As e-book adoption steadily increases, I think writers and artists have a very good reason to wonder if easily pirated e-books are going to do to the publishing industry what Napster did to the record industry. With news that Dan Brown’s last novel was pirated within hours of being released and with e-reader adoption growing steadily, it’s a serious concern.
I know there are lots of bitter types out there who would love nothing more than to stomp on the grave of publishers, but if they fall it’s going to have a profound effect on the quality of books.
Now… There will always be books. Publishers or no publishers, agents or no agents, paid authors or no paid authors, people are going to write, and some will write very well no matter what. But I think the overall quality of books would suffer tremendously if very few people can make any money doing it. Not only because there wouldn’t be publishers to edit and copyedit and market, but the fewer people who can make any money or spend any time writing books because they have no hope of getting paid will result in lesser the competition and lesser the choice and lesser the quality.
This isn’t the music industry – no one is making money on an author tours or Ian McEwan t-shirt sales no matter how many I personally would buy.
Lately something has happened that made me wonder if perhaps my worries about piracy might be somewhat overblown.
There’s a site that I’m not going to link to or name because I don’t want to give them any traffic at all. Let’s call them FakeTorrent. FakeTorrent is a site that purports to contain all sorts of pirated material, including books, that you can download very easily and holy cow thousands of people have already done it. All you have to do is install the right software.
And, of course, the software is a virus. Or they’re phishing for credit cards. Or some other nefarious activity. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. But! There’s nothing being pirated. Essentially: they’re scamming pirates.
Could this be the future? Since pirates are already downloading files from dubious sites, is lacing a highly sought-after file with a virus or ads or scams a sufficient growth industry to actually deter piracy?
Now… don’t get me wrong. I’m not some starry-eyed Pollyanna who thinks piracy is going to go away entirely.
But I also have been around the Internet long enough to know the life cycle of user-generated websites, whether they be eBay, Friendster, Myspace, Craigslist, or a file sharing site. First the early adopters come along and everything works great. Very exciting! Then comes mass adoption, which strains the site’s capacity to keep everything running smoothly. And then, inevitably, come the spammers and scammers to ruin it for everyone. Once they arrive, using the site becomes tremendously annoying.
The only user-generated sites that have had any longevity at all are ones that have successfully kept the spammers and scammers at bay. And it takes an incredible amount of resources and ingenuity to stay ahead of them and sort them out from the regular users. (Twitter is on the cusp of the spammer/scammer wave, incidentally, and it will be interesting to see how well they handle it.)
I wonder if we’re going to see a similar life cycle in Internet piracy. Any piracy site or sharer that has built sufficient users and resources to ensure quality control will also (hopefully) be a big enough target that it can be taken down by lawsuits (see, incidentally, the Scribd lawsuit over its laissez faire policy regarding the uploading of possibly copyrighted material). There’s also, I think, a significant business opportunity for companies that specialize in reducing or eliminating piracy.
Obviously someone that is truly motivated will find a way, and pirates may adapt to new challenges and barriers. But I wonder whether mass piracy is really in our future.
Essentially: my hope is that pirating material will be a sufficient pain in the ass that people will just go ahead and buy through trusted and legal sites that can guarantee quality control. Maybe that’s overly optimistic, but you can bet I’m counting my lucky stars as an agent and author that e-books weren’t all the rage in the year 2000 when many of us had vastly underdeveloped Internet consciences.
What do you think? How big of a threat is piracy? Should I be worried?
Nathan Bransford says
They may plan for a certain loss, but prosecution of shoplifters is also a big part of stores' strategy.
The biggest difference between piracy and used book sales is twofold. One is that a physical book can only be shared sequentially, so it's only being read by one person at a time. There's a physical limitation. Not so with pirated copies, whicih can be dissiminated to a basically unlimited pool of people.
The other difference is that a physical book eventually breaks down – it gets worn down, pages go missing, etc. Not so with digital files – they may become corrupted, but that doesn't happen very often anymore.
With apologies to Ink/Bryan Russell, I always urge people to buy new if they can afford it in order to support the author. However, I definitely do not put people who buy used books in the same category as those who pirate, and I most definitely don't think pirates should point to used bookstores or libraries as justification. There's a world of difference.
Nathan Bransford says
I also just wanted to point out that many libraries are now increasingly offering e-books for rental – the user doesn't even have to go to the library. Overdrive actually has a program where library patrons can "check out" a book from home and no one else can check it out while they have it. They then have to "check it back in," which disables the file.
