Why The eBook Industry Needs More Piracy

from the push-the-market-forward dept

Bobbie Johnson, over at the Guardian, does an excellent job of explaining why ebooks really haven’t taken off yet: there’s just not enough piracy going on. With the launch of the second generation of Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader, we’re getting another round of stories about ebooks. They’ve done marginally better recently, but the Kindle is hardly making strides that match with the iPod — a device to which it’s frequently compared.

Johnson points out that (as we’ve seen elsewhere), piracy is often a leading indicator of what consumers are doing with new technologies. It’s a great way to find out what people actually want, and then you can build around that. That’s what made the iPod (and eventually iTunes) successful. But the Kindle doesn’t have that going for it. Instead of trying to dive into a new market that’s already happening, it’s trying to drag the market along — creating the space as it goes. That’s a much more difficult sell. It doesn’t mean that ebooks can’t or won’t become a much bigger deal. But it suggests that the market is quite different, and won’t develop nearly as quickly.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: amazon

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Why The eBook Industry Needs More Piracy”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Mike (profile) says:

Re: Now I know why...

…sales of the 747 and the Toyota Prius took so long to take off; lack of piracy! That also explains why integrated hydrostatic zero turn transmissions took several years to achieve break even. I knew there were valuable lessons to learn from this web site.

Hey, Lonnie. You’re usually above MLS-level misplaced sarcasm, so I’m a bit surprised by this comment.

As I’m sure you actually know — despite this comment — nowhere did anyone say that piracy was the *only* indicator of adoption. But, you know…

Furthermore, obviously (and, again, I think you know this), the Kindle is a platform — so what happens to the usage of that platform is what matters. The point Johnson is making is that the more activity of usage, the more valuable the platform is. That’s not the case with your other examples.

Usually you contribute interesting comments. This time, however…

zcat (profile) says:

Re: Re: Now I know why...

“…sales of the 747 and the Toyota Prius took so long to take off; lack of piracy! “

In both the aircraft and automotive industries one of the big concerns is the availability of spare parts for repairs. If the only source of parts is from the manufacturer they can charge ‘monopoly prices’, or may choose to stop manufacturing, effectively EOLing the aircraft or vehicle when replacements for that part can no longer be obtained. That’s a problem. If the aircraft or vehicle can be maintained using ‘commodity’ parts from a range of manufacturers you’re going to see a more reliable supply and a more competitive market for spare parts, which means long term maintenance is more viable, which makes the original aircraft or vehicle a better investment. Even if the source of those parts is ‘copying a design without licence’ or what you may choose to call pirating.

I have no idea if this is a factor in sales of the 747 or Prius, but I suspect neither do you.

In a sense the entire success of the “PC computer” is based on piracy. IBM put out a computer. Lots of Asian manufacturers ‘pirated’ it (building compatible computers through copying and reverse engineering, without licence from IBM). Without that most people agree the “IBM PC” would have been nowhere near as successful is it was.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Now I know why...

sales of the 747 and the Toyota Prius took so long to take off; lack of piracy!

God, you simply do not get it. ebooks are vastly different from printed books. It’s an entirely different market. The point of this posting is that when people are so interested in a new market that they’re pirating it, is proof that the market is viable for commercial exploit.

Neither the 747, the Prius, or the integrated hydrostatic zero turn transmission created different markets.

The 747 was simply bigger. The Prius is nothing more than an average car that happens to run on batteries. And a consumer would simply never buy an integrated hydrostatic zero turn transmission, unless it was already attached to his car. Thus, no new market was created.

Another good example of piracy leading to commercial gain is the amount of “piracy” associated with the VHS/Beta deck. The fact that people were willing to record programs and movies showed that market for people collecting TV shows existed. Thus, the home video market was created. The networks and hollywood made a fortune off of that.

Lonnie E. Holder says:

Re: Re: Now I know why...


Yes, I get it. I was trying to be funny. Yes, I missed.

However, you are a teensy bit off-based with your comments regarding at least the 747 and the integrated hydrostatic zero turn transmission.

The 747 was originally envisioned by Boeing as a “bus” that would make domestic and international flight highly economical; a mistake on Boeing’s part. The North American market never adopted the 747 for domestic flight (or not many, and many of the early transcontinental flights no longer use 747’s), opting instead for smaller aircraft and shorter flights. The domestic “bus” concept just never took off. However, the “bus” concept works in Asia. JAL (among others) has purchased quite a few all-coach 747’s for domestic and regional flights, fulfilling the market goal.

