Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The New Internet Pirates: Ebook Downloading

Yesterday in an article on The High Low, there has been stated that "One in every three people who download e-books on their digital readers do so illegally". Even though this statement at first seems shocking, I personally can't see this problem so black and white as a lot of authors and publishers do.

Don't throw rocks at me just yet. Downloading ebooks is illegal. You shouldn't do it. However, is this as much as a problem as this article implies? And why do so many people turn to illegal downloading?

I investigated the sources of this article a little further, coming to an article on the Telegraph site, which states: "One in eight women over 35 who own such devices admit to having downloaded an unlicensed e-book". Let's think about that. That means that 12,5% of females over 35 that own a ereader admit that they have downloaded at least one illegal ebook. There is absolutely no proof or further investigation about the behaviour of those who pirate. Do they just download one? Or all of them? If you take, for example, that they might have given in to downloading a book, maybe 3 times now on average. On estimate, I think about every owner of an ereader has about 100 books on it. Legal books. So, now 3% of those books are illegal, spread over 12,5% of ladies out there, we come to this conclusion: about 0,375% of all ebooks owned by women over 35 are illegal.

Look at that number again. Seems a lot less intimidating than it was on first sight.

In an age where music piracy is the order of the day, the pirating of books seems an impending thread to the publishing world. It doesn't feel like "stealing" on the internet. I will admit that I download songs. I actually never feel sorry for that, because if I wouldn't download them, I would listen them on Youtube, which is free but perfectly legal.

I think that one of the reasons that ebooks are getting pirated, and will continue to be so, is that the price of many ebooks is still too high. You just don't want to pay the same price for a few pixels, as you will for a beautiful hardback edition you can actually hold. Not trying to defend anyone here, I try to understand their motives.

It's too harsh to simply state: "That's ONE-THIRD of our sales flying out the window" (as said by a lovely lady on Twitter). There is no proof at all for being it 33% of all sales. I understand it's hard for authors to see their hard work being used without them getting any reward for it. However, the side of me that always thinks the cup is half-full wants them to look at it this way: if they're pirating it, it's worth pirating. There are people who want to read it. Readers are interested in your book. And if they really enjoyed it, they will buy a real copy, because you're awesome and they want to support you.

It might be naive to suggest that every pirateer will buy your book after downloading it, but I think this does happen. The problem is, you can't stop internet piracy. The music industry tried this and see what happened to them. After countless lawsuits The Pirate Bay is still up and running and probably doing better than ever.

Will ebook piracy become a problem? Definitely. Should we all start a massive witch-hunt for those who have downloaded one book in their lifetime? Please don't. There will always be enough book lovers to actually buy the book. I know I will.

I'm curious to see what you guys all think about this subject! Leave a comment below (:


Bex said...

I think this is a great post! You've hit some great points here. I will always buy my books--both PB:s and e-books, but I can see why some people might download for the reasons you've listed yourself.

I also know, being international, that there are many books not even available to the international readers via e-books. For example, I've been wanting Larissa Ione's Demonica series forever and thought I'd get it on my Kindle now that I finally have one, but I can't since it's not available to Europe. I can however get the paperbacks, which is something that I'm having some trouble understanding, why one would limit the e-books if I can get hold of the paperback copies. (For anyone who wonders, I now have all her books in PB completely legal.)

So this might also be the reason I can see why one would find it easy to download them. Or people wanting their books in both printed format as well as printed ones. I've also heard about those downloading books they've bought in one format, but then download in others for their other e-readers, since they don't allow all formats on all readers.

Now, I'm not approving of downloading either, whether it's music or e-books, and I can see it becoming a bigger problem now with the e-books being more popular.

Then, I'm always thinking about how we borrow them books for free at the library or from friends all the time... But I know that it isn't quite the same though, since it's way faster spreading a file online that a borrowing out limited copies.

You can definitely analyse this question forever if you want to. It is a big one though and I've heard many opinions, and I'm just trying to understand why as well. Good to think about.

Bex said...

WOW, that was longer than I thought. Cookie to anyone who reads it... Lol.

Celine said...

@ Bex; Yeah, you make a lot of good points in your post. I myself am international too, and I'm having quite some trouble to get certain books. I have no idea why they don't make all ebooks available in Europe.

