Monday, November 28, 2011

Ebooks and Piracy

Because I love my kindle so much, I have an interest in the growth of ebooks. It's been estimated that Australians are expected to spend $150-$700 million on ebooks by 2014, which is huge for us Aussies because last year we spent $35 million. In terms of percentages, that's 1.5% of the total value of book sales in 2010 and anywhere between 6-24% in 2014. Yikes, that's a huge increase in a short amount of time.

This of course, raises the real concern of piracy. Many authors and publishers have shied away from distributing work via the ebook format for fear of getting their timbers shivered, as ye olde pirates say. This, in my view, is a tragedy because there are many books I simply won't read because they aren't available in ebook format.

Yes, piracy is a real issue, but there are ways of minimising the losses. Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology has been created to protect artistic and literary work. It prevents access, copying or conversion of work to other formats. One such company that offers ebook capability with full DRM is Palmer Higgs. They've even launched the first ebookstore with DRM in Australia. I find this encouraging.

Of course, there is the other view on privacy--that it's a good thing. Neil Gaiman has witnessed how piracy has actually helped his sales. People, who would not normally have read his books, read pirated copies. As a result, these people went out and bought his other books. I believe it's also why many authors offer free copies of their books in the hope of readers 'discovering' them.

Personally I think the problem with piracy is the loss of control. If I want people to have a free copy of my books, then I'd want to be the one to offer it to them.

What are your thoughts on piracy as a reader or a writer?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great photo, Lyn! Piracy, ugh...well, I'd like to be old-fashioned and say we should stick to printed/hardcopy books, but I think that ship has already sailed. I think it's good for publishers to be able to minimize their losses by DRM, but Neil Gaiman does have a point about piracy improving sales. But HE has other books out; it may not be as desirable for a debut author in traditional publishing.

    Maybe ebooks could have tight DRM for the first six months--and then relax that protection? Not sure.

    In the "olden days" one person bought ONE book and shared it with friends. That's not even possible with ebooks. It'd be great to find a balance here, that would be fair to readers as well as authors (and publishers).

  3. I'm researching into e-book publishing for an academic essay right now but also because I'm working with a publisher and for myself on some e-book publications.

    I believe e-books hold promising aspects and will serve us well in the future. However, it will definitely mean a shift in the publishing business and publisher's most certainly won't always like it.

    I just hope something good comes out of it for writer's too.

    For reader's it surely will.

    Nahno ∗ McLein

  4. I've just noticed that you've put Samuel's book with my link in the sidebar, Lyndy. Thanks for that. Much appreciated :)
    Here in my country piracy is the only way to watch any films or listen to any music, and to use most of the computer programmes. So, without it we would basically live in middle ages. It's ironic, but it's true.

  5. I'm thinking about releasing on Kindle in the future and it's not something I had considered. I agree with the point about Neil Gaiman, he was already well established before the internet became widespread so is less likely to be harmed than a debut author.

    It's not a nice thought, after years of hard work with no pay, for your work to be stolen. But then I think books should be available to everyone even if you can't afford them... what about e-libraries??

  6. As a reader, I wouldn't do it; I'd know I was abusing someone else's creative talents and I don't want that karma. As a writer, I wouldn't like it....but at least I'd know I was worth pirating :)

  7. Piracy is a shame. It's more prevalent in other countries than here in the USA, which is a good thing. (I've seen a couple pirated movies - they look like crap.)
    I guess if someone really wants to give my book out for free, I can't stop them, and neither can my publisher. I'd never share a copy of someone's book with anyone though.

  8. It is a scary thought and really sad at the same time.

  9. This is a complicated question. Why worry about piracy when selling a novel for .99 or giving it away? Because authors want people to read their books. And what's the difference between that and sharing a print book? I often give away copies of print books for others to read, so they're reading without paying. Is this kind of lending piracy? And then there's the used books sold for pennies on Amazon. The author gets no royalties on those sales. Maybe at one time he did but then someone else benefits from the used book sales. So I'm not sure it bothers me personally.