I don't have a problem with this at all because it mimics the limitations of physical copies and doesn't put too serious a dent into actual sales. If a library experiences more demand for an e-book they can buy another one, and the author gets a royalty for that.
The Anonymous Internet Coward says
"They may plan for a certain loss, but prosecution of shoplifters is also a big part of stores' strategy."
Odd. I work for a national retail chain, and I've never heard of that. I'm not sure we've ever been compensated through prosecution of shoplifters.
So you're saying it's okay for me to sell a used ebook if I only sell it to one person, and they in turn only sell it to one person?
Nathan Bransford says
Here's a New Yorker article on new high tech strategies to stop shoftlifters and organized retail crime rings.
I think a "used" e-book market is problematic because there's no way to enforce that someone is just using it sequentially in the way that a book is only being read by one person at a time, and there's no way to enforce that the seller is actually deleting the e-book.
The Anonymous Internet Coward says
So it's a question of scale then. It's okay for a book to be sold and moved around without recompense to the publisher (beyond the initial scale) if it happens on a small scale. The problem arises when it happens on a large scale.
The common factor is that the publisher never receives more than the initial dime. We have two scenarios that involve proliferation of materials without compensating the original source, yet one is okay?
Shades of gray?
Also, based on that interesting article, I'll revise my earlier statment to the final consumer now paying 4-5% more per unit to compensate for loss AND pay for anti-theft technology/staffing requirements.
The Anonymous Internet Coward says
To be clear, I'm not justifying theft, just trying to illustrate the possibility that this is not a simple or clear issue.
Heck, even I try to encourage people to buy new books. I sell both, though strongly weighted to used books. Luckily, though, both are equally unprofitable. 🙂
And as for shrinkage… it's easy to say "build a buffer". For my store shrinkage is fairly minimal, but every little bit hurts. A buffer sounds nice, but all it means is you're trying to cope with lost money. It doesn't mean you can cope with the lost money. Having a plan doesn't mean the plan works. And with e-books the potential is hugely greater than with shoplifting.
The shoplifting number is very small. But what if an e-book sells 500 copies… but has 4,500 pirated? That's 90%. There's not much you can do to "buffer" against that.
It's all about those margins, and what they allow. The problem with piracy is that the margins may be too slim to survive the loss and remain financially viable. Or even if survivable, the damage may be extensive.
Plus I can't help but think it's simply wrong.
1. A book is written.
2. It comes out in two formats, paper and digital.
3. Both are products for sale. To get one you pay for it.
4. Someone takes one of these products without paying. This is called stealing.
The argument "Well, don't get mad at me, if I like it I go and buy a copy!" tends to annoy me. That's like the shoplifter saying "If I really like the book I stole I go back and pay for it!" Well, thanks. And what about the books you stole that you didn't really like? Tough luck? And, plus, no shoplifter has ever done this. (I did a survey, I know these things.)
And the only reason digital pirates do it is because they can't be caught. They wouldn't do it if they could. I quite dislike the idea that a person's taste, after the fact, is the sole arbiter of determining payment. I'll pay for stuff I like… but I'll steal stuff I don't like. It seems selfish to let your honesty be determined by your self-interest.
Nathan Bransford says
Yeah, I see it as a question of scale. The secondary book market was fine for the twentieth century, although I would argue that even with physical books, the new ease of buying used books through Amazon, abebooks, etc. have put a serious dent in new book sales. But it's doubtful the publishers will ever really be able to reign that in.
With digital sales there's just no mechanism for secondary sales, nor should there be. A used book is used – presumably there's wear and tear. A "used" file does not differ in any meaningful sense from a new file.
What should happen, in my opinion, is that digital sales will be cheaper than physical books, but it's a more limited and restrictive license — you can't resell it, and while you should be able to pass it around for home use and the DRM shouldn't be unduly restrictive, you also shouldn't be able to resell it or send it around to a thousand people.
Hopefully technology will make all of this possible. I'm content with how iTunes is handling everything especially since they have now made it much easier for home users to share over the same network – I can share music with my wife's computer, which mimics just passing a CD around. The same model should work for books.
And I'm speaking in general terms there, not at anyone specifically, if that wasn't clear.
Plus my fingers are tired. I'll shut up now.
Thanks for helping illuminate the reselling question. If I can't re-sell something, then I can't have really "bought" it, can I? We call that licensing, right?
About stealing e-books vs. physical books–and I am NOT advocating piracy or theft, just trying to get a grasp on this slippery new digital world–you can't really compare.