Of course, many companies bought into 747’s for intercontinental travel, but the 747 had new technology, was expensive, and big. It took a long time for the 747 to find its market, nearly sending Boeing to the bottom in the process.

As for integrated hydrostatic zero turn transmissions, there was virtually no market when Hydro-Gear developed the first one. Sales were virtually zero for the first couple of years, and then took quite a bit of time to ramp up. I think it took more than five years to reach 100K units, but in another five or six the number was in excess of 300k. The consumer turf care market takes quite a while to adopt new technology, and even with 100K unit sales it was difficult to declare the unit a raging success. It is NOW, but there was a lot of doubt. On the other hand, Hydro-Gear had the market all to itself for more than a decade because competitors had a lot of doubt as to whether a market even existed. They sure do now!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Now I know why...

In a way what u said makes sense (without sarcasm). Many people do consider costs of parts-replacement while buying a car. If the parts of a car-model are easily available, thanks to a unauthorized manufacturer (or, not from the car manufacturer), more people are going to buy it.

It is kind of co-incidence. But same thing works with planes too.

Matt says:

books are not as easily/rationally safe to download

many of the big time torrent folks don’t really care to pick up books, and since the downloads are small/surreptitious its easy to find more viruses than books, which is no fault other than the publisher in the first place. It’s well known that in the book torrent world, publishers put out virus laden downloads all over as a “deterrent”.

Space Pirate (user link) says:

eBooks are lame

I see 2 problems with Amazon/Kindle and eBooks in general.

1) eBooks aren’t compelling enough to pirate let alone pay for. Simple as that.

2) Why on earth would I want another device in my pocket. If they want me to buy/steal ebooks they’d have to behave more like mp3s and less like some sort of literary play-for-sure.

zed says:

Re: eBooks are lame

I read eBooks on my blackberry.. eBooks have several advantages to paper books.. A big one is that you don’t have to carry a book and you always have your book with you… (you can read in the dark too, which is handy…)

I don’t get dedicated readers like kindel.. Who wants to carry that thing along with ANOTHER charger and only one source for eBooks…

Ima Fish (profile) says:

it’s trying to drag the market along — creating the space as it goes

Actually, makers of ebooks are trying to create a mass market where only a niche market exists.

Right now printed books are simply better. You can get them from the library. They’re not that much more expensive. You can loan them to a friend. There’s no proprietary interface to buy. You can easily resell it when you’re done. You can prominently keep it on the shelf for all your friends to see. You can buy them used. Etc., etc., etc.

As you’ve said before, being new is not enough, it has to be new and sufficiently better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hmm Time is also a factor.

One MP3 will last 2-4 Minutes. so a pirate could go through a few 100 MP3s in a very short time frame before wanting more.

But a Book might take 1-2 Days or more depending on how fast / much they read, so that same size download that contains 100 MP3s that they go through in a few days would contain enough books to last months or even a year.

hegemon13 says:

Solution without a problem

I’ve said it before: e-books are a solution in search of a problem. There is nothing wrong with regular books. They are a perfectly designed tool for their task. They’re durable, cheap, collectible, don’t require power, are comfortable to read (much more comfortable even than e-ink), and easily portable. The only thing I can see being replaced by ebooks is textbooks, where a person feasibly needs to carry several less-than-portable books at once. But textbooks won’t be replaced on a low-res, grayscale screen.

It’s not hard to see why there is not much e-book piracy going on. It is simply not a product that many people want. E-books are just as available in torrents, etc. They aren’t downloaded often because readers are a smaller, niche market who have what is already a nearly perfect solution. I am not saying there are no advantages to a Kindle, but the cons far outweigh the pros. I’ll take a printed book any day.

Michael (profile) says:

Actually, the Kindle and other readers needs text books.

Honestly, I think the market that the Kindle is aiming at is a little too broad and that doesn’t make sense to the average consumer. Where Amazon would flourish would be to convince textbook publishers of the benefit the kindle has to them as well as students and schools. I’m not certain why this hasn’t happened yet on a larger scale but readers should, and will, become the norm for educational purposes.

