Digital Music

Why I Secretly Hope For An Epidemic Of Book Piracy

image from In his column in The Telegraph, writer Adrian Hon makes a few assertions about book piracy that relate to the record industry. First, he talks about the rather honest journey that a number of readers take into the practice of downloading books, much like fans do with music. It starts with the notion of getting a hold of a few digital copies of books they own; it's convenient. Plus, they already bought it. The next logical progression is to pick up a few classics. None of those authors are going to gripe about their books being torrented—they're dead after all. They can't sue.

After that, they start looking for books that are out-of-print or not available in their country. Everyone has an obscure passion for a book they can't find anymore. Finally, they'll consider downloading entire collections—like the Twilight series or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—at once; it's quicker. Pretty soon, they'll start questioning why they pay for ebooks at all. Thinking to themselves, why do they cost so much anyways? Before the reader knows it, they turned into a full-fledged book pirate. Now they're downloading everything. They started off with a fuzzy notion about typing 'ePub' along with 'Malcolm Gladwell' or Outliers in a Google search and all of the sudden they couldn't stop themselves. All the books they ever wanted are now up for grabs. All of this illegal behavior, but at what cost?

"eBook prices will be forced down, margins will be cut, consolidation will occur. New publishers will spring up, with lower overheads and offering authors a bigger cut. A few publishers will thrive; most publishers will suffer. Some new entrants will make a ton of cash; maybe there’ll be a Spotify or Netflix for books. Life will go on. Authors will continue writing… and books will continue being published." (Read on.)

This sounds strangely familiar to the record industry. The publishing industry is fighting the digital transition tooth and nail, confused about DRM, and pricing things with reckless abandon. Convinced that they're consumers won't turn their back on them for charging exuberant prices and making the experience of getting a digital book terrible. If publishing had their say, ebooks would stay expensive.

The Great Book Piracy Epidemic

One thing that I've always found most interesting is the notion of book piracy in general. People wanting books so bad that they're willing to steal them. Do you think it's possible to buy your kid a Kindle for Christmas and convince him that book piracy is the most horrible and vile thing to do on earth? Only to sneer with delight as your son or daughter stays up all night torrenting and reading books.

This sounds like a dream come true. Given that reading rates are on steady decline and book piracy in tandem with the right digital device has the potential to reinterest people in books, shouldn't we be thankful that they're reading more?

Suddenly, all of your friends are bothering you about your book collection and they want to download a copy. Now, I'm all for authors and everyone getting paid.

But I'm also for people getting fooled into reading under the guise of consumer empowerment and the digital revolution. Imagine how beautiful the world would be if the traditional publishing model collapsed due to unimaginable rates of piracy.

In matter of months, even your grandmother is stealing books. Your kids are drunk on the 100mb download of children's books. This may never happen. But I could tolerate a world where millions of people stole books and read again. It's one thing to take music and not pay for it. Please kids, steal all the books.

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  1. People are losing the attention span to read books, but they’ll happily go crazy downloading all the books they think they’re meant to have read, when they could in fact be reading – a book.

  2. I’m sure the library will transfer its services to the digital world attaching some drm software which will expire a given book after a week or two.

  3. My wife has read dozens if not hunrededs of books that she never paid for, because she’s an avid user of the local library.
    Anyone who wants to argue that torrentiing eBooks is a moral injustice had better be ready to make the same argument against public libraries.

  4. To me, the difference is UX. I listen to music with the same headphones whether it’s a CD, mp3 or vinyl…but reading a book on a computer screen is obnoxious. Thanks to multiple jobs, artist obligations and nerd hobbies, I spend far, far too much time in front of a computer monitor: reading books is my antidote. I can read them anywhere, I can read them comfortably.
    Unless a title is out of print and prohibitively expensive, I will always buy it in a meatspace edition.
    (Buying an “ebook” reader would probably change that but until they hit the $50 range, I’m not interested enough to justify the expense.)

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