"Ink" said that shoplifting a physical book from her store was no different than pirating an e-book, but of course it is. True, both are stealing, but in the shoplifting case, inventory is removed and is no longer available for sale. Not so with a pirated e-book which has an "infinite" inventory. So the "piracy-as-browsing-prior-to-purchase" argument holds some water.
In a print book, the content is inseparable from the container, but ownership of the physical book is distinct from ownership of the content (the copyright). In the digital age, we have divorced content and container, creating the dilemma in which we find ourselves.
Okay, it's really no dilemma–stealing is stealing–but let's cut the browsing pirates some slack. Let's accept that subsequent purchase of a pirated book negates the initial piracy. Let's also accept that an unread pirated copy negates the piracy as well, since the content must be consumed (and not merely copied) for a theft to have occurred.
Here's one for the philosophers:
Joe has an exceptional speed-reading capability. He walks into a bookstore, picks up a short novel and burns through it in the same amount of time an average reader might merely browse it. He places the book back on the shelf and exits the store.
Is this an act of piracy? Has any kind of theft occurred?
Replay the same scenario, only this time in a library. What about then?
Nathan Bransford says
I think that's a good point about not depleting inventory, but the browsing-and-buying thing doesn't carry much weight for me at all. People here pirated THE LOST SYMBOL when legal excerpts were readily available.
And, as Ink said, I don't get to steal a car and then drive it back to the lot and buy it if I decide I like it and not pay for it if I don't. I just don't believe there are many people downloading illegal music for books and then subsequently finding in their hearts to go back and buy it legally. Maybe this is true of a few people who prefer to read in print and "test-drive" the pirated e-books, but especially when e-readers become more common I seriously fail to believe that people are going to delete an illegal e-book only to buy another one.
I also don't find licensing e-books particularly radical – when you go to the movies you're paying to watch something once. You don't get to go back again and again in perpetuity. And no one who bought a vinyl record demanded that they be able to migrate to cassettes and then to CDs for free.
E-books are going to necessarily have their own restrictions because the model is simply different.
Ryan Feld said –
I just don't like anything illegal. It goes against my own personal beliefs. And, until someone can prove that pirating is legal, I'm going to do everything I can to help stop it by filing as many abuse forms as I can… ….."
Ryan, if that's really your main issue I think I have a solution that would let us all get along. Join one of the activist groups working to loosen copyright restrictions and work to make this kind of downloading legal. Then you'd no longer have to feel obligated to try to get your fans busted. 🙂
Just a thought,
I won't argue with your view of the Muse. The underlying disagreement rests on what it means for something to be "real". This is a debate that has persisted for millenia and we are unlikely to resolve it in this forum. I will just say She is real to me, and SHe could be real to you if you would let Her.
As to whether I can demand or request that others share my views. that is *surely* my right. I refer you to the First Amendment. Just as it is your right to object. That is what political discourse in a democratic republic is all about. We are all free to work for social policies that our fellow citizens may disagree with. You are as free to impose "intellectual property" on me as I am to impose "information wants to be free" on you.
Social policy is a combat zone.
And, on your other point, I am not against a law because it's a law. (Once I was, as an anarchist. But that was long ago in a galaxy far away. I now accept the necessity of law.) No, ny point, and I said this explicitly, is that copyright law is bad law. It subjects the fruits of creativity to the paradigm of property. and this is wrong.
You are, of course, free to disagree.
Your comment about society recognizing the need for art brings to mind a thought which may well get me lynched here, but I'm going to let fly anyway.
Society needs art. But I'm not sure society needs artists. I mean, professional artists, as a class. What if we had no professional musicians (except maybe music teachers) but everybody sang and played? Suppose everybody could write well, and draw. Suppose art was universal?
Just a thought,
Intellectual property law is bad because it's bad? Because intellectual fruits are not property? That's not an argument. Because you say it's so, does not make it so. I'm open to hearing an argument, though. Personally I don't see how it can work. Every physical product is first an intellectual product. Someone has to think up and design a chair before it's built and you can sit on it. A book is also a product – a collection of crafted words. Why should we pay for a chair and not a book? Unless everything is to be free in Utopia Land.
As for social policy… I agree with that, mostly, though that didn't seem to be what you were saying at times (though I may have misread that). Piracy, though, goes beyond arguing social policy and free speech. I don't mind you saying no one should be bothered by piracy… as you said, I'm free to disagree. And I will. Where I draw the line is if you then go and steal my book. (and I'm not suggesting you actually would)
As for the Muse… I'm happy she's real for you. But why should I "let her" be real to me? There's a tone of (perhaps unintentional) condescension there. "I bask in the glories of the Muse! If you let the Muse touch you, well, you might learn to write well too! Oh joyous day!" Now, you may not have meant it that way, but it comes across with that edge. Pardon me if I'm being oversensitive here. I'll keep relying on my wee grey matter, if it's okay everybody.
