Want to fight piracy?

In a post that dates to last February, Cnet’s David Carnoy lamented what he called the “acceleration” of Kindle e-book piracy.

Carnoy trotted out the usual suspects in pursuit of piracy:

  • BitTorrent feeds offering 650 to 2,500 DRM-free books as bundled downloads (conflating the instance of piracy with its impact)
  • a claim that the PSP (PlayStation Portable) has been “severely impacted” by piracy (no data is supplied; it’s just that the file size of a PSP download is close to that of a bundled BitTorrent seed)
  • the “rise of the iPad has spurred some of the pirating” (even though Simba finds that 40% of iPad owners have never downloaded a book)

In short, there was so much wrong with the column that I just let it stand. In a world in which the most ardent book readers might read 25 titles in a year, the fear of downloading your next 100 years of reading seemed misplaced.

Last week, CBC News interviewed me for an article on the possibility that piracy could help sell more books by increasing awareness and trial. Our own research is limited, but the conversation gave me a chance to trot out my own usual suspect:

Piracy is the consequence of a bad API.

The publishers who fear piracy lead with their belief that every instance of piracy has a direct, negative impact and must be stopped. If that’s your focus, you will favor enforcement and naturally ignore what the data can teach you.

When I hear stories of humongous bundled downloads, I wonder why they would have any appeal. I don’t know the answer, but I’d love to learn what anyone does with 100 years of advance reading.

One possible answer: whatever we want. If the titles are DRM free, I can read them on whatever device I choose. I can move them across platforms without checking with the company that sold me the book.

And yes, I can lend some of the titles to my friends.

That’s one hypothesis; there are others. If mine held up, it would suggest that publishers might rethink their approach to open.

The current approach features closed platforms (Kindle) and device-specific DRM. That may comfort publishers in the near term, but it pretty much guarantees that digital book content will never qualify as “open and interoperable”.

To minimize the impact of piracy, publishers should study it to understand where and why it happens. As David Carnoy’s column illustrates, the data is already out there. A bit of digging might even show you how to sell e-books at a higher price.

Edited May 1 to add a link to Chris Meadows post on Teleread. His analysis and the comments that follow are both useful.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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