Are You Being Served?: The Understandable Demand for Pirated E-books
Dan Misener of the CBC recently posted an interesting article about the unexpected benefits that e-books might have for publishers. The notion that piracy acts as advertising for legitimate sales might have been true in the early days of e-books when pirated copies were of extremely low-quality. Indeed, the study that Misener cites was from way back in 2009, before the iPad changed the way people thought about e-books and helped sales shoot through the roof. This is old news. The most pertinent part of the post for me, however, was not his interview with publishing consultant Brian O’Leary on the possible positive effects of piracy, but rather O’Leary’s thoughts on the sources and motivations behind piracy.
O’Leary notes that some people resort to piracy because they cannot access any legitimate, paid options. This is hardly surprising. I myself have noticed that availability of certain e-books may depend on territory—a huge obstacle when it comes to applying a nationalistic publishing model to the global reach of the internet. Complicated rights agreements vary from territory to territory, and every country has its own laws regarding copyright. Maybe we ought to stop trying to force e-books to fit the mould of print books and come up with a new system of distribution that acknowledges the difficulties in disseminating e-books and strives towards innovative solutions. Perhaps the current model, which ineffectively seeks to stop piracy from occurring, ought to be abandoned in favour of one that seeks to find some way of ensuring that e-books are readily available in all territories—or at least in as many as possible. This would involve a huge overhaul in the way in which publishers deal with digital rights, but in the end, if it reduced the necessity for piracy, it would probably be worth it.
I think that most people are basically decent and really want to buy legal copies of books. They would rather pay for a legitimate e-book than try to decipher a poorly copied pirated one. They want to support the authors and publishers and booksellers that provide quality content. The problem is not that everyone wants to steal e-books—although I’m sure these people exist, whether for financial or other reasons. The problem is that people who want to buy e-books can’t always do so. They are frustratingly limited by geographical restrictions. In the mean time, O’Leary hit the nail on the head:
“Piracy really is the consequence of not meeting consumer demand.”
If you feel like I’ve neglected some reasons for the piracy of e-books, let me know by leaving a comment.
Misener, Dan. “E-book piracy may have unexpected benefits for publishers.” CBC News. 19 Apr. 2011. 4 June 2011. Web. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/story/2011/04/19/f-vp-misener-ebook-piracy.html>