Ebook piracy is ‘a colossal threat’. I disagree

by , Computing Editor Technology 18 April 2011
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Ebook piracy is a ‘colossal threat’ or so screamed the front page of my morning Metro, London’s free newspaper. But not only do I think this blows the problem out of proportion, it could be missing the point entirely.

Woman reading book

The rationale behind this claim, as put forward by crime writer David Hewson, is that some authors’ work is being leaked pre-publication.

A website set up by the Publishers Association where authors can report copyright infringement has received 831 notifications of infringement in the past week.

I’m not disputing its numbers, but I disagree that ebook piracy is a colossal threat. On the contrary, it could be a colossal opportunity.

The Association of American Publishers, for example, Publishers.org has announced that ebooks are now outselling their paperback equivalents, while Amazon sold more books for its Kindle ebook reader than it did paperbacks at the end of 2010.

Comparisons with music industry unfounded

David Hewson points to the ‘damage’ electronic publishing did to the music industry, as further evidence of the threat:

‘We all saw the damage this did to the music industry. It isn’t a bunch of Robin Hood geeks – it is very organised. You can call it file sharing or piracy or whatever, but they are thieves,’ Hewson is quoted as saying in the Metro.

But, for me, this is an unfair comparison. It’s easy to ‘rip’ music from a CD into a digital format and share this via illegal Torrent sites, something lots of people have done and something I don’t condone.

But books are different. You can’t simply plug a book into your computer and copy its content. Devices that claim to let you easily transfer books into a digital format do exist, such as Ion’s Book Saver.

But this requires you to scan every page of a book, with a 200-page novel taking 15 minutes to scan according to the company. Personally, I think it’s a faff and I doubt many people could be bothered to put in the time and effort.

Publishers must learn from music industry’s mistakes

Plus, people will download illegal copies if they think they’re getting a raw deal.

Currently, many electronic versions of books cost more than their print counterparts. For example, an Amazon Kindle version of Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles costs £12.99, compared to £10 for a hardback and £6.74 for a paperback.

Amazon puts these prices down to publisher costs, but this issue is to face further from both the European Union and the Office of Fair Trading. They reportedly ‘have reason to believe’ that there’s price fixing going on.

I’d urge the publishing industry to learn from the mistakes the music industry has made before it. Why not offer a paperback book and an ebook at a competitive price – that way we get the best of both worlds.

With electronic publishing it’s also easy to give away a few pages of a book and let people try before they buy, in the same way that you can preview songs before you download from iTunes, for example.

Yes, ebooks can be pirated, but people will only seek illegal routes if they think the legitimate ones aren’t delivering on their promises.

29 comments

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Nigel Whitfield

The problem with suggesting the publishing industry learns from the mistakes of the music industry is that there are some very senior people in publishing who won’t even acknowledge that the music industry made mistakes – I’ve interviewed some of them.

There are many common costs involved in producing eBooks – it’s not as if they go straight from the author’s Word document to ePub – but what’s keeping prices high is that while publishers allow retailers such as Amazon to discount the print editions, they don’t (thanks to Agency Pricing) allow them to do the same with the eBook editions.

Of course, there’s also an extent to which Amazon has exacerbated the problem, pricing some books below cost, and in the case of eBooks they’ve probably done that to help jumpstart the Kindle eco-system, to which they’d obviously like to tie as many people as possible. In doing so, they have created some pretty unrealistic expectations of the cost of books, I think.

I’m not saying prices should be higher – but there are costs like editing and proofing involved in producing a good quality eBook which means that they’re not going to be around the £1.50 mark unless you jettison some of those, and I’d rather pay for a book that has been edited and proofed than one that has errors all over the place.

Agency Pricing is essentially the Net Book Agreement resurrected for the digital world. Unfortunately, we have to be careful what we wish for here; cheaper books are good to have, but remember that the vast majority of authors do not make enough to live on. And remember too the vast number of bookshops that closed, following the ending of the NBA.

We don’t want the cosy cartels of the publishers imposing higher prices on us all, because they haven’t seen how the world is changing, and fixing the prices of eBooks. But equally, I think that most people also do want books that are well written, and properly produced, too; wading through a future eBook store where everything’s 79p and little of it has been edited or proofed isn’t going to be much fun either; will you keep on spending 79p in the hope that you’ll find a well written book where the plot makes sense and it’s not littered with errors?

