Creating Living Books: A Defense Against 'Piracy'?

from the there's-an-idea dept

Michael Scott points us to an interesting essay on piracy in the ebook space, written by Mike Shatzkin. He talks about setting up the program for the upcoming Digital Book World event, where he didn't even think that "piracy" was a topic worth discussing -- but various publishers told him that it's a big issue to them. Unfortunately, it seems that the reason it's a big issue is not because they're learning to use such things to their advantage, but because they have taken the exact wrong lessons from the music industry and have decided they need technological measures to "fight" piracy. Good luck with that.

Shatzkin, however, lays out a much more reasonable approach, picking up on what O'Reilly does with its books: no DRM, but give people a real reason to buy (there's that concept again). In this case, it's regular updates to any book you buy. So, rather than thinking about it as buying the content of the book, you can think about it as paying for a regular update on a particular topic. It becomes an ongoing service, which provides a scarce good, rather than a single transaction for content. As such, "piracy" becomes less and less of an issue, because the content you get may be quite out of date, and give you reason to pay up for real to make sure you are regularly up-to-date.

But, of course, O'Reilly publishes (wonderful and useful) technology books, where there's an obvious advantage to keeping current and up-to-date for readers of those books. The question is whether or not similar things can be done for other types of books, and Shatzkin has some ideas that are intriguing. First he quotes Tim O'Reilly in suggesting that piracy might really only impact large well-known authors who don't need the "marketing" aspect of free books (as opposed to less well-known authors, for whom "obscurity is a bigger threat than piracy"). But, then he notes that perhaps those big name authors can create a "service" of sorts that competes nicely with unauthorized file sharing as well:
But those authors are also the ones who have the biggest personal followings. They are the most capable of adding material: notes about what they're working on, correspondence with fans or critics, even observations about other people's books, that would add some value for many of the readers of their stories. In fact, a regular "update to my readers" from a top-flight author that is available only in their ebooks, or to purchasers of their ebooks, would be an attraction to many and could serve as a constant reminder that downloading their books from illegitimate sources is cheating them.
It's an interesting idea, and I like the proactive thinking on ways to compete by allowing something that isn't really possible in the paper book format. Though, I'm not sure if this method works precisely. After all, we already have the example of Paulo Coehlo, one of the best-selling authors of all time, who purposely "pirated" his own book and saw his sales increase tremendously. On top of that, he is already doing many of the things that Shatzkin suggests, but for free on his own website -- and it's working wonders. It's building up a much more loyal following for Coelho, and is allowing him to run interesting experiments like having his fans make a movie out of one of his books. All of this has only opened up more opportunities for Coelho to make money by both building his overall audience while also making his fans ever more loyal and ever more interested in supporting him.
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Filed Under: books, living books, piracy


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  1. identicon
    urza9814, 10 Dec 2009 @ 8:17pm

    Re:

    Of course you can't stop _all_ pirates. No matter what you do, there are certain people who will still pirate - and those are the people who would most likely never buy the product in the first place. So you're not losing profits, but you are potentially gaining publicity.

    For example, the Command and Conquer series of games. The new games in that series all suck. I pirated RA3, played it for a day or two, then went back to the earlier releases. Same thing with Tiberium Wars. Even if they had perfect DRM and I hadn't been able to pirate those games, I still would not have purchased them. Sure, they were entertaining briefly, but I honestly find the originals, or even a game like 'Crack Attack!' (an open source Tetris Attack type game) to provide _much_ better gameplay. If I could have legally purchased them for $5 or less I might have, but any more than that and it's just not worth it. Especially with how rarely I play any serious games.

    On the other hand, the latest album by My Dying Bride - I have three copies of. I pirated the music first. And then I purchased the CD. And then I purchased the limited edition vinyl version. And then found a special 'guitar pack' edition with some guitar picks and tabs and such and purchased that too - because I love their music, and I love the added value of the various products. I may have to see if I can get a second copy of the vinyl though, as I got the first one autographed when I met them at a show and it's now been framed, which makes it a bit difficult to actually play it.

    So, the people who wouldn't buy the product anyway might pirate it. And that's a good thing, assuming it's a good product. Because they wouldn't buy it anyway, they might as well give you some free word of mouth advertising.
    The people who truly enjoy the product might pirate it first, but they'll probably buy it too, possibly multiple times.
    The only thing intensive DRM is going to get you is bad press and pissed off fans.

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