After declaring myself "cautiously optimistic" about the prospects for a data-driven publishing business, I managed to find a post (on TechCrunch, written by John Biggs) that took the wind out of my sails. Start with the headline: "E-Publishing May Be Doing Everything Right, But We Can’t Ignore The Spectre Of Piracy".
Generally, I find TechCrunch pretty useful, but … "the spectre of piracy"?
Jumping off a longer examination of eBook publishing, written by Rob Reid for the Wall Street Journal, Biggs seems to miss one of Reid's core points:
"But sales figures suggest that relatively few of these [eBook] downloads represent foregone purchases. Most Kindle, iPad and Nook owners seem to view piracy as a low-rent and time-consuming experience compared with the sanctioned alternatives. They probably wouldn't if the publishers had kicked things off with a five-year content boycott."
Instead, Biggs cites data about the instance of piracy (bestsellers on Pirate Bay, a study that showed older women were more likely to pirate a book, typically romance) without asking "Why?" In our limited study, which I always say should be expanded and undertaken by a cross-section of publishers, we found that the majority of downloads occured in markets where a physical or digital book was otherwise not available.
If that finding holds up, the real problem isn't that "these [pirated] books are easy to grab". Instead, you start to look at things like territorial rights, which often make it impossible to obtain a legitimate copy.
If there's a "spectre of piracy" in publishing, it starts with any business model that fails to put readers first. That's the real lesson of what happened in the music business.