I purchased an eTextbook recently and I can safely say that it’s all but useless to me. If I want to view it, I have to view it in a proprietary software package that’s linked only to internet explorer. I can only print one page at a time and that’s a serious pain in the ass because it takes so damn long to bring up a page. There’s no copy for the iPhone, certainly not the kindle. It’s only accessible online, so no downloading and viewing for offline, where I would be most likely to read the text anyhow.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the eTextbook is a dying format before it could even take off. The Kindle is the essential link to education, yet publishers are too stubborn to let go of a wasteful, overpriced, dying business model. Could the Kindle benefit from piracy? I think it could, if it meant that people would begin to realize the true benefits of the eBook and readers.

Ron (profile) says:


The Kindle and Sony’s Ebook readers lack the robustness of a net book.I actually confronted a Sony rep at a book buyers symposium on this…He had no real valid answer.

The E-Books themselves in some cases are time bombed so you are actually “renting” a book especially a textbook.

The E-book production companies better be making adjustments for the netbooks to read their warez…

The e-book reader companies had best re-think about the pricing of these,IMO, pretty much useless devices that will not even fit in your pocket.

Gyffes (profile) says:

Free eBooks

I believe the Baen Free Library has been a big success for the publisher in that it’s allowed people to ‘get into’ series they might otherwise shy away from. I know I disdained most Baen books largely b/c the cover art was so cheesy. Once I’d read a few free ones, though, I quickly bought more.

It helps that Baen’s eBook prices aren’t as rapacious as some other vendors.

As to reading on devices — the upside is I have 200+ books on my iPT and can read in bed w/o disturbing my wife (green on black background ala VT100 terminal, bee-atch!). The biggest downside is I can’t hand her the book and say, “oooh, honey, you’ll LOVE this…”

I would wager, however, that the biggest reason for the relative lack of eBook piracy is that those who tend towards eBooks are probably more likely HONEST and/or slightly better off, hence willing to pay the (nominal) cost vs the difficulty of tracking down a means of cracking MobiPocket’s irritating DRM.

Just a guess.

Another TechDirt Retard says:

Mindless Troll

Wow, so would the Kindle be likened to seeing that there is a market for drugs to be sold because there are drug users? Or maybe….I should get into the gun selling business because Murder is on the rise?

Fool. Stating you can’t effectively market a product unless there is ALREADY a market for it makes you the retard. Go back to spinning plates

Zyz says:

Wow, totally missed the mark

I was an avid reader of paper books (10000+ personal library) and then my wife bought me the sony reader. MY GOD! I carry 200 books around with me wherever I go. Reference, school books and leisure books. It’s AMAZING. And as for there not being enough piracy, not that I download ANYTHING that isn’t in the public domain, but let me assure you that if it’s in print, it can be downloaded . . . . easily. BTW, the kindle sucks. Too many features. The sony ebook reader is simple and feels like a book. When I first got it, I used to try to “turn” the pages. You forget, because the interface is perfect. Try it. You’ll never go back to paper again.

LostSailor says:

Theft Isn't the Answer

There are quite a number of reasons why eBooks have been slow to penetrate the market, but criminal activity isn’t one of them.

As some commenters have noted, the primary reason for slow eBook growth is the hardware issue. E-Ink solutions like the Sony Reader and the Kindle are the first hardware devices that make use of ambient light, which more closely reproduces the reading experience of books. They are also low-power devices, drawing battery power generally only when a page is refreshed. Content is available for other devices, even iPhone, but reading a book on iPhone is not for everyone.

That said, eBook sales have been growing steadily, and increasingly so over the last 4 years or so and is the single largest, by far, growth sector of book publishing. It’s still less than 5% of the overall market, but is nearly a $1 billion industry, hardly chicken feed.

Printed books aren’t going away anytime soon, and there is actually a lot of innovation going on, sometimes quietly, especially in academic and textbook electronic publishing.

I’d say that book publishers probably have the right idea that slower, steady growth may avoid some of the piracy pitfalls that the music and film industries are facing.

Tatsh says:

ebooks are great but the Internet is easier to parse

I love eBooks but my problem is this: can I grep (*nix) a PDF? Not very easily. Can I grep a CHM? Again not very easily. CHM viewers and PDF viewers often have a search, but it’s not as nice as being in a terminal and typing grep ‘blah’ filename and getting exactly what you need.

