Famous radical Abbie Hoffman had a bestseller in 1971 named Steal This Book. It was a bestseller in spite of its title, doubtless because obeying the command at the time meant concealing a physical book and walking out of a store past watchful clerks. But today? Well, isn’t the purpose of technology to make everything easier?
Publishers Weekly assures us technology is making book theft much easier. According to a recent report:
Publishers could be losing out on as much as $3 billion to online book piracy, a new report released today by Attributor estimates. Attributor, whose FairShare Guardian service monitors the Web for illegally posted content, tracked 913 books in 14 subjects in the final quarter of 2009 and estimated that more than 9 million copies of books were illegally downloaded from the 25 sites it tracked.
The Four Horsemen of digital downloading — 4shared.com, scribd.com, wattpad.com, and docstoc.com — account for an estimated one-third of all book piracy.
Nonfiction professional and academic works are the most common targets, but the survey also counted plenty of pirated fiction, like Angels and Demons (7,951 illegal downloads) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (1,604 downloads).
It seems online theft parallels print popularity to an extent. I wonder if some science fiction authors will feel both relieved and a little disappointed to find they register a smaller blip on the e-crime stat sheet than Dan Brown. After all, I once heard Robert Silverberg wistfully remark about the lack of pirated print editions of his work in an Iron Curtain country, saying: “The East Germans were too German to steal.”
The Attributor survey shows that what everybody suspects is true. “None of this is really surprising,” comments Francis Hamit. “One of the virtues of print publication is that you can only sell one copy at a time.”
[Thanks to Francis Hamit for the story.]
What I wonder about when I hear about “$3 billion in lost sales” is how much of that piracy is really lost sales.
Are these potential consumers that just don’t have a legal means to purchase the books they are stealing?
I don’t think so. There is a small but growing ebook market, used bookstores, and new books are still relatively affordable. Unlike what happened with mp3’s and Napster, there is a legal alternative already out there.
To be very simplistic, the boom of iTunes and AmazonMp3 demonstrated that when presented with a legal alternative to pay for product, people would do it. In droves.
I don’t think that these are consumers doing the stealing. I am also curious if there was any way to identify the number people doing the downloading…AND how many of these downloads were done via torrents that steal multiple books in the same download. There may be some inflation and probably “Collectors” who are stealing far more than they have intention to read.
“Publishers could be losing out on as much as $3 billion to online book piracy, a new report released today by Attributor estimates.”
Or that could be, like all estimates pushed by people with an interest in maximizing a claim, a wild over-estimate. Unless they give some details on methodology, it’s not exactly a reliable figure. And are we pre-supposing that everyone who has ever downloaded a pirated book would, if prevented, instead have purchased a hard copy? Because if we’re pre-supposing that, I suspect we’re being ridiculous.
A counter view to the Attributor findings:
I am reminded of “lies, damned lies, and statistics”.