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Book piracy: Less DRM, more data

Brian O'Leary on why publishers should tackle book piracy with open minds and lots of data.

As digital book publishing continues to expand at a rapid pace to meet reader demands, piracy rears its head at the forefront of many a discussion in publisher circles. Many publishers respond to the perceived threat with strict digital rights management (DRM) software. But is this the best solution? And does it even provide protection from piracy?

In the following interview, Magellan Media founder and TOC 2011 speaker Brian O’Leary (@brianoleary) discusses the current state of book piracy, how measurement data isn’t sufficient to determine its impact, and why DRM is a poor anti-piracy tool.


What’s the current impact of piracy on the book publishing industry?

Brian O'LearyBrian O’Leary: We don’t know. Some people will tell you that it’s the biggest problem facing publishing or that ebook piracy will kill publishing. None of those perspectives are informed by solid data.

We undertook research two-and-a-half-years ago with O’Reilly, and we’ve been studying Thomas Nelson as well, to measure the impact of piracy on paid content sales. We approached it as if it were cooperative marketing. We would look at the impact of what sales looked like before there was piracy, say for four to eight weeks, and then we’d look at the impact of piracy afterward. Essentially, if the net impact of piracy is negative, then you would see sales fall off more quickly after piracy; if it were positive, the opposite.

Data that we collected for the titles O’Reilly put out showed a net lift in sales for books that had been pirated. So, it actually spurred, not hurt, sales. But we were only looking at O’Reilly and Thomas Nelson. The results are not emblematic of publishing overall. It could be more conservative, it could be less conservative. We just don’t have enough data. I’ve tried to get other publishers to join in, but it really hasn’t been a successful mission. Even at a low- or no-cost offer, publishers seem reluctant to collect the data required to reveal the true impact of book piracy.

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Can content tracking tools, such as those from Attributor, curb piracy?

BO: Companies like Attributor gather data that specifies how many files were uploaded or downloaded from pirate sites. Their methodology, to me, is a little problematic, but that’s not really the big problem. The most significant challenge is we don’t know what the impact is on paid sales. Common methodologies count the number of times that something appears on a site and assumes every one of those is a lost sale.

I would offer two counter points: First, the method for counting downloads of pirated books is clunky at best. Second, you can’t say that every download is equivalent to a lost sale. Some are, but there’s at least some likelihood that the pirated titles either spurred sales or represented a download that never would have resulted in a sale anyway.

The other thing, too, is you’ve got to look at where the downloads occur. If it’s a North American title and the downloads occurred in Romania, I’m not that worried about it if I’m a publisher. It actually, if anything, says to me I should be moving my English language rights and my translation rights faster.

It’s not that piracy is not a problem, it’s just that it’s not demonstratively a problem until you know what’s actually happening.

I think content-tracking tools are good if you’re using them as a starting point for a conversation. No one can sample all of the torrent sites and know exactly what’s going on. The sampling is limited in how broadly you can draw conclusions, particularly about things like trade publishing versus academic publishing. Companies like Attributor tell you when piracy is occurring. What they can’t do, and what publishers need to generate the data to do, is understand the impact of piracy.

What tactics are publishers using to thwart piracy?

BO: Most publishers focus on variations of enforcement. They find out that piracy occurs, they issue a takedown order, and they escalate it if they so choose. The jury’s out on whether that actually works. I think in general for offshore torrent sites, it’s probably not that effective. All you need to do is look at WikiLeaks and you’ll see a whole host of examples of how hard it is in a global Internet environment to get something truly taken down.

Some companies are focused on applying fairly strict DRM software to their digital books. I’m pretty adamant on DRM: It has no impact whatsoever on piracy. Any good pirate can strip DRM in a matter of seconds to minutes. A pirate can scan a print copy easily as well. DRM is really only useful for keeping people who otherwise might have shared a copy of a book from doing so.

Is piracy really a threat to the book industry?