I suspect that for most people, it’s somewhere between those two points that the sweet spot will be found. But as for how we get there, I really don’t know.

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Craig

Great commentary here, agree with most of it.

But, ebooks do not cost the same as print books. Yes, the editing, formatting etc is the same. But, you edit once for all formats and then need less amounts to format. The real cost is the printing, the paper, the transport, the stocking and the returns. An ebook has none of this. Therefore the price must be lower.

£1.50? I agree that would be crazy, no one can survive on that, but Amazon sells most of its ebooks at around the £6 mark.

On Amazon, authors get a massive amount more royalties than on DTB (dead tree books). Amazon gives 70% of the price to the author. The publishers give a max of around 30% for popular authors.

The problem is not Amazon, the problem is publishers that are trying to form a cartel to force customers to pay more than they should and protect a business model that is changing. Perhaps they should all get a Kindle and read Seth Godin’s “Poke the Box”!

Thanks for a great debate
Craig

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Dean

I agree with Sarah’s comments on this clearly sensationalistic headline in this mornings metro.

No doubt the person writing this story has links to anti-piracy tech companies and law firms specialising in this area of law. ;-)

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colin c

Some good comments by Nigel above and ones I’d agree with.
There was an article in yesterday’s Sunday Times about this, and I assume the Metro’s is similar – they seem to be saying that pre-publication hardback copies are being leaked and scanned. However I think there is a more pressing issue with how ebooks themselves are protected once they have been published. I have never bought one so don’t know how the system works, but presumably once you have a digital copy of it then it can be distributed though piracy sites the same way as CDs and DVDs?

Could I digress just a little and mention self-publishing or so-called ‘vanity publishing’ – I have a friend who publishes her own books (in paperback form) and the whole self-publishing industry seems to be very flaky to me : up-front costs, books not printed as requested, royalties not paid, etc. (In fact it might be an area for Which to investigate). For such people publishing in ebook form may well prove to be a better option. I read an article recently where an American self-publisher was saying he was making far more money selling digital versions of his book for 99 cents and getting a royalty of 25 cents than selling paper copies for 10 dollars with a 3 or 4 dollar royalty. (Sorry can’t remember the exact figures but it’s about that order). However if ebooks for self-publishers is to take off then the protection of those ebooks will have to be addressed.

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Nigel Whitfield

Most eBooks that are available to buy at the moment are protected with Digital Rights Management software, which means that they can’t simply be copied like, say, an mp3 file. That said, no DRM is perfect, and some feel that it gets in the way of people doing what they like with their books.

It can also have interesting side effects; for instance, Harper Collins in the US has decided that they’ll use the DRM to force libraries to buy new copies of eBooks after 26 loans – effectively, the eBook will ‘wear out’ and have to be replaced. Nice for the publisher, less so for the cash-strapped libraries.

Amazon’s DRM, since the Kindle is ‘connected’ enables them to remove books after you’ve bought them, as they famously did with 1984 and another Orwell book, when it turned out the person who’d uploaded them for publishing didn’t have the rights. They say they’ll never do it again, but who knows… the ability’s there. Would an electronic equivalent of the Spycatcher case see some books blocked that way?

Though both Apple and the other readers like Sony, Kobo, Hanvon, iRiver, all use the ePub format, Apple doesn’t use the same DRM as the others (Apple use their own, everyone else uses Adobe DRM). That means that if you bought a book from, say, WH Smiths eBook store to read on your Sony reader, then someone treats you to an iPad, you can’t read the book on the iPad. You’d have to buy it again from Apple’s iBook store.

Similarly, books you’ve bought for Kindle can’t be read on a Sony Reader and vice versa. There are programs that will ‘strip’ the DRM and allow you to format shift, but technically they’re probably not legal to use.

But arguably, while people might accept the restrictions (I think, for instance, that you can have 5 devices on your Adobe DRM account, so you PC, your reader, your partner’s reader…) that stop piracy, by putting obstacles in the way of people who might have more than one type of reader (say, iPad and Sony), the industry is making many people feel they have no alternative, because why the **** should they have to buy the same book twice, just because they have two different brands of device?