  10. Being most old fashioned I'd always want to get my things legitimately. :-)

    I guess I'm also on the side of the authors/creative talent/ the people who originated whatever it is that is being pirated!

    Also hackers/scammers/people who create malwares, spywares, badwares, etc because they're bored really really really annoy me and I guess I tend to lump those who those who pirate stuff with them (sorry!!). Take care

  11. Yep, I can imagine offering say, free novellas in a certain world I've created, to give people a 'taster'. Also you do see authors offering their novels for free as part of promo.

    I'm not an eBook fan yet, but if I do publish (i.e. self-publish or otherwise) I will definitely be offering my book(s) in eBook format.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Hi Lynda,

    I agree with you, if I'd want free copies of my book floating around, I'd want to know that I offered them and all are correct to my knowledge.

    But with ebooks, we can never be sure.

  14. I shake my head sadly at the thought of piracy. Yet it's going to happen. I can see the point it might be a good thing, but to smaller presses and independent writers, it could make a bigger difference. I agree with you about the loss of control bit, though.

  15. It's just like with any form of entertainment in the entertainment industry -- piracy is going to exist whether we like it or not. Piracy was the death of companies such as Napster, but there is plenty of pirated music out there. Same goes for movies. Look how many end up for sale online the day after they've come out in theaters. It doesn't surprise me that the same is happening with ebooks. Doesn't mean it's not sad, though. If there's a quick buck to be made off of someone else's hard work, it will happen!

  16. I think that writers work hard for their product, and in an industry where so little of the profit actually flows to the writer, it saddens me that people pirate books to save a few bucks. More effort needs to go into educating people not in our industry so they understand that authors are not millionaires who can shrug off a few thousand lost sales--in fact few ever even earn out advances (although this changes with the e-market).

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  17. My biggest beef with piracy (in every format, not just ebooks) is that people generally don't know when to stop, and before they know it they have a library's worth of pirated material. As you said, some have benefited from pirate copies of their work being distributed, but I think that generally it does more harm than good. Authors have to eat, and piracy damages their livelihood.

  18. I think it's all relative. In the sale of any creative medium, we need to accept the meaner side of humanity. Everyone wants something for nothing, if not that, then for as cheaply as possible. It happens with music, movies, gaming, and writing. Once we put it out there, its in the hands of 'The Gods' so to speak. Some will pay the full price and share with friends. Some will copy and sell it themselves. It is wrong on any level and infuriating. But it will go on. Esp now with digital. But libraries loan books and so prevent new purchases/sales - are they wrong? Secondhand book shops sell titles without direct authority from the authors, are they wrong. Pirate are NOT libraries or second hand book shop owners, because they copy it and sell it on, I realise, but the out come is the same. It all cuts into sales figures.

    There's little we can do unfortunately - this protection you speak of sounds great, though there is software which converts e-book to all formats. I use it to convert PDF into Mobi for Kindle. So this will stop this from happening? Like a kind of lock. Sounds like one if not the answer. :D

    Interesting article. Shah .X

  19. This is a problem that will not go away. In foregin countries its nearly impossible to stop. Its just something we have to live with and try to manage the best we can.

  20. ooo, this is a great topic, and a valid concern for authors. Especially those doing it solo! DRM is very good, and I guess it's included when you self-pub w/like Amazon? I wouldn't know... Thanks, Lynda! :o)

  21. While I do believe that piracy is a valid concern, I have to lean a little more towards agreeing with Karen. Music and movies are pirated all the time. It doesn't make it right, not at all. But you don't see music artists or movie studios going out of business over it. It happens, and there are precautions that can be taken, but that's about it.

    But, like Karen said, I've often handed books on to others or picked up some at used books store. The author receives no money from that, but I still receive their works.

  22. I didnt even know piracy was a problem! Where have I been? Stuck in Nano? Maybe. Thanks for the perspective. Btw, I love Australia. I played semi-pro tennis up the coast from Melbourne to Sydney back in the day. Best time of my life. Crab sticks and VB...I love you!

