When I started sending my drafts to agents and publishers, I could not fathom how someone would not want to steal my incredibly rich and amazing stories of dark epic fantasy/sci-fi. If I could stamp every single page of my masterpiece with my copyright notice, my name in 100 point font, bold italic and underlined and a legal notice threatening to take the first-born of anyone trying to steal my work, my beautiful, precious work, I would do it in a second (OK, I may be exaggerating for effect, but you get the point).
Thankfully, I decided in the end to follow some advice I’d seen online: don’t worry about the possibility of someone stealing your work. Just don’t. Put in a simple copyright notice at the beginning, mail yourself a printed copy if it makes you feel better (it shouldn’t really, but hey, no judgment here), and send your file.
I now know that it’s hard enough to get people to notice your work if you stand naked in the middle of the street screaming, so I can laugh at my paranoia. Still, after a number of interesting comments on my recent post “To DRM or not to DRM?“, I searched the PWC report for further insight regarding this issue.
To answer this question, the report makes some well-thought distinctions. For starters, many current bestsellers are available for people who wish to download them. But also people can download illegal copies even if they are not yet on sale in a digital format. Frequently, these illegal issues are scanned copies in PDF and lack the quality of a legally distributed book or eBook.
However, and this is the important part, consumers will not care about quality if they cannot obtain an eBook through legal distribution channels, or if they cannot obtain it at an acceptable price.
Living in Greece, I am only too aware of market distortions that do not allow me to watch the TV shows I wish to, and that shoot book prices to many times that of Amazon. Would I, as an author, wish to limit illegal distribution of my books to people who can’t afford or order them? No. Since I’m hardly a household name, I long to make more people aware of my books. Making money is, at this stage, but a secondary issue. Even if it were the primary issue, though, I would still encourage people who aren’t able to download legally my books, for whatever reason, to read them. Ideally, this would be by contacting me and asking me for a free copy, but if I have to choose between someone illegally reading my books or not reading them at all, I know which one it would be.
And, before anyone thinks availability is ubiquitous, let me share this little story: Back in my days as EAR editor, I had been contacted by a professor from the University of Baghdad, who was asking for a copy of the magazine for their library. I promptly sent him a few copies, which were returned to me, along with a stern warning from the UK Government that I was breaking the embargo against Iraq, and the poor man never received the architectural journals for his library.
Show me the numbers
Havoscope estimated book piracy to have cost publishers some 600 million dollars in 2013. However, the percentage of pirated books vary widely between countries, from 92 percent Russia to about 12 percent in the United States. So, why the discrepancy?
Price is not an issue, as the average price of an e-book in Russia is relatively cheap, around $3 to $4. That’s about half the cost of a hard copy, and just a fraction of the cost of the average e-book in the U.S. However, three in 10 e-book readers say they turn to the format because they can’t find the titles they want in stores. Only 60,000 e-books are offered through licensed retailers, while pirates offer around twice as many titles. Another problem is cultural; Russians do not seem to share the Western stigma of illegal downloads.
All the same, total cost of all this piracy is a mere $7.5 million, as eBooks account for just 1% of Russia’s total book market.
So, are e-books going the way of the music industry?
A parable is often made between the music industry and eBooks – not least by me. However, the current state of illegal eBook distribution does not mean that publishers face the same consequences as their peers in the music industry. This is for two main reasons. First, unlike music and video games, there is little overlap between the demographic groups that are most often associated with digital piracy (generally men between 20 and 39 years old) and those demographics that are typically associated with high-volume reading of mass market books (in general women age 40 and older). Among this latter target group, the interest in and the resistance to using illegal downloads will probably be much greater.
Secondly, any comparisons to the music industry and the potential impact of piracy must also be weighed against the differences in the way consumers engage with books and the way they engage with music. We may listen to the same song from one album over and over, but we rarely re-read a single chapter more than once. We may listen to 10 or 12 different artists in the course of an hour’s music listening, but we will devote several hours to completing a single book.
These differences probably make it less likely that potential eBook buyers will choose to take on the technical complexities and legal issues surrounding the use of piracy sites. Nevertheless, if publishers do not make their products available in digital form, they will lose potential revenue and will facilitate the creation of an illegal market for eBooks.
There is one notable exception to this rule, though: Piracy poses a significant threat to the educational market, where the incentive to copy books illegally is higher than on the consumer book market because textbooks can be expensive. To protect revenue while meeting the needs of students, publishers could establish basic contracts with university libraries to offer free eBooks for students or offer special editions exclusively to students for a discounted price, like Springer Science and Business Media have done. Of course, some would argue that knowledge should be free anyway…
A few days ago I came across a fascinating report regarding the future of e-Books and e-Readers by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. The analysis itself is somewhat dated (2010) but the survey gave some interesting pointers for us, self-published authors. So I will be posting highlights from the report as I go through it.