I also think it's insane you have to pay for the book again if you already have it on your Kindle, but would like it on your Sony reader too. A lot of these problems could easily be solved if the sellers could finally agree on one single universal format for ebooks.

And what kind of annoys me too is that you can't "give" someone an ebook. It's perfectly legal to give someone your paperback, but if you send your ebook to someone it's suddenly illegal.

We've got a long way to go here (:

BookMarc Blogpants said...

I think another aspect of piracy is that ebook reader technology is still a work in progress and if you've ever tried reading an encyclopedia, or any book you don't read cover to cover for that matter, on an ereader then you will know how painful a process it can be. For someone to pay for that ebook, at this moment in time, would probably be done begrudgingly as you can't get the satisfaction you would garner out of flicking through the pages of the same book in printed format.
I agree about how it's silly not be able to give the ebook to a friend and the same goes for being able to buy second hand printed books but having a completely different law for the same book when it's digital.

Oh, and Bex you owe me a cookie! :)

Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

I think you made some great points. If you buy a paper copy of a book, there is so much more you can do with it. You can lend it, give it away, or whatever. There are so many unnecessary restrictions on e-books that I imagine that people pirate them because they have to not because they are unwilling to pay. Some people would be willing to pay for the book and can't. So they get it for free. I think the industry is the problem and needs to catch up.

I don't condone piracy because it is unfair to the author but I agree that it isn't a black and white issue.

John G. Hartness said...

I'll talk from two perspectives, as an author and as a reader.

As a reader, I would love to be able to legally put the Harry Potter series on my kindle or iPad, but I can't do that. Legally. Those books, all of which I own in hardcover, are not released digitally. That's the kind of thing that encourages piracy.

Inflating the price of an ebook over that of the mass market paperback is another thing that makes people angry at "the establishment" and want to pirate things. If you make ebooks the same price as the cheapest print edition, and easy to get in all formats, piracy will be as much a non-issue as it is in other forms of entertainment. Justin Beiber is probably pirated a bunch of times every day, but he still makes plenty of coin on legitimate purchases. Spielberg flicks are certainly pirated all over the world, but he still gets his cash.

As an author, I was flattered when my book showed up on a pirate site. I felt like I'd "made it." I then realized that there was no one seeding the torrent, so it wasn't really even up there! A lot of the pirated sites are just fronts for software (or malware) sites, they don't even have content.

I honestly don't care if my work gets pirated. I give out free copies all the time as promos, and I feel like if someone steals a download, I'm not losing a potential sale, I might actually gain a reader. And that reader, through a bizarre twist of pirate and creator-support ethics, may actually come back and buy my other stuff. And frankly, if you're going to go to all the trouble of pirating my stuff, then you were never going to buy it anyway. I've done everything possible to make my books available in all formats, and DRM-free so they can be given away and converted and moved from reader to reader, that I could possibly do.

That was also TL:DNR, but if you get to the bottom here you get another virtual cookie.

Erin said...

I very rarely - if ever - buy books.  My mother is a retired librarian... and I have a library card.  So I go to the library to get them.  I was taught not to buy books - I was taught to borrow them.

Those pirated books were often purchased by somebody.  I download them, I read them, I delete them.  How is that different that borrowing from the library?  Or from borrowing from a friend?  My family even does that for waitlisted books from the library - it gets passed around until the due date, then returned.  If I can't get the book from the library, I turn to piracy. (Or if ordering involves an inter-library loan).

It might be just the way I was raised, but I have a harder time feeling guilty about pirating ebooks than I do about music.

Celine said...

Hmm, you have some valid points there Erin. If you think about it, piracy is nothing more then lending the same book to a thousand people at the same time.

It is slightly different from lending from the library though. Books that libraries lend out are way more expensive than than normal copies for personal use. But then again, one person less lending the book from the library barely makes a difference.

I actually feel more guilty about pirating books than music, because I just never buy CDs, and never have. For me it's just like listening to the music from Youtube, only then on your iPod. Books, I do buy, so unless it's something I would never buy, I try to stay away from illegally downloading it (:

Thank you for your comment!

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