  23. Piracy is a real shame and I'm glad there's some form of protection out there. Now that I finally bought a Kindle I'm counting on the growth of ebooks to keep me happy. :)

  24. I think that no matter how hard you try, there's no way to make the problem not exist. Yes, if someone got a free copy, I'd rather it be from better means. BUT, I think I'll take Neil Gaiman's stance. It's the one that keeps me happier. :)

  25. Carol, oh yes, people reading free or pirated versions of an author's book only becomes 'benefitial' to the author if that author has other books to entice the reader to buy.

    Nahno, I think we are very much in the transition stage where everyone is getting used to the new tech and making necessary adjustments.

    Dezzy, no worries :) Yes, Australia has many availability issues as well. A lot just isn't available ehre or we have to wait MONTHS longer for movies to be released. When the world is so small and connected, this becomes painful (as you know)

    Nick, piracy for debut authors is devastating, I think. Many libraries are taking up lending ebooks, but some publishers are resisting even that. In Australia some of the big names in publishing have refused to provide ebooks to libraries.

  26. Mohamed, haha yes, that's one way of looking at it--as a compliment if somone thought your book was worth pirating.

    Alex, ah, I wasn't aware of that. I asked my hubby and he said it comes mainly from the countries which don't get the media feeds and don't have piracy laws. Interesting.

    tfwalsh, I agree.

    Karen, With sharing a print book, there is only one copy being handed around. With sharing pirated copies, there's multiple copies being handed around it eliminates the desire to buy your own copy.

    Old Kitty, yes, that's why I like the DRM tech.

    Trisha, yes, that way you also have control over your creations.

    Nas, The DRM tech definitely helps and it brings a peace of mind.

  27. You made a lot a great points. I still haven't jumped on the eBook bandwagon yet. And it's not because I'm an old broad. Well, maybe it is. I have a hard time reading on my electronic devices. It hurts my eyes. But I still love the feel and smell of a hard copy. As for publishing, well, I'd give it go with my own stuff. I'd even give my work away for free if I thought it would build a following. I do want people to read my work. But like you said, I want to give it away myself. I don't like the idea of people thinking they can steal it from me and get away with it.

  28. Christine, absolutely. It would affect small presses and independant writers in a big way.

    Mary, so, so true.

    Angela, yes! That's a common misconception that all authors are millionaires and thus can afford the effects of piracy. If only! ;)

    Jamie, I guess I live a sheltered life, but I remember talking to some teens recently and they spoke about piracy as a normal part of life. It's more common than I thought. Scary.

    Shah, libraries also pay for the books they lend out and have a limit number they lend to before they need to pay again and authors do gain from that. Also, I'm not exactly sure how the DRM works but from what I've read it does prevent copying and conversions which is great.

    Stephen, agreed

    Leigh, If you self-pub and place a book on Amazon, then no, it's not included. If you publish with Amazon, I don't know if they provide DRM. I know many companies don't offer it because it used to be too complex and expensive to include.

  29. Caitlin, yes, the music industry has often been compared with the publishing industry as a guideline for where the problem will lead. I recently read a fab article about it on the The Shatzkin Files. Might be worth popping over for a read.

    Jessie, haha NaNo has that effect ;) Oh wow, Pro Tennis! lol at crab sticks and VB.

    Laila, oh kindles are WONDERFUL!!! Hope you fall in love with yours.

    Peggy, I like your take on it. It's definitely a problem that can't be eliminasted. It's a choice on how we deal with it.

    Nancy, You might have better luck with reading devices that have that awesome ink technology. No sore eyes or glaring screens.

  30. Go figure that piracy can actually be a good thing. It's always good to look on the bright side! : )

  31. Great topic, Lynda! It was really interesting to read everyone's take on the matter. Personally, I think I'm with you on this one. :)

  32. Super post, Lynda! I don't have an ereader. My daughter downloads some books on her iphone though. I set up an account for her. She prefers paper books though. I wonder if itunes has a problem with piracy or if they have a way to stop it that could be used for ebooks????

