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iPads, Kindles, and eBook Piracy

August 23, 2010

As more of us buy E-readers to read books digitally, the much discussed “death of the book” debate resurfaces.  Will digital books replace actual physical copies? Reportedly, on Amazon more people are buying digital versions of stories than hard bound or paper back copies.

Piracy of films and music has been around for years.  Now, with the introduction of E-readers such as the Kindle and the iPad, could eBook piracy become a problem?

When the iPad was introduced, BitTorrent book downloads went up 78% in the few days after the device went on sale.  This suggests that new technology such as the iPad could lead to increased piracy of books. This is not a completely new problem but, previously, actually producing a pirated book online was difficult. Original files were needed, and someone with enough time to scan the book onto a computer.  In contrast, sharing e-books is a much simpler task.

When Dan Brown’s novel ‘The Lost Symbol’ hit stores September last year it managed to sell more digital copies than hardback ones.  Along with this came, 24 hours after its release, pirated copies of the book available on popular file-sharing sites such as Bit-Torrent and Pirate Bay. Within days the pirated version was downloaded over 10,000 times. This could indicate the way books are headed in the future.

EBook piracy is still a relatively small problem currently. Only a few hundred eBooks are pirated per week. However, this is because ownership of eBook readers is still far from ubiquitous.  Compared to the market penetration of MP3 players, the number of people who own E-readers is marginal.  As devices become more affordable, these numbers are likely to rise, and publishers could face the same struggle against piracy as the music industry.

So far the tactics employed by publishing companies include the use of DRM, delaying electronic editions of their books, or completely refusing to make their books available digitally.

DRM has proved too unsuccessful for the music industry and does not effectively prevent people from producing pirated copies of files.  Arguably it just serves to aggravate those who have purchased files legally.

 The approach of the publishers of Stephen King’s novel ‘Under the Dome’ was to delay the release of eBook versions of the novel. This decision proved unsuccessful, and had a negative impact on book sales.  Nor was it successful in preventing pirated versions of the book emerging – these surfaced within the next few days.  J.K. Rowling refused to publish her books digitally – yet her Harry Potter series is currently one of the most pirated titles. All the books are available to download online by fans who have scanned in or transcribed her books onto computers.

So, it will be interesting to watch to see how publishers handle this problem, and whether publishing faces the same fate as the music industry.