An Open Letter To Scott Turow About Not Freaking Out About Book 'Piracy'

from the you're-doing-it-wrong dept

We recently noted that author Scott Turow had been elected as President of the Authors Guild, where his initial focus seemed to be all about the evils of file sharing. Thankfully, some are trying to talk some sense into Turow. Michael Scott points us to a fantastic open letter to Turow, from Brian O’Leary, about why his kneejerk reaction isn’t helping, and that he should be focused on understanding unauthorized file sharing, and what impacts it has (both good and bad), before jumping to the conclusion that it’s evil and must be stopped at all costs. Here’s just an excerpt, though you should read the whole thing:

First, though: I am not a pirate.  I value intellectual property and believe its prudent defense can return value to its creators.  But I’ve also come to believe, in this increasingly digital landscape, that the greater threat to many authors is obscurity, not piracy.


That’s why we started studying the impact of piracy on paid sales almost two years ago.  On an admittedly limited sample… we’ve found an apparent correlation between piracy and subsequent growth in paid sales.

Now, you recently told GalleyCat’s Jason Boog that “…the larger problem for us is the pirating of books“.  I ask, simply, “How do you know?”

There are no reliable studies of the impact of piracy in the book business.  Because our sample set is limited, I include our own work to date in that bucket.  The studies that are cited most often are based on sampling techniques that try to track the instance of piracy, then apply an assumed number for “substitution rates” (lost sales).

The Government Accounting Office recently “assessed the assessments” of digital piracy and found them all lacking.  That’s not the final word, but it’s an indication that conclusions drawn on the limited data available are premature, at least.

In talking with GalleyCat, you went on to say that “(piracy) has killed large parts of the music industry.” But, the music industry is not dead, and there are studies that suggest that the more likely shift in buying patterns occurred when vinyl owners finished replacing treasured albums with CDs.

As replacement sales declined, purchase patterns also shifted from whole albums to individual songs.  This was a trend that the music industry actively resisted, in the end fostering the piracy it wanted to prevent.  The lesson here could be more readily distilled as: “Don’t take actions (like delaying the release of e-books) that frustrate consumer demand.”

There’s much more in the full letter, and it’s well worth the read. O’Leary suggests not that Turow ignores the issue, but that he takes a more open-minded, data- and evidence-driven approach to responding to this market issue. That is, don’t immediately assume the best response is “stopping” unauthorized copies, but collect some data to figure out how to best respond to the market situation. Hopefully Turow will actually pay attention and maybe rethink his position.

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Comments on “An Open Letter To Scott Turow About Not Freaking Out About Book 'Piracy'”

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Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“But I do believe there is room for both, it’s just one of those entities is being slightly unreasonable in the 21st century.”

They declared war on the consumer, freedom, and society at large. There are 7 billion of us and about 50,000 of them, its a loosing battle for them. Personally I dont think it is a war we are facing but and ever expanding rebellion, there isnt room for both.

re·bel·lion (r-blyn)
1. Open, armed, and organized resistance to a constituted government.
2. An act or a show of defiance toward an authority or established convention.
3. dissent from an accepted moral code or convention of behaviour, dress, etc.

Jay (profile) says:

I'm so glad more people are getting it

Thank you! I’m so glad that these people are out corroborating what we’ve been saying for the longest:

copyright infringement doesn’t mean we need draconian laws.

Make BUSINESS, not laws.

And now that the publishing industry is on track to compete with torrents, it seems that we’ll soon see better alternatives than what the government can make.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I'm so glad more people are getting it

The publishing industry is not on track to compete with Torrents. Nowhere near it. The price of an ebook only looks good when you compare it to a hardback, when you start looking at cost comparison to paperbacks it gets pretty grim fast. On average, I pay about 30 cents per book more for an ebook than I could buy the exact same ebook for in paperback form. Yes, there are a lot of very cheaply priced ebooks out there. But normally they are introductory ebooks only. You get a discount of a buck or two for the first book in a series making it look very good, but once you look at the rest of the series each book is priced higher than its pulp brother. So in the end, you pay more for the exact same tale.

It is very good marketing to those who don’t read a lot of books, but for those of us who do and were early adopters of the technology, its a kick in the teeth.