I’d suggest that by muddying the waters on standards, more people are being pushed towards grabbing unauthorised copies or stripping DRM than would otherwise be the case.

So yes, DRM can protect the rights of authors, but use it in a heavy handed manner, and you’ll just frustrate users and damage your business even more.

Most people are fundamentally honest; if they like a book, they’ll want the author to produce more, and they’ll pay. But they will start to object when they’re being told to pay more than for the paper edition, or pay twice because they’ve changed a device, or discover that someone’s decreed their book is no longer valid.

The way to deal with piracy by users is not to inconvenience or attack your customers; it’s to treat them fairly and offer them things they think are value for money.

And the way to deal with pre-publication books being leaked onto the internet is certainly not to inconvenience your customers, none of whom have seen the book at that stage. It’s to get your own house in order and find out who on your staff is breaking the law.

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colin c

Nigel, many thanks for this info, very informative.

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Duncan Booth

Fortunately, not all publishers think that eBooks are a threat. A good counter example is Baen books: I recently purchases a paper copy of Cryoburn (the latest book from Lois McMaster Bujold) and discovered it comes with a CD containing almost all the books in the same series. Not only that but the CD itself is available for free download from their website along with many others ( http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/24-CryoburnCD/CryoburnCD/ ). They explain why they do this: “Why are we being so generous? Simple: we think the more people who read Ms. Bujold’s works the more people will buy them.”

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Andrew Norton

Actually, that’s NOT baen’s website, it’s a ‘fansite’, called Thefifthimperium (named after the political entity in David Weber’s – another Baen author – Dahak series) that also features teaser previews (upto 1/3 of books) for upcoming releases.

The Baen site DOES have free books (the Baen free library was launched in 2000) and features a foreword by author Eric Flint, which addressed all the ‘piracy’ issues, which hasn’t moved on in 11 years. http://www.baen.com/library/

I did get a chance to speak to Mr Flint back in September, after a 80minute presentation by Baen covering all the new books they have coming out (LOTS of books) and he hadn’t changed his position at all.

The eBook market is only slightly more developed now, than back in 2000 (where I had AportisDoc on my Palm Vx, whereas now it’s aldiko on android) But the issue is not a new one. There is no practical difference between ‘eBook piracy’ and ‘Library lending’. It’s just an excuse for poor performance and bad balance sheets, not an actual problem.

Most piracy claims are vastly overblown, with no evidence (or sometimes AGAINST evidence) and yet politicians accept it without question. That’s the real issue – a lack of fact-based governance.

@Duncan
I’m not surprised that the publisher you mention is doing this already. All too often it’s the smaller publishers – generally, with slimmer profit margins (not that I am saying Baen books is necessarily small) that innovate. It’s great to see it promoting its authors in this way. Sadly, the big boys are the ones who penalise consumers at the expense of their already inflated profit margins.

@ Nigel Whitfield
Hi Nigel,
I agree with what you’ve said. Again, there are parallels with the music industry where a heavy-handed approach to DRM merely frustrated legitimate customers but made the criminal fraternity more determined to find ways to hack through it.
I would urge book publishers to work together to develop compatible standards and make this technology as easy to use and understand for the public as possible.
Sarah

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danny

I do have a Kindle and I really don’t think piracy is/or is going to be a huge problem!
I DO however feel the pricing policy is getting out of hand.
I recently pre-ordered the latest Michael Connelly book ‘The Fifth Witness’ and was appalled to discover the ebook was priced at a few pounds more than the hardback. This does seem to have now been adjusted as the difference is not as much – but was achieved by taking down the price of the hardback not by reducing the e version.
I do read a lot and have found many eBooks are indeed riddled with spelling, grammar and formatting errors – but these have usually been cheap books from Indie authors rather than the main stream publishers.
A lot of this discussion is going above my head (I am just a silly little dog after all!) :-)

This is a very interesting topic – and I have to say I agree with Sarah on this. Ebook piracy is not as big a problem as its made out to be.