Though, as a Muse advocate, you might be interested in this. It's worth checking out.
So… just because it only hurts Stephen King we shouldn't care or worry about it?
Honestly, revenue is a problem, but this mostly concerns me on an ethical level. We're raising a generation of people who have absolutely no problem stealing if it's done via a screen in their home.
If you download illegally, you are a THIEF. That *should* be enough reason not to do it and to be against it.
It saddens me it is not.
Thanks for your interest.
Of course the statement that copyright law is bad law is not an argument. It does not pretend to be. It is an assertion. Just as some have chosen to *assert*, not argue, that downloading books without paying is "stealing" (Although, to be fair, others have actually made arguments to support their assertion.)
I did make an actual argument, in my original post. I argued that creative work is not property, because the true author is the Muse, rather than the nominal human author. I think I used the phrase "no more your property than are your children" which I still think is an apt comparison.
I indicated that I thought a substantively equivalent argument could be stated in other language, such as "flow of ideas through the noosphere". I don't choose to pursue other forms of the argument because I'm lazy and I'm sure others have done so in other locations anyway.
As to the relation between ideas and tangible product – this is true, but I don't think it supports your point. I buy a physical chair, not the idea of a chair. If I photographed a chair and reverse engineered it from the photo to build my own, would I be liable?
As to the Muse – I don't believe She inspires only "good" writers – whatever that might mean. I think She inspires creative work in general. It may be of varying quality, based on the qualities of the human partner.
Of tangential interest on the subject of quality is the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is the memoir of a fellow (English teacher, I believe) who struggled to determine a rigorous definition of literary quality and was driven insane by the attempt. Be warned 🙂
My statement that "She could be real to you" is basically one of evangelism. I have benefited from knowing Her, and I think others would also. It's very like a Christian wanting to testify to their path to salvation.
So, no, I don't claim She made me a "good writer". I don't even claim to *be* a good writer. I claim She blew me away mentally and emotionally and the experience was awesome. That's all.
"Your mileage may vary".
Laura said – If you download illegally, you are a THIEF. That *should* be enough reason not to do it and to be against it.
Well, that's not so, because the concept of stealing only makes sense if applied to tangible goods. Applied to intangibles it creates the paradox that the "victim" still remains in possession of what was allegedly "stolen".
Mr policeman – what was taken?
Victim dude – My novel!
Mr. Policeman – Not to worry. We located it here on your hard drive.
Putting the word "thief" in all caps is not going to change this.
Did you check out my link on the last comment? You'll like it (really – it's more to your point of view than mine).
As for your child metaphor… no offense, but I really don't like it. You may not own your children, but you certainly don't offer them up for free use to all comers. It's your job to protect them. I'm certainly going to protect mine, anyhow.
And I struggle with your idea of Muse ownership. I mean, you have no evidence of your Muse except your own experience. Follow the tuggings of your experience to divine your own path, fine. But don't try to enforce that choice on others. You're not me, and so I'm pretty sure I know my own experience better than you know it. Trying to legislate some sort of Muse ownership of intellectual products moves from an act of freedom (what you do with your own productions) to an act of force (what you do with the productions of others). It seems a little totalitarian to try to extend those beliefs onto me in any sort of formal arrangement (ie. the legalization of piracy via the deletion of intellectual property laws). By doing so you're forcing your beliefs onto me… you're controlling the fruits of my labour. With intellectual property law, though, that isn't the case. I can claim my rights if I so choose, but I can also disregard them and disseminate my work freely and with open use. But everyone has the choice – they are free to make their own decision about how to approach their own work. Take that away and you strip that freedom from me and from all who wish to have some say in how their work is received. I wouldn't be willing to stand for that. I'm happy to defend your right to give your work freely and in whatever form you choose, but I'd appreciate the same courtesy being extended to me and my choices in regard to sales or dissemination.
And I still don't see how you differentiate a book from a chair. A book is not some vague idea floating in the ether. It is a real thing, a specific arrangement of letters and words that form a product, a specific act of codified communication. Now, there may be one copy, on a dusty old sheaf of paper hidden in a drawer. Or there might be 20,000 in book form spread across an international conglomeration of shops. Or, in the digital world, there might be an infinite number of copies. But they are still mine. I might have one chair, or a million. But just because I have a million chairs rather than one does not make it any more ethical for someone to steal a chair.