BO: I don’t have enough data to say unequivocally “yes” or “no” to the extent of the piracy threat. I think what leads to rampant piracy is not meeting emergent demands. The publishing industry should be working as hard as we can to develop new and innovative business models that meet the needs of readers. And what those look like could be community-driven. I think of Baen Books, for example, which doesn’t put any DRM restrictions on its content but is one of the least pirated book publishers.

As to sales, Paulo Coelho is a good example. He mines the piracy data to see if there’s a burgeoning interest for his books in a particular country or market. If so, he either works to get his book out in print or translate it in that market.

I think piracy has become more acute with ebooks, not because ebooks are easily pirated but because ebooks are easily visible. So, for example, if I’m living in South Africa and I speak English, but I want to read Nora Roberts, and Nora Roberts is only published in North America, I might have to wait through a four-year cycle to get her latest book. That lead time made sense when it was about ink on paper. But if it’s an ebook, as a reader, I want to read it today — I love Nora Roberts, and I’d pay for her latest book, but I can’t get it here because there’s no service that will sell me an ebook in South Africa. That’s when piracy starts to occur. Readers say: “I would have paid for it, but they wouldn’t give it to me. They frustrated my demand.”

Will publishers — and content producers in general — get past the “lost revenue” mindset attached to digital piracy?

BO: I think they already are. Not globally and not entirely, but I think that people are beginning to say, “Maybe this isn’t as big a deal as we thought it was.” When you see companies like O’Reilly moving a lot of their sales from print to digital, you’d think they would be more prone to piracy. And yet, we didn’t see that in our research. Publishers have seen other things occur that suggest that being widely available in digital formats that are not DRM restricted has helped with predictable sales. Baen Books, again, is a good example.

I think there are plenty of people paying Attributor and other companies to monitor and issue takedown notices. I’m just not sure that it makes a difference. The really interesting things are happening around innovation in how we deliver content to people. That’s what’s fun, and those innovators will find ways to make money. I just hope the folks who find interesting ways to make money are not all technology providers and platform companies, but publishers as well.

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  • http://billhiggins.us/blog/ Bill Higgins

    Discussions around digital piracy remind me of discussions around losing weight. There are a bazillion different theories, diets, and tricks, but it ultimately comes down to “eat healthier, exercise more”.

    For minimizing digital piracy it seems like though there are many different things publishers can try, there’s only one approach that’s best: make it easy for honest people to buy digital content.

  • Patti

    “publishers seem reluctant to collect the data required to reveal the true impact of book piracy”

    Of course they are, they are terrified that you will get the same results you got with O’Reilly and TN – “a net lift in sales for books that had been pirated” and then they won’t have the big, scary bogeyman of lost sales to justify their high ebook prices and restrictive DRM.

    But they’re no different from the mega-producers in other media industries who don’t want to be dragged into new sales models. Like music, which had a record-setting year for sales in 2010 but it still gnashing and wailing about piracy.

    http://www.myce.com/news/bpi-music-sales-strong-but-piracy-still-a-problem-38646/

  • Steve

    According to author Charlie Stross, publishers know very well that DRM doesn’t work. His point is that publishers are for the most part, not their own masters — they are owned by publishing conglomerates, and these entities (not actually involved with any segment of the publishing industry other than ownership) are the ones that insist on DRM.
    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/02/common-misconceptions-about-pu.html

  • Bill

    Personal story but to the point.

    A little while ago I was out of work and pretty broke. I love David Weber’s books which are published through Baen Books. Reading helped me get through the tough days and I read the “Honor Harrington” books for free on the web site.

    As soon as I was once again employed, I purchased all the books I had read in hardcover. Not because I felt obligated or even out of gratitude, although I am grateful; I just wanted to own the books I had read.

  • SteveC

    DRM is a money loosing proposition, and the only ones making money are the ‘Snake Oil Salesmen” selling the DRM “system”. DRM as a concept is flawed and is ‘logically’ incapable of doing what it is designed to do. That added cost just returns in the form of a higher price for the product which in turn makes the odds of someone cracking it all the more improbable.