The Publishing Industry is actually doing a worse job than the Recording Industry did. Ebooks have been around for a lot longer than MP3s, and most people agree the current pricing and DRM free MP3 solution is pretty fair. But Publishers with several years lead time on digital distribution are just now starting to notice the digital portion of their business really exist at all.

As an early adopter btw, I only advocate ebooks for people worried about shelf space. Otherwise the price premium doesn’t make sense.

PaulT (profile) says:

Smiling softly at the fact that I have only read 2 of Turow’s books, and both of those were bought second hand. I probably won’t bother giving him any money directly, and I don’t feel bad for that.

Meanwhile, books are mostly too expensive for me to bother buying new unless they’re something special (just picked up a new copy of Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, *specifically* because it was half price – and I enjoyed the other 2). In actual fact, I’ve not bothered buying a brand new, full priced book for a long time because they’re just too expensive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

socialism is the answer. all authors write whatever, and the state pays them a flat rate every year for the rest of their life, the state mandated rate for writers. their books are then given away (why would you make anyone pay for them) at the governments expense. that would remove the requirement for copyright, for rights management, and any other issue because we the people would own it all.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

you miss the point. what they fear isnt obscurity, they fear having to have a day job. they fear having to work hard to perfect their craft and move forward. what they want to do is sacrifice the entire functional book industry, and replace it with something that allows many people to make a very few dollars, instead of a lesser number of people actually making a true living. essentially, they want to use “giving away stuff for free to avoid piracy” as some sort of social equalizer. that sort of thing is better accomplished with socialistic processes, as i outlined. why beat around the bush, they want to be equal to better known writers without having to actually do anything that merits it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

i am not tam. as for evidence, i am only taking the writers comments and extending them to their somewhat illogical conclusion. he doesnt want to work to be famous, but he would certainly sacrifice the book industry to be better known. the end results would be the same as in music. there isnt a huge increase in consumer spending, just a few more people making beer money. it is certainly worth killing an industry to do it.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“he doesnt want to work to be famous, but he would certainly sacrifice the book industry to be better known. the end results would be the same as in music.”

The same as in music? You mean more artists making more music and more money than at any other time in human history? And you think that’s “killing an industry?” You probably think bacon comes from trees too, if that’s the way your mind works.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

there will be no sales of electronic versions in the long run, without some sort of drm. otherwise, a single digital copy will be shared without limits, effectively killing the digital industry. remember, if it is freely available, it is infinite and therefore has no market price. so any business model predicated on selling into an infinite market is a failure. still waiting for mike to propose something to replace the current market that keeps writers, musicians, and film makers from working mc jobs or playing mini-putt full time.

Democracy is dead says:

im dling everything i can get my hands on

then i’m going poof
moving and the hell with it all
nothing is democratic no more

im grabbing all the dev tools i can
all the open source and non opensource i need

and if i want somehting in my future i’ll make it

law is for the rich
law is for lawyers
it no longer is just fair or represents the will of the people I shall wait for the revolution that will surely come within 20 years

I may be an old man but i have faith one day we all will live free

Bleedin' obvious says:

Too many books, but I always want more

I already buy lots of physical books that I never get around to reading. I often wonder what I would do if e-books were cheap ($1, say) and drop-dead easy to buy.

I suspect that I would buy hundreds of books that I might never get around to reading. When I found an author that I like then I know that I would immediately buy everything by that author.

Same is true of music and films. Just make it so cheap and easy to buy that you sell millions of copies on impulse purchases.

That is how the pirate sites work except that the cost is time to download and the fear of being caught. Why not simply copy that business model and put the pirates out of business by under-cutting them?

Seems blindingly obvious to me.

Jerry in Detroit (profile) says:

Unrecognized pirates

Uh, Mr. Turow,

There are all kinds of piracy and file sharing going on. For instance, here in my neighborhood, there are several libraries which buy one book them allow everyone and anyone to read that one book. The universities are even facilitating this. Their Library Science programs should be called how to commit piracy.

Then, when the original purchaser has read one of your books, they can sell the book at a used book store which will sell it to someone else, buy it back and sell it again and again until the book disintegrates or no one wants to buy it. By your measure, this is blatant piracy.

To answer this blatant theft, we need to burn down the libraries and used book stores. We also need the government to register books so that only authorized readers may possess registered books. Perhaps we should discontinue the teaching of reading in our schools. I will wait for your public support of these measures.

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