UK Consumer Ebook Sales Increase by 366%: Publishers Association Calls For Digital Piracy To Be 'Tackled'

from the pesky-facts dept

One of the beloved tropes of the copyright industries is that they are being destroyed by online piracy. Superficially, it’s a plausible claim, not least because of the false equation of copyright infringement with “theft”, and the lingering suggestion that every time something is shared online, a sale is lost. Of course, as Techdirt’s report, “The Sky is Rising“, demonstrated from publicly-available figures, the facts are very different: all of the creative industries are thriving.

Here’s news from the UK book publishing industry, where things are indeed looking pretty good given the current financial climate:

Consumer e-book sales increased by 366% to £92m [$150 million] in 2011, with sales across all digital formats accounting for 8% of the value of sales of all books, according to the Publishers Association’s Statistics Yearbook 2011, published today (1st May).

Just as significant is the following comment from the Chief Executive of the UK Publishers Association, Richard Mollet, who is quoted in the above article as saying:

“story of the year is a decline in physical sales almost being compensated for by a strong performance in digital”, with the combined sales of digital and physical books decreasing by 2% in 2011 to £3.2bn [$5.2 billion], according to PA data.

So you’d think the Publishers Association would be celebrating this resilience in the face of economic downturn, and underlining how its members are really getting the hang of this online stuff. But no:

Mollet said: “For many years now publishers have invested in digital products and services and this is being reflected in the increasingly mixed economy for books in the UK.

“However, online copyright infringement is increasingly making its presence felt for authors and publishers and that is why we continue to call on government and other stakeholders in the digital economy to work with us to do more to tackle it, and to ensure that the UK’s e-commerce performance is as strong as it can possibly be.”

Of course, no evidence is presented that the “presence” of online copyright infringement is a problem — it’s simply taken as a given, because that’s what the orthodoxy says. But here’s an alternative hypothesis: it’s because people have started sharing ebooks online and making others aware of their virtues that the market is finally taking off. Now, that may or may not be true, but there is as much evidence for it as there is for the contrary position — that is, not much.

So before the copyright industries start calling for yet more government crackdowns on copyright infringement, with ever-more disproportionate measures and a concomitant erosion of civil liberties, they might like to produce some independent, peer-reviewed research that backs up their claims about the supposed harm of online sharing. After all, if anything, these latest figures from the UK publishing industry confirm that, once again, the Sky is Rising.

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Comments on “UK Consumer Ebook Sales Increase by 366%: Publishers Association Calls For Digital Piracy To Be 'Tackled'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

we all know that ‘piracy’ is not an issue. that includes all of the various ‘entertainment industries’ including publishers, and all governments. the various industries ignore that fact because it sounds good to be able to blame someone other than the industries execs for taking too much money out of the system, leaving scant little for those that should be getting it and governments ignore the fact too because it gives them another excuse to add to the dozens of others they have dreamed up to increase citizen surveillance by introducing more and more laws that take away civil liberties of all forms. win-win result for everyone of the governments and industries, lose-lose situation for the people. fascism is well on it’s way to becoming the one political option, now instigated and enforced everywhere by the USA!

John Doe says:

He is what piracy is doing to the creative industries

The blockbuster movie “The Avengers” debuted this weekend. In one weekend in the US it made just over $200 millions. In the rest of the world it made $440 million. That is $640 million in 3 days. It might have hit a billion $$$ if it weren’t for the pirates ruining the industry.

PaulT (profile) says:

He is what piracy is doing to the creative industries

Sadly, that’s probably what they’ll try to claim. Literally, the highest opening weekend of all time isn’t enough because someone *might* have bought a ticket if only downloads weren’t available.

“That is $640 million in 3 days.”

To be fair, not quite. The film had to unusual step of having opened across Western Europe, Asia and South America a week before the US release, so that $440 million is a 10 day figure.

Anonymous Coward says:

Today a guy asked why I was collecting used paper I could find, what he saw was trash, why I saw was cellulose and when bonded together with a glue(i.e. resin) it becomes wood, which I will use to make my clean room box again, the old one is getting old so I don’t have to ever clean the computer.