    Remember, in the information age it only takes one bad actor to completely undo the millions spend on the DRM that protects a product. I buy all the books that I read, but I can honestly say that there isn’t one system out there I could not break if I had that much desire. I do analyze software for a living, and I can assure you that the writers of the DRM systems out there have no significant chance of being smarter than every other human being in the world, and that is what it would take to have an uncrackable DRM.

  • David

    Any business model within which a company treats its customers with distrust is a losing proposition: it annoys paying customers and is ineffective in deterring the non-paying ones.

    The simple fact of the matter is that folks touting DRM as “unbreakable” will be proven, over time, as accurate as those promoting the Titanic as “unsinkable”.

    Some people collect ebooks and movie files the way their parents collected stamps and baseball cards. They won’t read or watch them all and, if they were unavailable via illicit channels, they would not buy them though legitimate ones.

    Personally, I believe O’Reilly’s gotten the model right: Buy the rights to the book, download it in one–or more–DRM-free formats whenever you wish. Want a printed copy? No problem; send ‘em a few bucks more and get one in the mail.

    As a choice, I have never bought a DRM-encumbered book–and never will. I have, however, spent quite a bit of money on paper books (and downloaded many public-domain tracts from sites like Project Gutenberg).

    An acquaintance gave me a massive collection of technical books a while back. I spent a few days flipping through them to decide which I could use (just as I would in a bookstore). Because of the source material, I didn’t have to deal with the “you can only see ten pages” or “you’re only allowed to look at every-other page” crap.

    How much did this little escapade cost O’Reilly? Nothing. Not one cent.

    I, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. I believe it’s only fair to treat others as they treat me, so I went to the O’Reilly site and bought nine new books and updated editions of four others I already own in hard copy form.

    Do the math yourself: A person gets 85 O’Reilly books. Although the source is dodgy, the cost to the publisher: $Zero.

    Looking at the books, though, convinces the person he needs some of them for his work–including some he didn’t even know were available. Revenue to the publisher (after available discounts): $228.

    Although I’ve no idea how many other people work this way, I cannot believe our number is small. I suspect, in fact, there are many thousands of us that respond well to being treated well.

  • http://electronicbook-readers.com/ Elvenrunelord

    David you made several valid points in your comments but the biggest ones is that DRM just turns people off, it dos not stop or even slow down piracy.

    Did you see that ad on Gizmodo for the book to ebook digital converter where all someone had to do was load the book and press a button to turn the pages?

    This method produces perfect copies of any book with no DRM to even bother stripping. But stripping DRM is not hard and there are many people with more time on their hands than there are with spare money. lol

    No DRM will not stop ebook piracy, Laws will not stop it either.

    We are at a point in the digital evolution where we can carry 100,000 books on a chip the size of a quarter. Please tell me how either will stop the trade, transport, and distribution of this information if someone really wants to share it and has even a remote amount of common sense?

    Do we really want to put these people in jail and keep them up? I certainly know I don’t and pretty much refuse to support a system that does so. My money has better uses for humanity and myself.

    You want to lessen ebook piracy? Provide ebooks that make a person go DAMN! I really want to show the author some thanks for writing this.

    And if the person wants to write the publishing company out of the equation, they can always track the author down and drop him a few bucks in their paypal account. I know I would!

  • Deb Gibbons

    A friend tells me that if the publisher has the ebook she needs for sale she’ll buy it from their site. If not, she’ll grab it from a pirate site.

    She says she’s enjoyed some pirated titles so much she’s bought paper versions to give to her friends. Another flow on from her enjoying the book is her then searching other titles by the same author which she will happily buy from a legitimate source if available. So one pirated book can generate considerable sales.

    Most people want to support authors and publishers. Arguably once every text is available and priced reasonably the need for pirates will diminish.

    The reverse is also true. The slower publishers are in uploading content to online bookstores the more likely it is that pirates will make and distribute copies.

  • Ronald Snijder

    As for data: last year I did research on the impact of Open Access on – among others – sales of academic books. I found no relation: sales were not affected by making the content freely available.