I'm free to give you a chair if I want. Heck, I'm free to give you my Muse's chair, if that's what we want to hold to. Or I might sell you a chair, or three, of fifty. But that's my choice.
The difference between the paths is that one respects that freedom of individual choice and one does not.
And, if it's what you really want, I wish you no sales and many happy pirates! And, of course, an inspiring muse.
Concerning your point about the quality of literature: Have you seen the kind of stuff that gets published these days? Just look at Twilight. The author is insanely popular, and making scads of money. Can you honestly tell me that Twilight is high quality literature?
My second point is in regard to fanfiction (you may not want to google it). Fanfiction authors don't get paid. There are some awful stories on the internet, but there are also site that thoroughly deride those stories' authors, as well as sites that link to the good stories. And there are good stories out there. Some of them are well thought out stories with engaging plots and developed characters. They are certainly of better quality than Twilight.
If people stop getting paid to write, I don't think that all of them will stop writing. As for quality–there will always be badly written stories, but it generally isn't hard to find the good ones.
I am sooo late here. But this kind of relates to something I was wondering about in my own head over the weekend. How different is pirating from borowing a book, either from the Library or a friend, but especially from the Library since sharing one copy is what it's actual designed to do? I know it's different in a legal sense, but in other ways what is the word on Library books? Is borrowing a book looked down upon in the publishing industry?
Never mind. I should have read further than the first few responses before writing mine. In a hurry to pick up the kids if that's any excuse : )
are there any books that have a negative consequence to a person's writing skills? or are there any book's that cover that topic?
A couple of things–well, more than a couple, I guess. The loss of sales was mainly due the RIAA's stupity, and I hope the publishing industry studies it. I truly do.
First off, the music industry blew it when they were so afraid of change that they refused to release anything for digital download. But since the RIAA said, "Nah,we want no part of this new-fangled computer thingie", Napster emerged and found a hungry audience. Now there's Bittorrent, and one isn't likely to get a virus from that, especially not on any private tracker.
The RIAA's next brilliant move was to begin a plethora of absurd lawsuits that demanded $3,000 for one song. They maintained that they need not prove anything, either; they sued dead people as well as those who'd never owned a computer (they outsourced their info-gathering to a shady group known as Mediasentry)
That's not the worst of it though. This group of crusty old men, who missed their chance because they refused to keep up with the times, decided it might be cool to simply exhort funds, so they sent letters telling the plaintiff, "It will cost you a whole lot more to go court than it will to send the money to us forthwith."
To top THAT even, they managed to assure the court venue was ALWAYS in another state.
This hit Digg; it hit SlashDot; it hit Reddit and it hit 4-Chan. Then the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) got involved.
There was a revolt. A great many of the younger market boycotted CD's; they were, and still are, adamant about it. They WILL buy directly from an artist, though, as long as the RIAA doesn't make a dime.
That's when record sales hit the toilet.
Blue Tyson says
Yes, and then there was the whole Sony spyware issue – and CDs that were made that claimed to be CDs and didn't conform to the standard.
I got one of those, wouldn't play on my gear, so took it back and haven't bought a CD since. Never will again, as can't trust them.
Publishers that pull similar shenanigans, or refuse to sell to me – I will never buy any of their products ever again.
I didn't mean to delete my comment. My wireless mouse's batteries went hanky, and my cursor took on a life of it's own.
But, yes, that rootkit disaster took out people's computers. Paying customers suffered; pirates did not. DRM won't fly. It only inhibits those who pay. It doesn't stop the hackers. There will ALWAYS be a fifteen-year-old Serbian up to the challenge.
And it's not theft; it's infringement. Legally there IS a difference.
Look, no industry gets anywhere by ticking off its core customer base. That's what the RIAA did.One HAS to find a way to deal with the current trends or one gets swallowed by them and lost in the shuffle .
It's the way of the world.
The brightest minds have learned to use it to their advantage (Jobs). Others (The RIAA) have huffed and puffed and and blown their own houses down.
Offer something in the printed edition that can't be done digitally, maybe? All those pirates did buy the Harry Potter series. They download TV shows, but still buy the DVD's for the extra content.
Piracy will decrease when e-book prices come down. So long as e-books are the same price as paper books or over a certain threshold dollar value, there will be piracy. If publishers don't want to lose sales to piracy, they must fix the inefficient mess they call an industry. Streamline. Simplify. Most importantly, give the customer (you know, the people who read the books) what they want, NOT what just maximizes short term profits.
TechDirt. Read TechDirt. One cannot fight the future, one must learn to adapt to it. Not wanting to do that won't change the fact that times, they are a-changing.