Publishers Getting The Wrong Message Over eBook Piracy

from the going-in-the-wrong-direction dept

Well, you just knew this was going to happen eventually. Suddenly publishers are starting to freak out over “ebook piracy,” claiming (totally inaccurately) that they’ve lost $600 million to it. Of course, as some are noting the real problem isn’t “piracy” but the industry’s response to it:

The best way to fight piracy? Got e-book shoppers accustomed to buying from legitimate sources before it’s too late. That means easy downloading, fair prices and the ability to move content easily from machine to machine within a household. Use of the standard ePub format and the end of traditional DRM could go a long way in that regard.

Instead, they’re likely to go in the other direction (they always do) and try to raise the DRM walls higher in a futile effort to “fight” piracy. Of course, as we discussed nearly a year ago, the ebook industry could really use more piracy, because it’s actually a great indicator of what people really want. And, of course, locking up content with more DRM will only serve to take away value. If there’s growing piracy, that just means the industry is putting up unreasonable barriers. Hopefully publishers realize this before totally screwing things up, but somehow it seems likely they’ll make all the same mistakes as the music industry.

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Comments on “Publishers Getting The Wrong Message Over eBook Piracy”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Can this be categorized as piracy, or is the eBook market simply growing?

Sounds like another business model failing to meet the needs of it’s customers. In response to this “Piracy” (read: inability to expand their business model) please consider the following research report from Flurry, a mobile application research firm. In October, Flurry reported that iPhone/iPod Touch eBook apps are growing. In fact, October’s numbers show more BOOKS were released than GAMES. When the overall market grows, the attention to making money in that market will grow as well.

Full report here:

Point is, it seems some publishers may be behind and lack in-house expertise to deliver books in a profitable way. Will they cater to their customers or attempt to quash the customer-driven market with weasel words like “piracy”? “Piracy” in all reality, is just industry-speak for “We don’t know how to make money on that.”

Bob V (profile) says:

I’ve been reading both fiction and non fiction ebooks for about 10 years now. initially most of the fiction books were books that people had scanned and OCR’d. The quality sucked of course but that was the only thing available.

A few years ago there was a larger selection of books out there through legitimate channels but I think many authors and publishers viewed ebooks as a waste of resources to provde but things were definitely changing. The downside was there were many formats some of which were not compatible. DRM was always in the the legitimate channels.

Now we come to today and there is a single format which seems to be the prefered standard for ebooks (Epub). It does have drm but now i can take my book between my various devices with almost no thought.

As a consumer I want to get the books I want to read and I want to be able to read on whichever device I happen to have handy at the time. While I completely agree DRM can be a pain in the ass and for the majority of applications it is a waste of time and resources, in this case it seems like DRM is being done right. I can’t distinguish between a DRM ebook i just bought and a DRM-free ebook.

ilia (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Take a look at:


“The bottom line is that, yes, for all purposes at the consumer level, Adobe-DRMed ePub is a proprietary format. If Adobe wants to raise the price of its DRM or pull other tricks, will anything get in the way? Maybe. But if so, where’s the public assurance that Adobe won’t pull fast ones in the future, especially against Amazon/Stanza? Anything promised legally? Or just informal statements to the press?”

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually there is already a problem. Right now you have two big formats competing… Adobe’s EPub and “Amazon’s” Mobipocket. Both have DRM, but Amazon’s license stipulates that you can’t have Mobipocket DRM on your device next to any other DRM.
So you can only have a EPub Reader or a Mobipocket ereader device.
Right now I have a Bebook ereader with a firmware version that supports .mobi pocket, but most ebook providers in my country prefer .epub. And there is a firmware version available that supports .epub, but that strips the mobipocket drm support from the device.
The problem is that I already have books in DRM’ed .mobi format.
Of course I could alternate between firmwares, but that’s like juggling with fire, something is bound to break at some time.
Or I could somehow circumvent the DRM on those mobipocket books and possibly violate a law or two. Not sure which is worse, the piracy of downloaders or this kind of sellers piracy.

Consumers can never win format wars.