    You can find more info here:
    * Article in ALPSP Learned Publishing – http://bit.ly/aKseDw
    * More detailed data – http://sites.google.com/site/theprofitsoffreebooks/

  • David

    @Ronald: Wow! A most impressive study. I’m going to have to make time this evening to completely read it.

    In the meantime, should we–in the interest of full disclosure–mention that you are the “Project Supervisor, Digital Publications” at Amsterdam University Press?

    Please note I am IN NO WAY intending to impugn your motives, nor your methods; it’s just usually best to mention such things up front to prevent misunderstandings later.

  • KenP

    When O’Reilly started their 9.99 eBook a day deal I spent way more than I should have. That carried on into the 50% discounts etc. Bottom line is in the first 9 months of this year I spent (I actually have records for tax purposes) about $50 on O’Reilly books. Aug-Dec I spent about $300 on O’reilly books, about %80 of that digital. I’ve bought a ton of Manning eBooks and a few from InformIT. However I strictly refuse to buy Adobe Digital Editions that I believe need passwords, can only be “installed” on a limited number of pcs and can’t be printed (at least that’s my recollection). There’s not much good news for Brick and Mortar stores (which I love).

  • Geoffrey Kidd

    I quite agree about the odiousness of DRM. What you can’t move freely from device to device you simply cannot say you own.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t buy the books. It just means I jailbreak them right after I download them. NOBODY owns my books but ME.

    I love O’Reilly’s no-DRM policy, and it’s why I’m willing to buy ePubs of their books for on-the-job reference. They’re well laid out and portable. My sole complaint is the “Head First” books aren’t available as ePub, since PDFs are lousy at reflow or text size changes, and my eyes aren’t what they used to be.

    And as for Baen, their DRM-free policy got me back into reading books after several years’ hiatus, and I went on to buy entire years in advance, even when the last six months read “To Be Determined.” Give customers reasonable prices and zero DRM, and the customers will come, waving money.

  • Alan

    Excellent article! It’s nice to see some people have a sane head on their shoulders, like this O’Leary guy appears to.

    Look; it’s not a mystery anymore, people will pay for a product if it’s priced right and they can truly own it. Amazon and iTunes have proven this in the music market, and I see no reason to suspect that this is any different in the print market. I was a music pirate at a young age, and if anything, it only made me a much, much more avid music fan and purchaser when I had actual money to spend.

    Like O’Leary said, there’s really no way to know whether piracy has a net positive or negative effect, and publishers are killing themselves by worrying about it and being too controlling.

  • Carl

    Please note that I’m a fiction reader and my comments are based on this.

    Some of us have accumulated a substantial library over the years and find now due to such things as arthritis it’s more convenient to use an ereader instead of hard copy books.

    I’m really pleased that Baen allows me fairly free access to what is a substantial part of my library. Note that I’ve already purchased nearly all of these books in hardback over the years. I also find their WebScription approach to be quite beneficial. Baen has apparently taken the position that if you support open access, you’ll come out ahead.

    I also note that some popular authors have not permitted their works to be published in an ebook format. Some folks will obtain them via the Torrent route because that’s the only form in which they’re available.

    I don’t use Amazon’s Kindle approach because of their position on DRM and that the ePUB format isn’t supported. If I have purchased a hard copy of a book, I’m free to easily share it with others.

    I hope that the Baen model will be the successful one.

  • Jussi Keinonen

    I don’t want to set up an argument about this, but just want to remind that the music industry has gone down in total sales by a third or even fifty per cent during the last ten years.

    At the same time, the average sales for an artist have gone down even more, thanks to the gatekeepers losing power, so money is spread out even more thinly.

    So the most likely case is that total sales will go down for books as well. Brian O’Leary said in his opening line: “we don’t know about the impact of piracy”. But surely everyone is preparing for a huge cut on total sales, including a major re-distribution of market share.

    Personally I dislike the idea that one pays for the other one that doesn’t (and that’s how it works, to be honest) but at the moment there is nothing anyone can do about it. I’m just wondering how long it will take for the paying ones to wonder if it’s fair or are they just plain stupid. :-)

  • Ronald Snijder

    @David: I did not mention that I work at Amsterdam University Press, because I thought it was not relevant here. I’ll do it next time :-)

    Thanks for the compliment!