When I need information, I search for it. I generally do not read a guide and read all the information even if I am not going to use it. I am looking for EXACTLY what I need to do. Say in PHP, I need to know how to do something. Google it. Google’s cache is the best thus far. Yahoo and Live are so far behind.

Often, books that I have downloaded are available on-line for free anyway, and these are not grep’able really but you can search the site using Google (which I guess you can sort of call that grep’ing). Besides that, there are guides that are more helpful than books will ever be because they get right to the point of what you need to do. They often have FAQs and your question is right there.

I do download a lot of eBooks that have interesting topics and are from so-called ‘legitimate sources’ like Oxford, Harvard, etc. I often use these to cite sources in my papers hehe. And I also like to get fiction too.

Most of my reading on a computer is on the web. It is just much easier that way.

Reading on a 19″ wide-screen is not very appealing, to top it off. I do not know if a screen will ever be appealing to read off of. I guess it is something to get used to.

jme says:

Ebook piracy dynamics are important, but may not have the same seeding effect as mp3 files had on music. Right now ebook devices are far too expensive for much more than the devoted gadgeteers and readers. I don’t think you’ll get much piracy expansion while the user population is restricted to those two groups.

Mp3, and by extension the digital music market, took off because those standard files could be played w/o buying a custom device. That the iPod ate the mobile portion of that market is another story.

Amazon* will have to sell a LOT of Kindles to make its market. And as well, come to a dramatic stance regarding lower ebook pricing (not unusual for ebook titles to cost more than a new hardback edition).

Which is irritatingly uncertain, as the listener pool is probably far deeper than the reader pool.

*Sorry Sony, your eReader rocks but you are now in a book-selling war with Amazon.

Anonymous Coward says:

I actually like the kindle, but at $350 and with perhaps a 2 year expected life? I don’t spend enough annually on books to make it worthwhile. Add to that the problem with ‘first sale’ and DRM and it’s rather unattractive.

A more general purpose device with other benefits, or a more economical reader might change that, but right now the kindle sits in a a peculiar niche. The only other approach that might have a significant impact would be deeper discounts for the books, but book publishers make the music industry look downright innovative.

Michael Long (user link) says:

Easily ripped off

A couple of reasons why ebook piracy rates aren’t high…

1) Lack of readers (the electronic kind). Most don’t want to read a book on their laptop or desktop screen.

2) Ease of theft. CDs and DVDs can be easily ripped by most anyone. That 600-page Harrington novel, however, doesn’t seem to fit into that little slot on the side of my computer, thus only a dedicated few can do so.

cram says:

“…why ebooks really haven’t taken off yet: there’s just not enough piracy going on.”

E-books haven’t taken off because not enough people want to or are ready to consume books in a non-traditional manner. If piracy is low, it just shows people aren’t interested.

“…but the Kindle is hardly making strides that match with the iPod — a device to which it’s frequently compared.”

Hardly surprising. People are still more willing to pick up a book and read it than go to the trouble of buying a Kindle for the purpose. Innovators should offer what people want, not what they think people want. Perhaps people don’t want a device that can store books. It may be as simple as that.

I think it’s a big mistake to compare the two devices without understanding that books and music are consumed very differently.

Long before the iPod there were tons of other MP3 players that had established a market. It was clear this was the way to go. No e-book reader has met with such a degree of success. Kindle is trying to change things; time will tell.

“But it suggests that the market is quite different, and won’t develop nearly as quickly.”

If only more people realized it.

Twinrova says:

The Kindle Dwindle.

I know someone who has a Kindle. At first, they loved it. Now, it sits while collecting dust.

Turns out the price of ebooks she wanted to read were getting too expensive to own (she usually bought second hand). She tried finding free books interesting to her, but couldn’t.

Her final step, believe it or not, was to pirate them, only coming up with a few titles as not many provided them.

This is one of those moments in which I wish I had retained the link. A few months ago, I read a story about Kindle owners rarely firing up their device.

I can see why. It’s bad enough the device is over $300, but to charge people for a digital download? Appalling, and it screams “Applism” when it comes to marketing a product by overcharging consumers on every front.

Alas, I’m sure techies will rush out and buy the new version just to show it off, but the rest of us will wait for a cheaper and much more cost effective business model.

