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.
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.