs/sites distribute ebooks in public and some in private…. there must be ebook piracy/links./sites report centre where one can submit illegal books and get reward for it. also ebooks marketing must be change (must be tough) to stop illegal sharing of copyrighted ebooks/magazines/articles….
    mostly ebooks can be seen on warez sites. and because no strict action, ebooks sharing sites increasing day by day….it is also because uploaders sites like rapidshare,megaupload,hotfile,filefactory gives rewards, so ppl upload illegal files easily…

    if anyone setup ebook piracy report centre and with strict action, one can stop ebook piracy….

    and many people know which are good sites for ebook shariing….