  • Alan

    Justin: Album sales have gone done in the past ten years, not music sales. Music itself has only become more popular, but the issues is that the industry is still so fixated on the physical album. People now see musicians not only as album-makers, but as personalities in general, and major labels are tapping into these markets with 360 deals, that allow them to capitalize on revenue from touring, acting deals, licensing for film/TV/video games, book deals, and so on. In addition, new premium services like Pandora also provide income streams that didn’t exist before. New, more agile production companies are providing more appropriate services to artists and are filling roles that major labels have refused to offer.

    It’s actually a bright new day for the music industry, but only for those players that are willing to find ways to capitalize on new opportunities, not the ones who’s only goal is to protect dwindling old revenue streams.

  • Michael

    I was given a programming book on a Kindle. Some of the code was unreadable. Because it was DRM’d, I could not correct that. So I had to buy the physical book. Grrrrrh!

  • http://www.savoirsoft.com Robert Ross

    Whether digital piracy is a problem or not is in the eye of the copyright owner, I suspect. On the one hand, I can imagine it is glaring for the big-six and for other publishers attempting to preserve existing business models. In this regard, Google even requires its eBook users to register with Adobe’s DRM server:
    http://www.savoirsoft.com/blog_and_news.html

    However on the other hand, I suspect “obscurity” is a far greater problem for vastly more publishers and authors. Consequently, living with some amount of piracy is probably tolerable if it increases the public’s awareness of one’s work.

    What is impacting everyone in the publishing business these days are the emerging business models empowered by digital distribution. eReading device manufacturers and eBook aggregators are all jockeying for position attempting to lock in content providers and users to their specific platforms, pricing schemes, and file formats. Fortunately, their influence will be especially muted as the functionalities of smart-phones, eReaders, tablets, computers, and web-enabled televisions converge in the next several years.

    Some project that web-enabled T.V.’s will bring more than a billion more people onto the Net. As a result, these new platforms and immense new audiences will permit innovators to find new ways to commercialize digital content of all kinds. So, just as the music and movie industries have learned to re-purpose, micro-license, and provide their content-as-a-service across the Web, so too must text-based publishers if they are to be found and to survive in our ever expanding digital world.

  • Joe Wojtowicz

    My current Ebook library is over 2,600 books.

    What worrries me the most is that I have DRM books (Microsoft Reader) which requries to be to periodically call and beg to have my latest computer authorized to open those books.

    At some point, Microsoft is going to tell me Tough #$#% you really didn’t buy those hundreds of books and we are not going to going to authorized you to read what you bought. And then i going to have to find a way to strip out the DRM [which our confused Congress decided to make a felony] or throw away a couple of thousand dollars worth of my property.

  • Jussi Keinonen

    @Alan: I wasn’t referring with the shocking decline only to album sales, but all recorded music. But I did unintentionally leave out the increase in touring and t-shirts.

    On the other hand, I don’t see traditional novelists and the like making more money from touring. ;)

    @Joe: out of curiosity, how were you able to collect a 2,600 Ebook library for less than a dollar a piece? But I also hate the authorization system.

    I certainly don’t believe that current piracy can be “solved”. It’s much more likely that the people who are buying and paying the stuff for the pirates, too, will be wanting their efforts and money to be valued in one way or the other. THAT’S the interesting route for future thinking.

  • http://www.sunglassescaseonline.net/ William Post

    The variety of different formats in which electronic publications are available can also be interesting and rather frustrating.
    Some stuff works on kindle, other stuff can only be accessed in a browser online. Some sites even have the option to preview the whole book in an electronic version and purchase if liked!

  • Jussi Keinonen

    @Alan: I wasn’t referring with the shocking decline only to album sales, but all recorded music. But I did unintentionally leave out the increase in touring and t-shirts.