  33. The owner of the copyright should decide whether the book or a portion of it is distributed for free. Period. The owner then decides whether to hold onto it with strong hands, to sell it for 99 cents, to show the first thirty pages for free, etc. The owner takes the risks for these decisions. I don't want someone else who does not have to live with the results choosing the risks for me.

  34. Hey, I awarded you a blog award! Stop by and check it out!

  35. It hasn't been until recently that I have given this any thought. I don't use ebooks so that might be why but my daughter does and was excited that Amazon Gold lets her borrow books for free every month and it made me wonder if those authors were protected.

  36. You know, I've never thought of that, but I can see where it would be a real concern. I certainly wouldn't want my books pirated, if I had any e-books out there. I think it's interesting that there are some books you won't read if they're not in e-book format. I'm still in love with my print books, and haven't bought an e-reader yet. I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

  37. I feel bad when books get pirated, but you've made some good points about it. I don't know a lot about ebooks yet, so this is good information to have. I'm sure once I finally get an ereader I will become more knowledgeable about this stuff. Glad you shared.

  38. I have just started reading ebooks, they are the ones I have won on many blogs. I dislike the word piracy and would hate to do that to another writer. I am not very familiar with ebooks.

  39. I agree with you; if there were going to have free copies of my work, then I'd want to be the one with control over them.

  40. Emily, dtaying positive is key :)

    Carrie, the range of different opinions has been wonderful.

    Sharon, I know the music industry is rife with piracy, but I don't know how effective their measures to stop it has been.

    Mark, well said.

    S. L. Hennessy, thank you so much for the award!

    Terri, yes, it's a worry isn't it.

    Susan, yep, I find paper books clunky now and they take up a lot of storage space too. There is still the rare book where I want a hard copy and I prefer non-fiction reference type books in hard copy as well because it's easier to flip through the pages. Otherwise it's ebooks all the way.

    Leigh, soon ebooks will become as common as cameras in phones.

    Rachna, your familiarity with ebooks will change fast enough ;)

    Golden, loss of that kind of control is a terrible thing.

  41. I read ebooks but I'm not very up with the play on piracy. Some interesting comments. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  42. I know it might be controversial but like Dezi says, in many countries they wouldn't get to read, listen or see if there wasn't such a thing as piracy. Being a bleeding heart, I don't begrudge them.

    At the e-book boot camp, I learned that DRM is not very successful in stopping piracy and many authors don't demand it any more. Many of them see it as a way of getting their name/work even better known. We are living in the age of digital piracy. We have to get used to it.

    Postscript: One DRM company spent 5 years perfecting their software so it couldn't be pirated.It took hackers 24 hours to break the code.


  43. Oh and in my Afghanistan research I learned (among millions of other disturbing things) that yes they only get to watch pirated videos and stores openly sell pirated as they have no other kind. These videos are often as terrible as someone illegally copying by going to the movies somewhere and videoing on their phone. Great quality huh, but otherwise, nada!

  44. Control is the trick, isn’t it? The truth is, once you put it out there you can’t maintain control. Not that it’s always right, or fair, or whatever epithet you give it. But it’s true: once you let it out into the world you lose control.

    So do we throw our hands up in despair? Do we buckle down and make DRM and copyright laws even more draconian? Do we turn it all loose like the bands Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, who release their albums on a “pay whatever you like” zero-copy-protected creative commons open license?

    I suppose one thing to realize is that control is the old-model method for dealing with copy protection. The problem in the digital age is that any form of copyright control is like a game of whack-a-mole.

    Copyright control also has a subtle negative effect, fomenting an antipathy between customer and content provider—comparable to the effect that censorship has on nations (i.e. in the same way that censorship creates more fervent curiosity and subversion, copyright control, such as DRM, encourages more circumnavigation and antagonism)

    The new model is that of, say, iTunes: Make the legitimate avenue of acquiring the product so easy, simple, so ubiquitous and NORMAL, that piracy is relegated to the outer fringes.

