The Growing Threat of eBook Piracy

eBook Pirate

David Cornoy of CNET is an aspiring novelist. Recently, his book Knife Music was added to a torrent of 2500 books.

At first, he was not worried, because he only made about $0.50 an ebook anyway. But then he started thinking…2500 books is a lot of books, more than most would ever need, and at a super low price of $2 a piece, that would be $5000. For the big name authors, that could mean a lot of money out of their pockets, because no one actually spends $5000 to actually get these books.

Also, a collection of that magnitude would not require that much memory space on your computer. This means that the files could easily be reproduced and distributed with ease through piracy. In fact, during his own research, Cornoy discovered that the number one download on the Pirate Bay website was a 600+ book collection (offered by a known tablet provider). At $2 a book, that is over a $1200 loss per download. Two measly dollars is a very low price! It’s hard to find paperbacks at that price! So given that this is a very low estimation, the actual loss is much greater.

All of us can remember the diabolical debacle that was Napster. Musicians everywhere lost a criminal amount of money—although music fans everywhere rejoiced in the new age of instant gratification. Cornoy fears that the same attitude will leak into literature consumption. People seem to have an insurmountable obsession with obtaining desires and obtaining them now. We see Netflix, BlockBuster, and Pay-Per-View engage in this battle all of the time (through legal avenues) when a new big hit is released.

Literacy Piracy is the next big threat, and companies invested in the ebook industry will have to meet the challenges that will undoubtedly arise. In addition to Cornoy being worried about the impeding peril, Scott Turow, President of the Authors Guild (and practicing lawyer) quoted:

“It [piracy] has killed large parts of the music industry,” he said in an interview. “Musicians make up for the copies of their songs that get pirated by performing live. I don’t think there will be as many people showing up to hear me read as to hear Beyonce sing. We need to make sure piracy is dealt with effectively.”

Hopefully, this will not prove to be detrimental to the authors of our time (as those from other times will need not worry about pirated book sales) and all issues will be resolved.

On the flip side, you can’t help but wonder about the positive affects of ebook piracy. Neil Gaiman recently stated that ebook piracy has actually helped boost sales of his work in this video interview below.

12 Responses to “The Growing Threat of eBook Piracy”

  1. I’m totally on Neil Gaiman’s side on this one. Either music or books, I feel I have the right to listen/read before I buy. Instead of lending from a friend, I can listen from the internet (from a site like grooveshark) for some time until I decide if I like it and I should be able to do that with books as well. If I really enjoy them, I’ll buy them. I don’t want to ever again buy a book or a CD and then don’t like it. In my honest opinion, this will mostly affect books and music that aren’t good enough to be bought.

    What I see as a main difference here is that people have access to stuff they didn’t. Everyone can download everything and some people won’t read or listen to most of it, but these would never be considered as potential costumers anyway. And it definitely helps to “spread the word” on a lot of “hidden” authors and musicians.

  2. I think the problem is the Industry is trying to exert too much control over ebooks.
    There are always going to be honest people and dishonest people.
    That`s never going to change.
    DRM is not going to stop piracy,nor is it going to stop people from reading Library books on Devices that don`t support epub nor is it going to stop people from buying an ebook from a store of their choosing or even lending ebooks.

    Honest people are not going to steal books.
    It`s as simple as that.

    You can`t legislate honesty.

    Loving the Kindle BTW.
    Bought an Oberon Cover(Black Bold Celtic)
    Incredible quality and workmanship.

  3. If the Publishing Industry doesn’t want to end up where the music industry is, they need to stop making the same mistakes. The harder they try to stop piracy (by instituting DRM, shutting down file sharing sites, etc.), the more they inspire others to take up piracy.

    How should they stop piracy? That $2 a book mentioned in the article seems like a good idea. Cheap books, without DRM or other things to make it hard to read them will help keep the customers honest (just like $.99 tunes on iTunes and Amazon helped save what was left of the music industry).


  4. One of the most damaging myths about any form of piracy is that one download equals one lost sale. Most pirates would never have spent the money to begin with, and nothing can convince them to.

    Video games, movies, music, have all tried to combat piracy, and they have failed. The ebook industry won’t be any more successful… interestingly, the games that have sold largest numbers, by the way, have been the ones who didn’t bother with any form of DRM, but instead gave customers incentives to buy the product legally, by adding content, or just by making it a very good game. (See CD Project Red’s “The Witcher”, for details…)

  5. A very late comer to the game since the whole hoopla with drm started because of book piracy (and yes people were converting books to e-books even before e-books were sold).

    As for ‘because no one actually spends $5000 to actually get these books’, no one actually would, common sense taken a hit there.

    My fellow comment makers are right about drm actually hurting sales, its making people suffer to use what they paid for when they can enjoy a pirated version freely.

    Oh and 2$ is a great amount of money considering a paper-back that needs to be printed shipped and handled costs about 10$.