Karen in Wichita says:


My mother likes audiobooks. But her first experience with non-CD ones was via the public library, and Overdrive. Typically, she’d fight the DRM and manage to finally get the thing properly onto her device about 24 hours before it expired. And she’s pretty tech-savvy for her age.

Eventually, we developed a system: she’d check out a book from the library or buy one online, and let us know. We’d then get online and get her a version with DRM removed so she could actually listen to the thing she’d reserved or paid for.

Someone with fewer technical resources would just give up. Someone with fewer scruples would skip the paying-for-it step. Either way, those are lost customers. I can’t imagine piracy causing more losses than that.

sehlat (profile) says:

Baen: Doing It Right For a Decade

If the book publishers go the “raise the barricades” route, the result will be entirely predictable: they’ll be just as loved, honored and respected by their customers as the music and movie industries. [pause for sarcastic laughter]

I discovered Baen Books and their eBook side in early 2000, and promptly bought their backlist from the beginning and onward. In the years since, I’ve bought entire years from them in advance, back when that was possible, and automatically pre-order every new month as it becomes available.

The ease and convenience of downloading the books and stuffing them into my Palm got me back into reading science fiction (and other eBooks) after a drought of several years. It’s gotten to the point where I regularly have anywhere between five and seven full-length novels in my PDA, along with the occasional magazine or short story purchased from Fictionwise.

But I get only open formats. By open, I mean that either there is no DRM, or there are can openers available. Today’s On the Fastrack cartoon, from the great Bill Holbrook, shows why.

DRM means that I must trust the publishers always (for a value of always greater than or equal to my lifespan) to have the materials I have nominally purchased to be available for re-download/replacement in case I have a systems failure. That trust is simply not possible, as the Fictionwise versus lightsource disaster of a couple of years ago proved. There are “purchased” DRM-infested books that still haven’t been replaced with accessible copies.

I hope the publishers will follow the Baen model of fair dealing with the customers and zero-DRM before they find their customers have quit buying jewels packaged in DRM crap.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Baen: Doing It Right For a Decade

Oddly enought I buy my e-books almost exclusively from Baen these days. They seem to understand the market and treat me with trust and respect. Their prices are reasonable, the offer sample chapters off all currently available books, and the offer the books in multiple formats with no DRM.

I refuse to buy books infected with DRM, even if the DRM is trivial to crack. Buying DRMed books send the message that it is OK to try to lock the book away and treat legitimate customers as thieves. The last set of books I bought on paper were purchased becasue there were no DRM free e-book versions available. It cost me a little extra but it supported the author and my local gaming store.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Who is the pirate

Its worse than that. To give an example, “Kushiel’s Avatar” has a “regular” price of $20.95 for a DRM-infested eBook. The paperback’s been out for years and Amazon lists it as $7.99.

yeah, and?

all the publishers, even the cool ones like tor and baen, would rather we STFU and buy hard copies, just like the rcording industry would really like us to stop all this internet nonsense and go back to buying CD’s.

sehlat (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Who is the pirate

1. Tor isn’t cool. They’re owned by some bunch of German pakhtash who wish the rest of us would sit down, STFU, and shovel money into buying tons of paper.

2. Baen IS cool and pays attention to their user base. They started offering electronic Advance Reader Copies a while back, and have done well there. Do I buy the treeware from them? Hell yes, and with a lot more enthusiasm than you can drag out of me for Tor or any other clueless publisher.

Nate (profile) says:

Re: Time for authors to get creative...

Ooh ooh pick me!!! Actually, that would be a pretty interesting reason to buy a book. Have the contest and then don’t publicly release the winner’s name, just sell the info in the book. I’m sure it would get leaked, and the idea I guess in hindsight isn’t perfect but an idea at the very least…

Jon Renaut (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Time for authors to get creative...

I already left a comment at your blog, but in the interest of shameless self-promotion, I’ll mention it here, too. Check out (or click my name), launching very soon. We’re helping authors do exactly what you describe in your blog post. Posts and conversations like this one here at Techdirt were a big part of the inspiration for the site.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Time for authors to get creative...