This especially true when you look at today’s news that sales of Ebooks in the US have outstripped all other formats, including paperbacks and hardcovers, according to the Association of American Publishers. This is the first time ebooks have beaten all other traditional publishing formats. There are caveats, but it looks like ebooks are a runaway success, piracy or not: http://money.cnn.com/2011/04/15/technology/ebooks_beat_paperbacks/index.htm

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Tracy

Technology and eBooks now mean that authors and publishers have a much better idea than ever before on who is reading their books and I believe part of the increase in sales is down to the fact that it isn’t easy to transfer them to someone else. For centuries books have been shared and loaned out amongst friends and families. Many have been disgruntled at the “book” that was never returned. Favourites were passed down from siblings and I had to deal with my big sister’s obsessions but I am now patiently waiting for an early edition set of Beatrix Potter from my mother that I then will give on to my children. Perhaps this was all terribly illegal, and excuse my ignorance for never thinking it. But I can’t help feeling that eBooks is a brilliant way of limiting what was once one of the nicest parts of owning a book – sharing a great one with someone – and while I can’t argue with any of the more intellectual and factually accurate points above. I really wish the publishers would stop whinging and accept they’re doing pretty well out of this phenonem.

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dean

Institutions really have a problem with how to use technology. Surely the music industry have shown us how NOT to react, the publishing industry needs to learn from this and react differently.

Tracy says above how ebooks are taking away what books actually are, something to share. This used to be the same for music (Vinyl, cds) and I honestly cannot understand why it has taken so long for people to pick up on the piracy possibilities of books, after all, it’s just text right?
Perhaps people think that books are more of a throwaway item than music? Or that music is much easier to interact with than a book?

Either way, as long as they don’t start hiring lawyers sending fake summons to random people in order to “claw back what they have lost”.

I have another idea for that, stop taking so many dividends so that when people stop buying, you can afford to wait out a recession. The internet is a convenient scapegoat for people who have clearly taken too much money out of their companies during the good times and not “saved for a rainy day”

As I’ve written on this topic several times, I wholeheartedly agree with Sarah. I’ve bought and read more books since I bought my Kindle than ever before, and I’m knowledgeable enough and experienced enough to know where to find pirate books if I chose to. Fact is, despite the sometimes unacceptable prices, I buy ebooks on Amazon because the system works. Is there a threat? Yes. Is it as perilous as is being made out? Absolutely not. The industry has it within their power to avoid it – crying wolf is no the answer.

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Rachel Caine

Sorry, but this doesn’t at all square with my personal experience as an author.

Since November of last year, I have taken down no less than 120 separate listings on auction sites offering “public domain” copies of my books — ALL my books, including new releases — as downloads or on CD-ROM. These are all pirated, every one of them, and digitally counterfeited for profit.

By my calculations, the lost *legitimate* sales of people who purchased these downloads/cds is at least tens of thousands of dollars to my publishers — and I’m far from an isolated case. Most of these digital thieves are selling hundreds, if not thousands, of authors’ works and collections, for their own profit and no one else’s.

I’m not extremely worried about people who trade files of books … but your insistence that it can do no harm is patently wrong. It has done wrong to me, and to hundreds of other authors I know personally, for the reasons cited above. We’re not like the music industry. We can’t make up the difference with merchandise and concert tickets.

All we have is the books. And the books are being stolen, to make money for someone else who has done no work except download a file and put it up for sale.

I agree that it’s a huge opportunity — I love ebooks. But the READERS must understand that buying or downloading illegal copies hurts authors DIRECTLY.

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Nigel Whitfield

I agree people need to understand the difference – and I have little time for people who think that because it’s electronic it must be free, and authors shouldn’t expect a living. As you rightly say, public performance isn’t an option in the book world – even assuming an author was also a great performer, they’re hardly going to pack out Wembley for people to hear them listen.

But I honestly don’t think the format incompatibilities and the high prices, and the DRM systems that publishers insist on are serving them, or their authors, very well.

You will never eliminate piracy; there will always be people who will do it just for the **** of it. There are people who brag that they have X,000 ebooks in their collection on sharing sites, just so that they can claim the biggest number – and I doubt they’ve read more than a handful of them. Whatever you do, those people will pirate – and I honestly don’t think they’d have bought the books anyway.