    Lets not forget the difference between a hard-back and paper-back edition is about 10$ so with a drm free business model an e-book should cost closer to 10c then 2$.

  6. I don’t see piracy as a threat here overall. It’s an evolution really. Make books $2 and people will buy them because it’s easier. That’s it. $2-$5 is the golden price for ebooks. Let’s see, most books purchased don’t get read according to statistics I’ve read… digital books cost practically nothing to store and serve. So why would they be worth any more than that?

    Yet another war in which nothing really will hurt the people pirating. Guarantee it. You also won’t prevent people from sharing their own books.

    Anyone downloading the torrent of 2500 books, I guarantee isn’t reading them. No lost sales. Wrong way to look at it, NOT a zero sum game here.

  7. I can’t help but think that the “blame piracy” trend has just become a excuse people being unable to adapt to a changing digital landscape.

    Industry Canada sponsored an independent study that shows P2P has little negative impact on CD sales. Although it is a study primarily on music sales it probably applies to ebooks as well.

    * When assessing the P2P downloading population, there was “a strong positive relationship between P2P file sharing and CD purchasing. That is, among Canadians actually engaged in it, P2P file sharing increases CD purchases.” The study estimated that 12 additional P2P downloads per month increases music purchasing by 0.44 CDs per year.
    * When viewed in the aggregate (ie. the entire Canadian population), there is no direct relationship between P2P file sharing and CD purchases in Canada. According to the study authors, “the analysis of the entire Canadian population does not uncover either a positive or negative relationship between the number of files downloaded from P2P networks and CDs purchased. That is, we find no direct evidence to suggest that the net effect of P2P file sharing on CD purchasing is either positive or negative for Canada as a whole.”

  8. Since we’re on the subject, the Baen Free Library introduction says it very well, I think:

    Any cure which relies on tighter regulation of the market — especially the kind of extreme measures being advocated by some people — is far worse than the disease. As a widespread phenomenon rather than a nuisance, piracy occurs when artificial restrictions in the market jack up prices beyond what people think are reasonable. The “regulation-enforcement-more regulation” strategy is a bottomless pit which continually recreates (on a larger scale) the problem it supposedly solves.

    To my great delight, my husband gave me a PRS-950 or my birthday, and one of the first things I did was to check out the store. They want me to pay $7.99 for an electronic copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I can buy it in paper back for less than that in the stores around here! As Twisten and ms both said, if eBooks were priced more reasonably, they wouldn’t be pirated. Charging the same amount for a download as for a printed book, makes no sense.

  9. I’m guessing none of the commentors write. This is our HARD WORK, our MONEY, our LIVES on the line and ebook piracy is a big deal that can make writers leave authorhood because they can’t make enough money. If you want to read the first two chapter to see if you should buy it, that’s a great idea, but beyond that you’re taking money from their tables, from their heating bill, from feeding and clothing their kids.

    Sharing should be shut down now and for good.

  10. I don`t think anyone said you shouldn`t be paid for your work McGarth.
    I`ve never pirated a book.
    I borrow books from the Library and if it`s a book I want to have in my personal Library I go out and buy it.
    I also bought a Kindle recently but I will NOT pay those exorbitant prices for an ebook.
    I will go and buy either the paperback or the hardcover.
    I will download legal DRM free books but I will not pay $9.99 for an electronic book that I don`t really own,can`t lend and can`t read on another Device.
    Ebook prices are crazy as far as I`m concerned and I won`t pay those prices.Doesn`t mean I won`t buy your book in another format if it`s good.

    Like I said you can`t legislate piracy but you can sell well written books to honest people for a decent price if you stop trying to control the book after it`s sold.

  11. While I can see how piracy can lead to somebody being discovered, there is a limit to how beneficial piracy can be. And when Neil Gaman talks about giving away one of his books on his publishers website, that is an example of how the web is beneficial in a purely legal manner.

    And there are lots of “knowledge” writers who may only write one book in their life who aren’t trying to build up a fan base, but rather make a buck off of extensive research and hard work.

    Nonetheless, there may be nothing that can be done about it so authors will have to decide if it is worth their time and effort to write books.

  12. Er, Libraries anyone? I find the obbsession with monetizing individual ebook ‘sales’ to consumers plain weird. You can’t purchase an ebook in any meaningful sense; your money buys you extremely closely controlled rights to read it. That’s not so very different from borrowing/renting from a library. So it makes far more sense to monetize on royalty, much like a library, radio, or a streaming service. Heck, publishers sell books to libraries now. And publishers do so little for their cut these days, I really wonder if they don’t deserve exactly the same kicking music publishers so richly deserved 10/20 years ago. As an author, one cent from every reader sure beats one dollar from the one in 200 ‘honest’ folk in the world (many of whom don’t even make a dollar a day). And would I pirate an ebook? Of course not, but I don’t have to buy into an outdated business model either…