“I do have two questions for you: Who does your hair, and why do they hate you so much?”

I have two answers for you, sir: the ladies at Hair Cuttery and probably because I said something inappropriate to them.

But the bigger question is: Did you send me a friend request? 😉

TasMot says:

The Problem with E-Books


I am an avid reader. I have hundreds of books in my basement that I bought over the years (travel for work and spends hundreds of hours per year on planes – reading). I am constantly reminded of them because myu wife wants me to get rid of them. When I do, I can sell them. They don’t go away when the batteries die, they don’t go away when a hard-disk crashes, and they are mine. I can give them away, sell them, donate them, or just recycle them.

If I buy an e-book, it can go away before I am even finished (This has been pointed out here on TechDirt). Now that I have these books in my basement, they need a court order to take them away.

As far as making e-books a value, once it is written, the “cost” of a book is what the author wants to get per copy (or at least what the publisher will give them), promotion (people need to know about it before they will “want” it, and the cost of production and distribution. Well, with the Internet, the cost of distribution goes way way down and production is now the cost of editing and formatting. There is no paper, trucks, brick and mortar stores, stocking shelves, or returns for damaged copies. It is now just the cost of a web server and bandwidth. Yet, they are pricing the e-books at a higher price than the print copy and can take it back at any time. No, I think I will stick with the print versions for now. The printed book doesn’t need batteries and I can save it for 10 years and use it again and it is just as good as new.


Blatant Coward (profile) says:

Re: The Problem with E-Books

Bellhop theft.
Divorce settlement.
Spilled eggnog latte.
Rex the wonder puppy teething.
Grandchildren making paper mache.
Dropped behind the bed in Saskatchewan.

I can redownload a book from Baen or use a CD I made, your 10 year old book is out of print. No method is perfect, but I can have redundancies.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Wicked cool, history repeats itself ....

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” ….

The industries of Music, Movies, TV Shows, and books will all follow the same path. That path is, protect their content, protect their profits, and stop piracy at any cost.

The music industry began with DRM which would only work on specific platforms, and pissed off consumers who turned to piracy. They then tried to threaten and scare everyone into doing things their way with lawsuits. As new models began being developed and implemented they began quashing them with, lawsuits, and finacial profit sharing deals set up to cause the partner companies to fail. Everything they did made it more difficult for people to legitimately download music. They offered nothing to replace what they were destroying with the exception of i-Tunes, and raised the prices there. Then the education campain began, “think about the artists whose livelyhood you are destroying”, “copyright infringement is theft”, “let your middle school students do these exercises”, etc. And lastly the need to get the governments to intervene to protect their businesses by passing laws like ACTA, UK’s Digital Economy Bill, french three strikes law, south korea’s new IP laws.

Now enter the e-book publishers 10 years later, they begin with DRM, next there are the threats and lawsuits, then …. nothing …. the worlds internet has adapted. people are truely anonymous. internet connections can’t be spied on because all communications apps now contain the ability to plug in encryption of your choice. video and audio compression techology gets better so the files are much smaller. The official numbers for piracy go down because no one can tell what people are doing online. The only people that get caught file sharing are newbies who start using encryption after their first warning letter. People have 500 tByte hard drives and store pretty much everything they have ever watched or listened to.

The e-book publisher got there late and began following the same path that the music, movie, and TV industries had followed. But technology out ran the attempts by the media industry to legislate knowledge and information.

Looking back on this era financial historians will have 20/20 hindsight telling students how the customer is always right and the e-book industry was destroyed by the recording industries inability, unwillingness to adapt, and never ending greed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Best way to beat piracy

I still think the best way to beat ebook piracy is to sell them for a dollar for a typical book. 50 cents goes to the author, 50 cents is for the cost of editing, publishing, distributing,etc. Publicity cost is paid by the side that wants it.

Some people would still pirate the book, but a lot of people would pay a reasonable cost for a legitimate copy.

sehlat (profile) says:

Re: Best way to beat piracy

I’m afraid you haven’t thought the matter through. While the direct cost of “one more electronic copy” is effectively zero, getting to that copy is not.