Books still remain cheaper, especially those in which the covers were ripped off. 😀

eMike says:

price of books

It seems to me that the price of the ebooks is still too high to create a market. If I’m going to pay $350 for a device to read books on, they should probably cost significantly less than the same book in paper.

A quick look at amazon showed that most kindle books were $9.99. I regularly pay between $10 and $15 dollars for print versions of books. Assuming that I’m paying the high end of that range, I still need to buy 70 books before it pays off.

It’s not like I have something that will (potentially) exist forever if I’m buying an ebook. It’s an infinite good that will last as long as amazon decides that their DRM servers need to be in place. I actually own a physical book. It still seems like I’m renting what I paid ten dollars for on my kindle.

Couple that with the fact that I don’t keep my technology around all that long (2 to 5 years depending on whether something better comes along or mine breaks down or whatever). Would it be easy to transfer my books to an amazon competitor (like sony) if their ebook reader is a better product? I don’t have to consider these problems with regular books. They just work and they’ll be around until I decide to sell them or give them away.

Anne (profile) says:

For me, these are the negatives of e-books and proprietary e-book reader machines:

The e-content is too expensive. Why would I pay nearly retail price for an e-book that I can’t do anything with once I’m done reading it? I can’t sell it used on Amazon or trade it for credit at my local used bookstore.

Most of the e-book readers lock up the content so tightly with DRM and copy protection that researchers and others who would buy non-fiction e-books don’t bother.

I don’t want or need another gadget in my pocket. I have a Google phone, and I would be willing to pay for e-content that I could access on my G1.

Char (user link) says:

Amazon left readers holding the book last time

This is not Amazon’s first attempt at an eBook format or reader. They did this once before, got a portion of the market using their proprietary readers, which at the time, all the books were stored by Amazon. Then they shut it all down, and people who had bought books and thought they owned them realized they were just renting them.

Amazon should open their format to ePub or something all retailers could use so consumers would have a choice. This is like Walmart only allowing cars to park in their parking lot if they have never parked at Target before.

email: contactus@contentrealtime.com

Monica Wolf says:

Re: Ebooks on IRC

Just a few things to say about the comments:

IRC e-book channels at best have a couple of hundred users and usually less than 30. That’s smaller than even Usenet. It’s not even a drop in the bucket compared to P2P.

E-books are difficult and time-consuming to create, generally a worse reading experience than a ‘real’ book and most pirated versions are filled with errors and OCR problems. Not conducive conditions for sinking the publishing industry.

There’s a small cadre of tech-types that have beating the drums for e-books for years now and at some point it will become apparent, even to them, that it’s not going to happen any time soon. The notion that every book ever published will be available somewhere for download and easily read on any device is a fantasy. It’s a niche market at best. The early adopters will happily carry their 500 books around with them on their devices. Most of the rest of us will continue to read our books the old-school way…one at a time.

Those above who have talked about a solution in search of a problem have it about right.

While I’m at it, regarding hardware, anyone spending $300+ for a dedicated reader that will soon become infested with DRM-laden files gets what they get. Better to have a laptop or netbook.

The way I see it e-books will never become a mass market thing until there’s an e-ink reader retailing at a list price at about $99 ($69-$80 discount) and no DRM. I suppose some enterprising retailer might figure out that the best way to realize a long-term profit is to GIVE the readers away for free and then make the money off the titles. However, I’m not even sure that book publishers even WANT e-books to succeed given their pricing schemes and they certainly won’t support any sort of system that gnaws away at what they perceive to be their business model.

Irritated says:

Ebook readers are essential for avid readers who just don’t have the space at home to store all those paperbacks. With the Sony ebook reader you can have unlimited storage of books via SD cards. It is very portable and very quick to charge. The battery is only used to turn pages.

And e-book piracy? I cannot believe you think there is little piracy going on out there! The ebook market is getting bigger every month and the sites that are allowing users to upload illegal copies is huge. I know of 4 main sites which had uploaded copies of bestsellers for free download in the week they were published! One book had 48000 downloads within a week of the user uploading it. You mulitply that by the cost of the book and that’s a big loss for some poor author who is just trying to earn a living.

If piracy is left to get out of hand, there will not only less ebooks for sale out but there will be less books available in the shops with authors or publishers going out of business. I don’t think the publishing business has the money behind it to survive like the music business. The Publishers will just drop any author who is not making enough money.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...