E-book Piracy

“Books are the last bastion of analogue”, said Jeff Bezos, in an interview with Newsweek in November 2007.  “Music and video have been digital for a long time,” he continued, “short-form reading has been digitized, beginning with the early Web. But long-form reading really hasn’t.”

(Image Courtesy Newsweek November 2007)

Later that week, Bezos, the CEO of Internet commerce giant Amazon.com, released the Amazon Kindle, a device that was to transform the way we can access, read and store e-books. Since then, its success has brought about rival devices – such as the Sony Reader – and now hundreds of thousands of books are available for download straight to your reader.

The question now posed, it seems, is how piracy will affect e-books, authors and – wider still – the publishing community.

Last week I read this article in The Metro  “Ebook piracy is ‘colossal threat’, in which ‘award-winning crime writer David Hewson’ remarked that the illegal downloading and piracy of e-books would bring about the end of the world as we know it. Oh okay. I lie. He didn’t say that. Something more along the lines that books would now be affected like the music industry has been. My general interest was one of ‘meh’ before I turned the page, only to be distracted by my bus driver announcing that the destination of my bus had changed, which meant that we all had to get off the bus and wait on the side of the road for the next one to come along, my copy of The Metro long forgotten as was the article about e-book piracy mayhem…

….until today, when I read this  piece on Guardian.co.uk about The Metro‘s article. The Observer journalist Russell Davies comments that he hopes e-book piracy fears do not prompt ‘the draconian crack-down of the 1990s’.

“The book business likes to invoke those days too and repeatedly assures us it is not going to make the mistakes the music industry made. Unfortunately, the conclusions it seems to have drawn are that the recorded music business wasn’t draconian and heavy-handed enough, that it didn’t issue enough take-down notices and didn’t sue enough children and sweet old ladies. They seem not to have realised that the only way to compete with pirates is to offer a better product and better service; a better combination of price, convenience and availability.(guardian.co.uk 24 April 2011)

Which? also featured a piece on Hewson’s comments. Sarah Kidner writes that this ‘colossal’ threat is far from reality and in fact presents a ‘colossal opportunity’. The Publishers Association, where authors can report copyright infringement, received 831 notifications of infringement in the past week yet ebooks are now outselling their paperback equivalents, as reported by The Association of American Publishers. That’s great news!

Both Davies and Kidner remark that publishers should take this as a sign that e-books must remain competitively priced – and priced LOWER than the version available in bookshops. People want the best value – they’re not going to pay more for an e-book if it’s considerably cheaper to walk into WH Smith and pick it up off the shelf. As an avid reader of books, and someone who’s toyed with the idea of buying a kindle, I’m interested to see how this possible issue develops. Let’s hope it’s not another case of Napster.


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