But in forcing people to buy books again (like the record companies suggested at one time we should do it we wanted a tape of an album to play in the car) if they change device, or setting up systems that mean prices are excessively high, the book industry is pushing people to make decisions they otherwise wouldn’t do.

People who might consider themselves otherwise honest will think “I’ve paid for this book on my Sony, how can I read it on my new Kindle” and they’ll quickly discover it can be done, even if it’s a bit naughty. And once they’ve done that, will they go on to think “You know, I can get all my books from these chaps on eBay?” Some will, some won’t – but I think that the publishing industry is dangerously close to pushing otherwise law abiding customers in that direction.

I do wish they would show more imagination. For example, given the marginal extra cost of an eBook is practically zero, why not include a voucher with each hardback that entitles you to download the eBook version for whatever device you use too? Why not work with a well known author to experiment in DRM-free versions, and see what the effect is?

Why not try imaginative subscription models, like £15 a month for two book downloads, or bundles, say “£60 for all the Iain M Banks culture novels on a CD”, which might shift backlist titles too.

Those who will always pirate are a lost cause anyway. But a little imagination and less of the big stick on the part of the publishing companies could make a big difference between ordinary consumers feeling they’re getting a good deal, and feeling they’re being taken for a ride.

As the music industry discovered, it’s when a substantial number of your customers feel the latter that you start to get real problems.

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Andrew Norton

ok, Rachel(or Julie, or Roxanne, or whatever name you fancy today). Let’s address this as a business issue.

1) Are your books for sale as eBooks already?

I see the answer is yes, after looking on Amazon.

so now that leads to two other possible reasons. DRM/format, and price.

2) Is your price too high?
Amazon shows the kindle verson of Ill Wind as being $7.99 Amazon also has the paperback edition for $7.99. B+N also has their nookBoook on sale for $7.99 and sell the physical copy for $7.91

2) Format/DRM issues?

One actually has to be physically made, and is more versitile (the paperback) and you can even sell it later. You physically own the copy of that book. Yet it’s the SAME price as a long-term-rental of the kindle-verson.

So there is an issue in both. Rather than being cheaper (because of the lack of overhead costs – printing, storage, distribution etc) its the same price or higher. People are paying the same (or more) for a digital copy that lets them do less. Or, in market terms, you’ve priced yourself uncompetitively.

Now, in a Free Market economy, we rightly attribute such failures to the seller. However, when it comes to copyright, what is in reality a market failure, is not just ignored, but vaunted and protected. What madness.

In short, Rachel/Roxanne/Julie – people find you wanting more for less, and are not impressed. The market is clearly there, as you’ve pointed out, you’ve just failed to capitalise on it. My suggestion (and that’s as someone who is both a writer and someone who has spent lots of time in the copyright field – as a copyright enforcer no less) is to address the cause, instead of ranting about the symptoms. Right now your supply (which is infinite, lets not forget) FAR outstrips demand. However, you’re dealing with it as if supply is low and demand high (which may be the case for your woodies (the paper editions).

So, address the market failure, and push the ebook price down. To date, eBook purchasing has been a bubble, spurred on by hardware that can finally offer it to the masses, albeit at a cost. For it to go mainstream, though, eBook prices have to plummet. You’re asking people to spend the same amount of money on a file they can only read on an expensive device, as for a physical book they can read anywhere, lend, burn or sell. If you don’t see where the problem is, then you’re probably going to be in for a BIG dissapointment in the future.

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Eponymous Cowherd

Rachel,

Your books aren’t being stolen.

I’m a fan of Ian M Banks’ “Culture” novels. All except the latest “Surface Detail” are on sale at £4.99, a smidge under the paperback price, which I believe is reasonable for a format that has much lower cost compared to print.

Surface Detail, however, is on sale at £8.99. Which is more expensive than the hardback. This is, IMHO, pure profiteering by the publisher.

Guess what? I have bought all of the £4.99 “Culture” novels for my Kindle. But there is absolutely no way, whatsoever, that I am going to pay more for a Kindle edition than for a hardback.

All I will do is wait until the price comes down before buying (or the OFT forces the price down), but I can fully understand why some people look at the comparative pricing of Kindle and Hardback editions, see the “Price set by publisher” banner and think ******* crooks, I’m off to Pirate Bay…..

