There be Pirates!

The Millions posted an interview with a book pirate on January 25,2010. The interview leads off with a criticism of the Attributor study that states pirated e-books may costs the market nearly $3 billion dollars,* while The Millions questions this value, they do point our that the study did identify 3.2 million downloaded books. C Max Magee set out to find one of these pirates and found a willing interviewee with The Real Caterpillar. The interview is an eye-opening account of what happens when book-lovers start sharing texts through torrents and the reasoning behind their decisions.

The most important thing for publishers is the last question in the interview:

TM (the Millions): What changes in the e-book industry would inspire you to stop participating in e-book file sharing?

TRC (The Real Caterpillar): This is a tough question. I guess if every book was available in electronic format with no DRM for reasonable prices ($10 max for new/bestseller/omnibus, scaling downwards for popularity and value) it just wouldn’t be worth the time, effort, and risk to find, download, convert and load the book when the same thing could be accomplished with a single click on your Kindle.(emphasis added) Even in this situation, I would probably still grab a book if I stumbled across the file and thought it might interest me – or if I wanted to check it out before buying a paper copy....

Perhaps if readers were more confident that the majority of the money went to the author, people would feel more guilty about depriving the author of payment. I think most of the filesharing community feels that the record industry is a vestigal organ that will slowly fall off and die – I don’t know to what extent that feeling would extend to publishing houses since they are to some extent a different animal. In the end, I think that regular people will never feel very guilty “stealing” from a faceless corporation, or to a lesser extent, a multi-millionaire like King.

Sidestepping the ethical holes in the argument since the interviewee is well aware that his defense is faulty, it's important to point out that this person finds spending several hours to scan and proof text before uploading it to a site is easier than dealing with the DRM and business model publishers have constructed for the distribution of e-books. Publishers need to keep this in mind when they talk about e-book piracy as there's no financial gain for these people just financial loss for the industry.

*The report does not give a time frame for this cost nor is it exactly clear what prices they used to achieve this value. For example one of their most pirated books in the science category is Molecular Biology of the Cell which has a hardcover list price of $152.00, a paperback of $97.73 and no e-book price. Which price was used and is that price different from the one used for books that have an e-book available? More transparency on their methodology would be helpful if we are to trust their conclusions from their report.

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