Consider an author’s time and effort creating the book.

Let’s take a book I’m reading in my PDA. It’s 82 thousand words. One full-time writer has publicly said he gets about a thousand words a day of usable copy. That means a minimum of 80 days to write the book, possibly more. Call it three months to keep things simple. That’s a quarter of a year just to write the book (while eating hot food, sleeping indoors, paying for electricity for the computer etc. etc.)

If an author gets 50 cents per sale of an eBook, he/she would need, in order to live at middle-class median income of $50,000/year, for each of those two books to sell 50,000 copies.

The *average* new book in the United States sells about 500 copies.

And it gets better. Books NEED editors and proofreaders. Writers (like everybody else) have blind spots, miss things in their own writing, or simply need friendly criticism and comment. Nor have I forgotten a book which got to first-pass proofreading stage with a continuity error so glaring that I almost dropped my teeth when I got to it.

And editors, if they work full time, need and deserve to make money from sales of the book. Proofreaders earn their keep, too, as they catch errors that the writer and copyeditor missed. A cold reading of a 400-page book can run about $140 for a first-pass reading, and that’s a lowball estimate for a part-time worker who does NOT make his primary income from the work.

Distribution costs are nowhere near everything, which is why I never whimper about paying *paperback* prices for an eBook, while objecting violently to buying DRM-infested books at hardcover prices.

Distribution says:


costs almost nothing for bit torrent just the 1st UPLOAD
so why if i am paying for the distribution should you be entitled to 1$ per ebook
how about 10 cents or 5cents
times 1 million thats a lot more then anyone will ever make in most life times, also keeps you wanting to make more books

remember an ebooks space is like what 1 meg for text max and about 100 meg for BIG huge multi imaged dungeons and dragons style books that kids play for a bit then do not use again.
see what WOTC wants per ebook or book its sick
and how about the cost of printing ink if i want to put one of the images onto my wall cause the artist is cool
SICK the cost has not gone down in 20 years

cass says:

how is this surprising?

well if they don’t make a move to protect existing assets and reduce forecast profit loss in future, isn’t it reasonable that publishers would make investors and other boards or whatever they have as officiating bodies nervous?

I will admit I am willing to invest a lot in my fictional ebook collection – it’s just too easy to get them on my blackberry and read them on the go or in a waiting room. but I don’t care what anyone says, I refuse to pay the same price for a stream of electro code or whatever it is, as I would for a physical text. They need to axe the prices and stop bitching about ‘losses’ because if you like the book that damn much, you’re bound to buy a hard copy of it.

(besides, text books and academic works are crap to read ebook wise – and they’re the most expensive on the market!)

pudlv says:

Totally agree with that

Priacy is just a phenomenone. What the publishers just cannot make wise use of this phenomenone like the IT companies do. Why do people download e-copies? They may think it is a kind of “Try out”. Free downloading and youtube does that brilliant job, free downloads that can be converted and compatable to different devices is really cool advertising tool. Those publishers and the entreprenuers in the music industry who think DRM is best of the best should drop their nonsense claims and start shifting their business mode. Afterall, it is NOT ONLY for the benefits of the company, they should focus more on the needs of the public.

wvhillbilly (profile) says:

ebook publisher's stupidity

Same old same old. They’re so paranoid that someone might get some benefit without their getting a big chunk of money for something they produced. So they sue the pants of of anyone they catch downloading their book from anybody but themselves, load it up with so much DRM people are driven to illegal sources to get a usable product, and so run all their potential customers off.

Maybe they should try a new business model like the indie movie company who released their movie “Nasty Old People” to Pirate Bay for free download under a CC license, and provided buttons where viewers could contribute if they liked it. Or they could put something like this on the button, “Send us $10 and this ebook is legally yours,” and encourage them to send it on to others. Some might take it for free, but the more circulation they get the more contributions they get, and with others doing all the work!

God’s laws haven’t changed. You still reap whatever you sow.

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