    As several commenters have pointed out, piracy flourishes where legitimate copies are unavailable. Sadly there are some antiquated and despotic copyright/licensing laws to thank for that service gap.

    Content providers have also begun providing value-added content which can’t be replicated (special packaging, author extras, personalized content, etc, etc) as a means of de-legitimizing illegal content providers.

    So in the new model, reliable and value-added content delivery mitigates piracy more effectively than methods of copy control.

    Of course, I assume we’re talking about true piracy here, and not just “free” or non-commercial-yet-out-of-copyright distribution.

    boy... that was a long comment! sorry!

  45. I love my kindle and I definitely buy more books than I did before now I have it -- but with the rise of e-readers the piracy issue has become such a hot one. I've seen examples (with calculations supplied) showing authors losing more than their yearly income via pirating. Sure, not everybody who pirated the book would have bought it, but it's still a huge loss, and in a job where there are such misconceptions about what authors earn!

  46. This piracy issue is fiery hot and it reminds me of what the music industry has been through. I know a lot of teens who use free sites to download music and I shudder when I think that this might happen to the same extent with books. Yet, what to do?
    Great post and great comments!

  47. It's such an interesting one. It can make or break an artist/author I guess and it probably depends on how popular it becomes. As more people share stuff and like it the more they'll want to read/hear more.

  48. I don't like to make a habit of supporting illegal activities, but I see Gaiman's point. I remember reading an article about an author who, against the wishes and without the knowledge of his publisher, made his book available for free over the internet. He got some flack for it, but it helped his publicity and sales tremendously.

  49. 'Personally I think the problem with piracy is the loss of control.'

    What isn't?

  50. Denise, interesting what you said about DRM not being very successful and I kinda feel sorry for that company spending five years to perfect it only to have it hacked in 24 hours. I think hackers look at companies like that as a challenge.

    Mason, never apologise for a long comment :) I think itunes did a great thing for the music industry. It may have even saved it. I think part of itunes appeal is that individual songs can be purchased at a nominal price. It's harder with books to do a similar thing, although this has begun with the ease of purchasing books directly from ereaders. I think it's also why many authors sell their debut ebooks for only 99c.

    Amie, yes, it's best not to do those calculations. It hurts too much. I do wonder what percent of those who would read pirated copy, would have bought the copy if piracy wasn't available.

    Cynthia, it definitely IS happening already. It seems there isn't a lot we can do.

    Madeleine, word of mouth is our best marketing's just a shame a lot of it comes via copies that were read through pirated copies.

    Jasmine, wow, brave author. SOunds like a massive risk to take doing something against a publisher's wishes.

    Suze, true.

  51. I wouldn't pirate someone's book, but I've also heard that pirating can help sales.

    I heard the DRM locks users into one vender though. They can't then take that file and use it on another device. Which I think is a problem ... can make certain distributors even bigger than they already are.

  52. Honestly,Lynda, I think all things do work out for the good! We might not feel that way initially, however there is a lesson to be learned in all things; in that sence - it really does work out for the good!

    Like piracy - working out for the writer; it seemed like a negative however in the end it was a plus.

    Life is like that. You have black market, etc and even though it have its drawbacks - it serves the purpose that it does. So thats my take on the issue.

  53. These days, piracy is a real issue, because lots of people download every kind of stuff from the Internet, even e-books, which are quite inexpensive. I must admit that I like to read this way, but I download only from all you can books, because they are free. Of course, some applications, programs are expensive to buy them and it's much simple to pirate them unfortunately.

  54. M Pax, yes, often one solution will cause other problems so it comes down to which is the biggest problem.

    Betty, life is definitely like that. It all depends on perspective.

    Diana, yes, I think the trick is to make things more simple and affordable.


I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.