    On the other hand, I don’t see traditional novelists and the like making more money from touring. ;)

    @Joe: out of curiosity, how were you able to collect a 2,600 Ebook library for less than a dollar a piece? But I also hate the authorization system.

    I certainly don’t believe that current piracy can be “solved”. It’s much more likely that the people who are buying and paying the stuff for the pirates, too, will be wanting their efforts and money to be valued in one way or the other. THAT’S the interesting route for future thinking.

  • Shlabadoo

    “Data that we collected for the titles O’Reilly put out showed a net lift in sales for books that had been pirated. So, it actually spurred, not hurt, sales.”

    Wow. Um no. Increased sales are due to increased demand. Piracy is also a result of demand, not a cause, so it should come as no surprise that it sees a simultaneous increase. That is the most incompetent cause/effect analysis I’ve ever seen.

    And measuring organized piracy shows how clueless that analysis is. The biggest risk of lost sales for ebooks without DRM is CASUAL SHARING. Not torrent sites. Measuring organized pirating from torrent sites is utterly useless with regard to measuring that risk.

    DRM prevents the average customer from buying an ebook then emailing copies to her friends. It’s totally invisible and unimposing to most buyers unless they try to violate copyright. The fact is most customers do not care or even notice that ebook DRM even exists.

  • http://jvenugop.wordpress.com Jagadeesh Venugopal

    Precisely because O’Reilly is non-DRM, I always go to them first for technical titles. And I never “borrow” an O’Reilly title even if a PDF were readily available on a download site, preferring to purchase immediately. I see it as my end of the implicit bargain.

    I hate it when I buy a book on Amazon that I cannot load on a Sony reader or Nook, should I ever care to purxhase either.

  • Mike

    I have one question…… in 27 parts. Just kidding. If I already own OReilly physical books, dozens of them, can I also download the PDF versions to load onto my e-reader device of choice?

  • Brian

    @Shlabadoo: The fact is most customers do not care or even notice that ebook DRM even exists.

    I would disagree. More importantly, my wife and daughter would disagree. My wife purchased several hundred dollars worth of games and was greatly angered when she couldn’t move those to another phone. My daughter bought a ton of iTunes music and was completely irritated when she couldn’t play that music on her new smart phone. Both are now VERY aware of DRM and what it means and will never buy another product with it.

    That’s all it takes. One bad experience causing a severe loss – and you stand up and take note.

    Second, my friend would disagree. Having a Blu-Ray player that requires a connection to the Internet so it can check for updates is annoying; the same Blu-Ray player forcing downloaded and streamed previews to you that you can’t skip is beyond annoying. (Yes, this is a form of DRM.) When the DVD player did it it was bad enough.

    Finally, I have a Kindle. Prior to the Android release of the Kindle software I routinely removed DRM from my eBooks so I could read them on my phone (which, unbelievably, has more storage space).

    As for musicians and their success: please check out what innovative artists are doing in order to succeed and maintain a relationship with their fans. The perennial example is Nine Inch Nails but there are thousands of bands who have no contract and yet survive on their earnings.

  • Mike

    @Shlabadoo: I dont want to be limited by how many times I can download a book from a particular publisher.

    In the “analog” days, that publisher had no right to tell me that I couldnt bring that book on a plane, to the beach, to the lake, in the bathroom, on my hammock or what not.

    If I have a Kindle and want to download the book for my PC……… and then, download it for the iPhone – certainly publishers wont let you. Google it. Max downloads for Kindle books. Thats BS. What if I reformat my Kindle? What if I reformat my iPad or iPhone or PC? I cant download the book that I already bought because it has a download limit?

    Please. DRM *DOES* affect me. There are smarter ways to protect one’s investment and rights but DRM is not one of those ways. Its a cop-out system of simple numbers. X-downloads and you no longer can get to the PURCHASE you already made. Doesnt matter if the download is to the same device ID that already had the content on it! Never mind logic, we’ll just cut you off when we feel like it.

    OH, and good luck finding out what these download maximums are because Amazon is not permitted to divulge that information. We cant even make a reasonable purchase decision because we’re not given all of the facts.