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Dot

Reading through all the above comments so far – it appears the comments are being made by knowledgeable people in the industry rather than good old fashioned end users. Well I am one of them, I love bodice rippers (that age – 60 going on 16) and I love reading action books as well, David Morrell, Clive Cussler, Lee Childs, and so on. I bought a kindle as soon as I could afford it, and I have not looked back, always impressed with Amazon simply for the sheer breadth of books on offer – let alone the price, and I have to say that I never feel ripped off on prices for ebooks, to me they seem cheaper than WH Smith or Waterstones, so I am fine. Granted the odd one is suddenly horrendous in price, but as an OAP I don’t buy it if it is too expensive – especially if I think it is the author/publisher being a bit precious. I also like the idea of having a library of books (Amazon keeps them for me) that I can delve into whenever I want and more to the point (age don’t you know!) when I go to buy a book that I did not realise I had already read – Amazon gently tells me I have!!!! What more does a reader want – well the ability to stuff 15 novels in my hand luggage when I shoot over to Spain for a quickie holiday – the ability to download novels if I finish up reading them all and still have time on my hands – the ability to work on the treadmill/bike at my local council gym and read at the same time – they have such a handy ledge on these machines – the ability to pop down my Doctors for an appointment and instead of dragging a A3 size newspaper, take my ebook – and know I am not disfiguring my spine. That’s all the boxes ticked for me then. Happy reading and no way will I pirate a book……..

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Andrew Norton

Great, you’ve pointed out the big advantages of ebooks.
All those benefits, though, are not unique to the Kindle, or indeed any particular flavour of ebooks but have been around for more than 10 years. I used to carry a palmVx with me 10 years ago, that’s the size of small smartphones now, and carried a dozen books with me (but only a dozen, as memory was limited back then). I had a library of over 100 on my computer though, and it was just a case of double-clicking the book on the computer, stick the palm in the cradle and press the cradle button and wait 30 seconds. In fact, I’ve a picture somewhere of me, sitting in hospital, reading my palm (reading the Mahabarata if i remember correctly) while holding my newborn son (he’ll be 9 next month)

The big difference, though, is that no-one can take my book from me, as has been done on the Kindle, and if I want to read them, I could, when I wanted. In July09 Amazon remotely deleted books from kindle users (1984 and Animal Farm) and in December 2000 works by one author that people had already bought, couldn’t be redownloaded to the device. And you’re also only renting the books (you don’t buy, with Kindle) for one reader.

DRM (Digital Rights Management) exists because of the myth of piracy, however, all it does is inconvenience legitimate buyers. One person removes the DRM (or makes a version without DRM) and shares it, and then it’s worthless for it’s intended job, but still works just fine for restricting the paying customers.
Gee, can’t think why ANYONE would want to ‘pirate’ a version then…

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gradivus

“Colossal Threat” is an unjustified, sensationalist headline.

The rot started with the music industry and its assumption that; one illegal download = one lost sale. It doesn’t. All my favourite music – the stuff that gets played regularly – is legal. Occasionally, I’ll hear CDs played by friends and family that I quite like and copy them. BUT – and it’s a huge, giant, enormous, big BUT – there is no way whatsoever I would have paid out my hard earned cash to buy that music. So the music industry has not lost a penny.

And I suspect book publishers, sadly, will go down the same route. Yes, come down heavy on the “commercial pirates”, but keep a sense of proportion and charge realistically.

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George Allen

One aspect of ebooks hasn’t yet been addressed – using genuinely public domain texts, either directly, via free downloads (such as Apple’s iBook store) or by converting from sites such as Gutenberg. Searching for ‘epub’ works, too.

I’ve bought books from Apple for my iPad, but like others would have bought far more had prices been more realistic. Let’s face it, once a paper copy has been produced the on-cost of generating an electronic version really is minimal – my publishers have asked for text in electronic form for years, anyway!

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Andrew Norton

My wife works for a pre-press company (that’s where they take the text, and them make it and the graphics ready to go to print, and then send the printer the file, usually by uploading the data via FTP). They’re looking into producing ebook versions (or offering the service) because it’s a 10-minute step (plus proofing) to do it.