What those people(publishers) see is piracy, what everybody else sees is sharing, something so fundamental it is the base of human learning, and the stupid people want to make it criminal.

I will stop pirating when I am dead and gone until then I don’t think I can say honestly I will never pirate anything, I just can’t make that kind of commitment because I know I will do it someday either without knowing or otherwise and for so many different reasons, but hey they can try, I just keep saying, “look I did it again” until the end of days.

Copying is not something that will go away, people need the damn thing to be able to function inside society, so I don’t see how anybody will stop the behavior anytime soon.

PaulT (profile) says:

“story of the year is a decline in physical sales almost being compensated for by a strong performance in digital”

This is the part I find most interesting, and it seem to corroborate what I’ve been saying all along with music sales. CD sales have never been matched by digital sales largely because of unbundling. Freed from having to buy a full album, many customers buy 2 or 3 tracks rather than the full album package. This means that even as sales rise, the overall revenue is dropping. It’s a total fallacy to blame all of these “lost sales” on piracy, and the reason why attempt to control it are doomed to failure without addressing real customer demand.

Books don’t have this problem, of course. If I decide I want to buy the new Stephen King book for my Kindle instead of hardback, I’m still paying for the same number of copies. I can’t split it and just choose the chapters I want to read, and so the number of sales remain the same.

John Doe says:

The ethics of copying

I had a thought this weekend about the ethics of copying. We are told copying is wrong. Yet at some point in the distant future, oh say life + 70 years, we can copy a work. So if copying is wrong, how does it ever become right? I mean wrong is wrong, right? So copying now, copying 28 years from now or copying life plus 70 years from now should always be wrong. Isn’t right and wrong a binary decision? Something is or is not right? If that is the case, then copying is never, every right.

So it would appear that copying isn’t wrong, it is an arbitrary decision as to when it is right or wrong being made by the government. But the government is suppose to be of the people, by the people and for the people. So if the people want to copy, why does the government get to decide what and when we can copy?


The ethics of copying

While the copyright holders lament the deterioration of morals and ethics of their customers, logic indicates that the real reason why people copy stuff is simply because they can. The reason people bought phonograph records 100 years ago or went to the theaters 80 years ago is that equipment for making records and films was expensive and difficult to use. Same with printing presses. Now, anybody can make copies. If the method exists it will be used. Had their been a cheap way to copy movies in 1930 lots of people would have collected films. When the only reason not to make a copy is “it’s evil” or “Jesus doesn’t want you to do that” or something similar, a lot of people will see through the balony and just make their copy. It’s pretty hard to feel morally bankrupt when the only one denouncing you is an arrogant, nasty, rich guy, a corrupt government shill or a faceless corporation. Many people probably feel they are getting their just deserts.

Anonymous Coward says:

but we all share books - our favourite authors were probably lent to us first

You could look at a book case as a file server and books as files. Then we all become pirates sharing books that are not ours (ours, our childrens’, our partners) that we willingly share with family and friends, denying first sale. But we know its good to share – it encourages reading and helps discovery of new authors. Share the love of reading.

Anonymous Coward says:


ah… starting from a baseline of ZERO I would hope there’s an increase in digital book sales… now, how about aggregating total units between physical and digital on a year to year?

I love the blind faith and selective reasoning and paradox of pirate logic.

hmmmm… but don’t let the facts get in the way of good spin, and fiction… the SF Gate hasn’t…

are you ready for the singularity yet? silicon valley has jumped the shark creating it’s own cult religion, nice… L Ron would be proud.

Mr Big Content says:

Laughing On The Outside, Crying On The Inside

Sure, there’s all this money rolling in from legitimate sales, but at the same time, every time someone illegally copies a book, it’s like a stab to the very soul.

Because publishers are more spiritual than you realize. They have an almost telepathic affinity with copies of their publications, and they can feel what happens to every copy, like it’s one of their own children.

So ultimately all the money is meaningless, its benefit nullified by the pain and suffering caused by all the rampant piracy. Publishers have a heart, and pirates don’t, otherwise they wouldn’t pirate.

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