    Nice. Welcome to DRM folks.

  • @queridapatricia

    Piracy is an issue all over the world. Different publishers approach it in different ways. For instance, O’Reilly and Thomas Nelson paid for Magellan’s service. Others did not. After Magellan’s services, O’Reilly went on without DRM and did well. Thomas Nelson uses booksellers’ DRM and does extremely well. Nothing here proves that “publishers”, the generic, reject data, that data disproves or proves the usefulness of DRM, or that the data proves that piracy is meaningless.

    Most publishers would not put their content out there if booksellers did not have DRM to protect it. They would not both because they rightly protect their right to be profitable, and because most authors would not sign a contract that doesn’t guarantee that protection. (Crowd sourcing has not replaced authors in the real world so far.)

    It has become fancy in the tech community to blame “publishers” and some retailers for offenses such as charging for content and trying to protect it from people who would rather have it and distribute it for free. Before getting agitated, it is worth considering that most of the trade customers who buy millions of eBooks barely complain about DRM, and hardly care about the topic. For me, this is an important consideration because I do sincerely believe that the costumer is right, has the right to be right, and must be looked at for clues with more emphasis than any industry insider, let alone a few outsiders.

    No doubt the piracy paranoia has in many cases been hardly justified by reality. But the polar opposite argument that piracy is cool doesn’t make sense either. Piracy exists and hurts the industry. It is not a myth or a marketing tool. You may try to make to the best of it, but good for publishing is not. It does hurt many publishers, and not because most people in publishing are so obtuse or find technology as abstruse as some opinators who appear to have little publishing training and a lot of time to post about the industry repeat 24/7 in twitter and some blogs.

    Piracy hurts. It is true that many titles that are not available in Latin America, or that they are available at impossible prices (30 dollars in a place where a middle class salary is 2000 dollars a month to feed the family for instance) may be pirated for more or les justifiable reasons. Sadly, this hurts the small, independent publishers trying to sell in one country from another and facing the costs of exporting and exchanging currencies. Multinational groups, for whom publishing globally is easy, don’t face these hassles.

    But, paradoxically, piracy in Latin America hurts more titles that are available there and at a reasonable price. Yep, in poorer countries piracy hurts more the local, independent publisher who cannot stop illegal copies from being sold even in bookstores that don’t know that those copies don’t come from where they are supposed to. This is not a myth. It is reported by national newspapers every time a pirate warehouse with hundreds of thousands of illegal copies is found. And you will hardly find Latin Americans with publishing experience defending piracy in their countries (I mean actual experience, not being paid as a speaker to talk in international conferences about publishing without having worked in publishing a single minute.) If you have to make a living there, you know how hard it is and you know that every peso counts. If you have to make a living working in publishing there, you probably have three jobs and don’t like piracy.

    In the spirit of collecting data, I invite you to go to any book fair in Latin America and talk with many very reasonable publishers who can give you ISBN numbers of titles that have sold over 10,000 copies of which the publisher has been paid 2000, if lucky.

    So, maybe the publishing industry has not yet found the right way to protect its content. Maybe most publishers have not hired this or that consultant. But maybe in the forums where we are supposed to gather and work together to find better ways to do what we all do, we can have more constructive conversations that don’t include blaming publishers for their supposed inability to understand the world they built and navigate making a bigger effort and a riskier bet than anybody else.

    I have the honor and the pleasure of dealing with publishers from all over the world for a living. I also have the enormous responsibility of having to be attuned with millions of Americans who buy billions of books in any format every year. I have never met the “publisher” who rejects data (sales come to mind, a topic too often ignored in the vacuum of tech theories) and have never heard from the real customer outraged by, what was it? Ah, yep, that thing that makes it so incredibly easy for customers to read everywhere, DRM. Was it the thing that made the iPod fail? That device for music, long ago. Clearly pissed customers!

    Happy TOC, and a very profitable 2011 for you all!
    P

  • duje letio

    bolshy yarbles!

