Saturday, November 28, 2009

Digital Pirates

Mike Harvey, Technology Correspondent, for The Times Online had an interesting article last week on digital pirates, those who plundered music and films a few years back and who are now going after e-books.
In the US, where the Kindle has been available for two years, digital book piracy is booming. The web has enabled thousands of sites to distribute pirated book content free. American publishers are estimated to have lost more than $600 million (£363 million) last year to piracy.
British publishers are trying to stop piracy, but here on SFH we’ve talked about those efforts and the successes are small in relation to the number of e-book copyrights that have been violated. The article says that the Publishers Association has noted “more than 4,000 cases of online piracy by more than 40 publishers and has succeeded in taking down 2,638 illegal copies of books. Sounds like a lot, except when you also read:
Even before The Lost Symbol was published in September, pirated copies were circulating on the internet. Within a couple of days of its release filesharers had downloaded it more than 100,000 times.
The thing that makes books so much easier to steal is the file size. “A film can be up to 1.5GB whereas the typical e-book is no more than 3MB, making it much easier to download.” Combine that with this statistic: “In the US an estimated 1.7 million people own one, and that number could rise to 4 million by the end of the year, according to analysts.” Then top it off with a sampling of the comments to this article:
Since digital books typically cost rather more than printed copies, I have no sympathy for the industry….Serves them right.

Yet another rip-off industry squealing over problems that they've created.

It's farcical to suggest the inventors of these devices didn't realise this could happen. As for the fact that people can now read books for free surely this is a service libraries have offered for centuries.
It seems to me that people are looking at the publishing industry and saying, so what, they make millions. They should be looking at the everyday authors who are not making millions. Those who steal books might do well to wonder how they would put food on the table if they worked for ten months and profited barely a hundred dollars. There are plenty of authors out there who net that little after writing and marketing their book, not to mention getting their book in e-book format if they don’t have a publisher to do it for them. I also think that the big publishers who are now putting their print authors into digital form should give those authors a higher percentage of the profits.

What do you think?
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18 comments:

  1. This is an interesting topic, because regardless of the outcome in the push me - pull you contest, the author loses.
    Authors have never received money from library loans or people lending their books to friends.
    In regards to Kindle, as an indie author the lowest price I'm allowed to mark my ebook for is .99, yet the big publishers can mark theirs as 0.00 Many do just that with their catalogue.
    Digital is much cheaper to produce. They might discourage piracy by lowering the price of their new ebooks, which would still leave enough profit to raise the percentage going to the author, and not distribute their catalogue at 0. It sends the wrong message.

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  2. What you said. The last paragraph in this post sums up exactly what I think.

    Marvin D Wilson

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  3. It's not right, but I'm not sure what a good solution would be. DRM, like they have with music?

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  4. I've left the e-world on the back burner for a while. Maybe I'll try it once my books go to paperback.

    Stephen Tremp

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  5. ESC - DRM is virtually gone for most music downloads. All it did was annoy people. Only the monthly subscription services still use it, but they pretty much have no choice about that.

    Anything that can be photocopied, can be scanned and translated to text through OCR (optical character recognition - a VERY old technology. Virtually every scanner you buy has a free package bundled that'll do it.)

    If you manacled your book to the reader's wrist when you sold it to them, would you sell many books? Especially when the pirate copy of your book had no such inconveniences attached to it.

    Oh, and struggling authors - your problem isn't having your work stolen, it's obscurity. Wish I could remember who said that. Probably Doctorow.

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  6. The days of an author having a benefactor are long gone. Now a struggling writer must have a job or two to support the writing until s/he is no longer struggling. Either that or they must give up eating. All of you commenting here have keys to what is most likely the solution: pricing ebooks relevant to what it costs to produce, giving the author their due share of the small profit, not allowing the big companies to undercut the price, doing everything possible to stop piracy, and renewed efforts to promote reading and exploration of new avenues. What have I left out fellow writers/readers?

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  7. The potential legal consequences of piracy have to be worse than the potential benefits.

    The consequence for illegally downloading copyrighted material should be loss of broadband internet access for one month, and loss for longer periods with subsequent downloads.

    The fear of loss of broadband access is probably greater than the anticipated pleasure of scoring a stolen book or song or movie.

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  8. I do believe people have an incorrect perception of authors. We are not growing rich off of our books, at least not most of us. There are a few lucky ones. We obviously don't do it for the money. (g)

    Piracy does hurt the everyday author. It seems that not many industry people value the time and effort put in to write a decent book.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

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  9. Likari, being taken off Internet would, for sure, catch my attention.

    I agree, Morgan.

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  10. It seems the author always takes it in the shorts. Sigh.

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  11. Helen,

    Most small e-book publishers do price their books reasonably and pay authors a much larger royalty percentage than the big guys. I do not understand why the New York publishers persist in over-pricing e-books and under-paying authors.

    Lillie Ammann
    A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

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  12. Lillie, that is a very good question. We need someone to answer it.

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  13. I am of the opinion that theft is theft. And I rather like publishing houses to remain solvent, so book piracy is a bad thing. (I'm assuming most of us think the same way here, unlike those you quoted.)

    The Napster issue should have resolved the ebook download issue before it started. Both are copyright issues. But I gather from reading that the download sites, being all over the globe, are a bit more difficult to pin down. They are probably hosted in countries that refuse to recognize US and international copyright laws, makign it impossible to touch these companies without their having a corporate or even virtual presense in the US or EU.

    It's a shame.

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  14. I'm not real familiar with writers organizations in other countries. If they have them, you would hope they would join in the fight against copyright theft.

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