It’s really a no-brainer. The biggest costs? licensing the damned DRM (which doesn’t work to ‘stop piracy’, and never has)

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Em

Clearly ebook reading is growing at a rate of knots but Amazon’s Kindle figures are a bit disingenuous. Kindle owners are locked into buying from Amazon (once again a big corporation does what is instinctive and becomes monopolistic) so no wonder that Amazon’s ebook sales are high – they’ve cornered a significant part of the market. That’s good business but not so good for consumers.

I’d like to see Which? taking more of a stand against companies like Amazon (and in the case of iTunes Apple) locking people into buying the software as well as the hardware from them. Can you imagine buying a Panasonic DVD player and only being able to buy DVDs from Panasonic? This is a real consumer issue and Which? should take it up.

And as for the hype, yes ereaders are increasingly popular but my totally unscientific observation is that I still don’t see many people reading ebooks . On a recent holiday I saw loads of people reading paperbacks but not one ereader apart from my own! And the same is true in my business travel. I don’t think we’re seeing the end of paper books, we’re seeing multiple technologies emerge.

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Andy

As an E-Book reader and having nothing to do with publishing/authoring etc I’ll add my comment!

I had a Sony reader and acquired a collection of old books (e.g. 70s sci-fi) from a friend and loved the ability to flick back and forth between titles. I also have a large collection of second hand books from when I was a student that cost anywhere between 20p and a few quid.

I’d love to be able to buy entire collections of an author, e.g. Anne McAffrey, Wilbur Smith, Isaac Asimov for a reduced price simply because I AM buying an entire set. I don’t have an issue with new releases being priced “similarly” to the paperback as at the point of release demand will be higher. But CD’s and DVDs eventually end up in the bargain bucket for a pound so why can’t ebooks be the same?

I would also like to point out that my existing collection of books is entirely portable and works just as well on my new kindle as it did on the sony – its just a USB connection after all.

Lastly my biggest issue with the books that I was given, compared to the versions I have bought legitimately, is the poor formatting, I assume from scanning and poor OCR. This ISN’T an issue on pirated MP3′s as they are electronic to start with so the 2 piracy arguments are slightly different, if you pirate e-books then you are getting a substandard version.

all in all I will continue to buy ebooks but will still continue to buy second hand paperbacks and use the local library because the costs are still too high in my opinion

Andy

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Roel

One of the reasons that ebooks can ‘cost’ more is that there is 20% VAT charged on them. Physical books have 0% VAT. You can’t blame the publishers for that.

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Andrew Norton

I used US figures above when Rachel/Roxanne/Julie commented about her books. The US has sales tax instead of VAT (I’m a Brit, living in the US – if you’ve ever been to Makro, you know what it’s like shopping in the US) BUT, you pay sales tax locally, for interstate transactions. In theory, when you buy things from Amazon, you’re supposed to later declare the tax and pay it at your state rate (here, in this county in Georgia, it’s 7%, some are 6% and others are 8%). In practice, people don’t pay it at all, which has led to North Carolina and New York suing Amazon to collect the sales tax there for them.

The tax burden is the same on both, and the prices are the same. It’s a nice theory, though the practice isn’t as simple as you might think.

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Ben1

A few thoughts:
* I’ve deliberately kept away from Kindle – why should I be locked into Amazon? I’ve never understood why Which? doesn’t argue more forcefully against such monopolies. For similar reasons I don’t have any Apple product.
* yes VAT is an issue – I believe that Amazon pay VAT on Kindle books in Luxembourg at 3% rather than 20% here.
* I like ebooks but reading them is a very different experience to print, and not just for the obvious or sentimental reasons. The physical book is great technology. Have you ever tried flicking through an ebook to get an overview or to find that bit which you remember by it’s positioning on the page? ebooks should probably be called escrolls. In effect, despite the pagination (and that is variable in quality) they are one long page.
* In the end I like a mixed economy and generally speaking the more expensive the book, the less likely I would be to buy it as an ebook. I like the idea expressed earlier of bundling both formats together – that would be very attractive to me giving the convenience of an ebook for travelling but the paper version to keep.

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