  • Jimbo Perez

    Piracy – Put inside the pirates’ sites some modified ebooks. When pirates’ readers will see, after reading 287 pages, that the book they have downloaded is strange… (paragraphs moved, names changed, missing pages…) then they will think twice before downloading a new pirated ebook because they will always risk to read 300 pages and miss the end of the story. If just 20% of the ”pirated” ebooks will be faked, then the ebooks pirates will disapper. The book is not a song, that takes 2 minutes to listen and eventually download again…
    Casual sharing – Customize each ebook. Put the name of the buyer inside the file (is it too much difficult? I don’t think so). The buyer will be happy to have a custumized book, and he (as he is not a professional pirate) will give it just to few people as he will be scared of having his name going around.
    Piracy and casual sharing – Open the market to multiple ebookstores, also small ones. And let’s use a single universal standard. The offer will grow, the price will low, the culture will grow, and the piracy and casual sharing will decrease more and more.

  • Anonymous

    Well as I remember, Baen has ALREADY done the numbers and found out that an author giving away an e-book for free increased their sales not only on that book but ALL the authors books. Baen also doesn’t put DRM on their e-book sales and seems to be making a profit. Now explain to me how the other publishers NEED DRM and Baen doesn’t.

    As for piracy hurting publishers, whats the difference in a book being pirated and a book being given away to promote sales at conventions? I’ll tell you what the difference is, when the book is pirated the publisher doesn’t have any expenses like they do when they give away paper copies. The other result is the same. More people see the book and more sales result.

  • http://grouper.ieee.org/groups/1817/ paulsweazey

    The greatest benefit of pirated books is that they are sharable. Private, personal sharing is the most powerful form of advertising. It insults the consumer when a buy-to-own book constrains private behavior.

    Consumers don’t complain that it is too hard or expensive to counterfeit and distribute printed books; that is for copyright holders. Consumers wouldn’t complain either if eBooks were hard to distribute to strangers, as long as their private behavior were unconstrained.

    IEEE P1817 is developing an eBook standard to constrain only public distribution, not private usage. Eventually, there will be a profitable alternative to plain files that honors the rights of consumers to own what they buy.

  • Ken Jackson

    @O’Leary “Second, you can’t say that every download is equivalent to a lost sale. Some are, but there’s at least some likelihood that the pirated titles either spurred sales or represented a download that never would have resulted in a sale anyway.”

    True! And there is another case to consider.

    If someone pays full price for a DRM-corrupted book, he may think it quite reasonable to download an uncorrupted version of the same book from a pirate site for archive purposes.

    That case certainly did not result in a lost sale, since the sale already occurred. And it shouldn’t even be considered piracy since the downloader already paid for a license to read it.

  • Roni

    The explosion of eBooks and this problem seems to just be imitating what buyers of audiobooks have known for years (but have always been a much smaller market so the complaints have hit more brick walls). As someone in Australia who buys downloadable audiobooks for someone else who is blind, it is truely distressing to regularly find recorded books they really want and would willingly pay for but there is noone – or at least noone I can find despite heavy-duty searching and lots of emails – who has the rights to sell me the titles in Australia. That’s not just new books, but often popular older authors, and I’m talking about from the 1920s-1960s here. Just as bad is finding that the only versions we are allowed are the abridged rather than the complete books. It’s like being told you can only purchase the book which has anything up to 50% of the pages ripped out. I haven’t used the pirate option but it is soooooooooo tempting.

  • Mary

    Most people blame DRM, but I haven’t yet found one person who has a viable proposition to make to all these authors, publishers, booksellers who put their money and effort into bringing a book to the market…
    Yes, DRM is limiting some options from the consumer, but it is the nature of the product such, that without DRM, all the above contributors would not be able to survive, because good faith that the people will not email their books to thousands or millions of other people is just not going to work. Without DRM an ebook can be emailed and shared with many others from a single purchase. These “others” can also share it and before you know it, the ebook is read simultaneously by a limitless amount of people with a single purchase. Does anyone understand what this means? Is there another example of an industry that can sell only one item to millions of people and still bring back profit? I don’t think so, but i would love to know such if it exists.