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Will Pirates Disrupt the eBook Party?



The NY Times published an article that asks if books will be “Napsterized.”  RapidShare is a major distributor of pirated eBooks and the company doesn’t seem to mind all that much.

In 1997 I was in college and remember the birth of illegal music sharing. A few students used applications like Hotline to download music and many were burning CDs for their friends. The vast majority of us were still buying CDs at local record stores.

At least part of the reason illegal music sharing took off was because there wasn’t an easy way to buy music online. The pirates were several years ahead of the music industry, which didn’t offer any alternatives to “free” music downloads for quite some time.

I think the average Kindle owner is more likely to pay for an eBook than swipe it on RapidShare. Companies like Amazon will have to make buying and downloading eBooks cheap, easy and convenient if they want customers to keep paying for them over the long term.

Do you think online pirates will decimate the book business?



  1. Tim

    10/04/2009 at 4:57 pm

    It’s a bit of a chicken or egg scenario, in my opinion.

    Obviously, there are pirated eBooks around. Most publishers have claimed piracy as one of the major reasons they have not started publishing eBooks, so in a sense the fear of piracy is already crushing the eBook movement.

    On the other hand, as you point out, music piracy still exists, but iTunes,, and Amazon are all selling music at fairly large rates. There are a couple of key differences between music and eBook, the most notable of which I think is the conversion between physical and digital media. Buying a CD off the shelf and then sharing it online is a fairly simple process as pretty much any media player now can rip audio files. But taking a physical book and putting it in PDF is a lot more difficult. It takes either an expensive automated setup, or a lot of time and motivation in order to digitize a book. Once companies start putting out eBooks, someone only has to share it (potentially involving cracking some DRM), so the process gets incredibly shorter.

  2. schmolch

    10/04/2009 at 5:29 pm

    The early development stage of e-ink readers is the only reason the book-publishers are still alive.
    As soon as e-ink readers become good enough and cheap enough most book-publishers will go bancrupt.
    It does not matter if they make ebooks, scanning a book is not that difficult. 20 minutes and its done with a cheap $150 adf-scanner.

  3. Ben

    10/04/2009 at 7:18 pm

    Fortunately for publishers–and unfortunately for the health of society–the general populace, especially teens and college students, doesn’t enjoy a good book as much as the latest pretty face in the pop music industry. Music is much more popular than books. Don’t worry publishers: Illiteracy will save you!

  4. Ben

    10/04/2009 at 7:37 pm


    You assume people will “rip” books from paper to e-book. That’s not what publisher fear. They fear that if they publish their books in electronic format from the start, as some do now in epub, kindle format, and pdf, then people will buy those and then upload them to the internets+torrents. It’s a real fear, and certainly is holding us back at the present, as Tim said.

    “It does not matter if they make ebooks, scanning a book is not that difficult. 20 minutes and its done with a cheap $150 adf-scanner.” haha, sure. except even after you scan the book–which i suspect would take more than 20 minutes for anything longer than Dr. Seuss–and run it through an OCR system, you have to proofread the entire thing, then add formatting and package it to pdf, epub, or whatever. it would be nothing but a huge inconvenience, especially for people too unmotivated to just buy the book in the first place.

    “The early development stage of e-ink readers is the only reason the book-publishers are still alive. As soon as e-ink readers become good enough and cheap enough most book-publishers will go bancrupt.” uh, that’s unlikely in the extreme. e-ink readers are certainly in their infancy, and are no where near popular enough to be actively “saving” the print industry. that’s a ridiculous statement.

    furthermore, e-readers won’t cause publishers to go bankrupt either. did music labels go bankrupt when mp3 players became popular? no. the greatest device is useless without content. if publishers simply refused to sell us ebooks, they’d certainly remain safe from pirates. also, publishers do more than just print books. they advertise and distribute books. that’s something that an author can’t do very well or may not even want to do. musicians still also need record labels to push them into the spotlight. that PR job of publishers and music labels won’t go away so easily, and i’d wager is the bulk of the “work” involved in publishing a book or album.

    also, did you read your statements? they contradict each other. first you say e-readers are saving the industry, and then you say they will bankrupt it. huh??

  5. brenth

    10/04/2009 at 7:52 pm

    Look at Baen Book. They have published non-DRM electronic books for years. I actually pay more for books there occasionally that I do from Sony, which I am willing to do, precisely because there is no limit to what I do with those books. I can choose to download in formats that fit ALL the readers out there. As far as I can tell, Baen is doing just fine without all the DRM, and with prices that are usually much lower than a paperback copy. I am a prolific reader and have been for years. However, since I went totally electronic, I actually by MORE books, not less. It is just so easy and instant gratification. It I see a title that interests me, I can be reading in 5 minutes or less. It is my favorite place to get ARC books, still raw and uncut (oh, and unpublished!). The sooner publishers recognize this as fair and reasonable, the better it will be for everyone. The only other way I buy books now is a audio, which I can use while I drive. This way, I can ‘read’ all the time.

  6. Paul Harrigan

    10/04/2009 at 11:48 pm

    Absolutely not!

    Most people are innately honest and law-abiding and, after some youthful times for playing on the edge, will go back to buying books, so long as they are reasonably priced.

    Digitized copies of books have been on usenet since the mid-90’s, and one has been able to read them on laptops, tablets and desktop pc’s for that entire time. Yet, the impact on book publishers has been tiny.

  7. Joe

    10/05/2009 at 12:07 am

    I recently posted about the same topic on another blog’s comments sections, so I’ll just copy and paste what i said there.

    There’s a huge difference between music/mp3s and books/ebooks though with regards to the piracy comment.

    People have been going to libraries and reading books for free and returning them all the time anyway. Most people I know who are big readers don’t buy anything, just go to the library every week or so.

    The way to nip this in the bud is to get the equivalent of iTunes Music Store out now, as opposed to waiting too long like the music industry did. More importantly though, the first service to offer a subscription-based ebook setup is going to do very well. That fits more with the way a lot of people are used to consuming this type of media.

  8. SAM

    10/05/2009 at 12:27 am

    I don’t think Granny is going to know how to pirate her favorite romance novel, much less than sit and read it on her computer screen. It’s far easier for her to go to the bookstore and buy the physical copy.

    Students are probably the publishers biggest worry.
    Talking with many students and the $100+ for a book that is good for only 1 term, then you can see why pirating maybe tempting.

    This may really be what the publishers are making all the racket about…the lucrative textbook market

    I think there willl be a place for printed books and electronic books both

  9. JOE

    10/05/2009 at 7:58 am

    Books are an excellent interface – technophiles seem to forget this. They are highly portable and the battery life is unbeatable. Also, they don’t come with any ongoing fees. Books aren’t going to go away anytime soon.

    Having said that, ebooks are being pirated already. The early adopters getting ereaders overlaps with the same population that is familiar with torrent sites. A quick look at any torrent site will show tons of ebooks.

    I don’t think it will be a problem that the book industry needs to worry about becuase ebooks won’t dominate the market the way digital music does.

  10. Xavier Lanier

    10/05/2009 at 8:40 am

    @SAM Good point about students and textbooks. I remember $100 text books being the “affordable” ones. Some of them cost much more than that. Multiply that by 3-5 text books per quarter/semester and you have a have over a thousand reasons to pirate books.

  11. Joe

    10/05/2009 at 11:18 am

    Yeah, god forbid you’re a science major – If you ever need science textbooks, $100 is for the used and severely beat up books, new books are more like $200.

    I racked up bills of $800-900 per semester just for books. There were some I’d have liked to keep, but I needed to get some money back from the crazy prices, even though I’d only get about 1/3 of that back even for a book I barely used.

    But yeah, I never thought of that, I’d probably have considered it then if I had a tablet at the time.

  12. Joe

    10/05/2009 at 11:20 am

    And yeah, there are a ton of people who prefer paper to any screen, even an e-ink one.

    Unless Apple comes out with one, I don’t see it being much more than a niche market.

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