When publishers won’t sell, piracy emerges

by Chris Walters

“I think what leads to rampant piracy is not meeting emergent demands.” – Brian O’Leary

That is the most concise statement I’ve read so far about an issue that constantly bothers me, which is that content companies create their own piracy problems.

They do it by not moving fast enough, or by not waking up to the fact that the balance of power between consumer and company has shifted. If a company chooses to not support a known distribution channel or ignores a market, it’s basically asking consumers to find other ways to get at the content.

O’Leary’s statement comes from a great interview on piracy and DRM at O’Reilly Radar, where he points out two sad facts:

  1. that we still don’t know whether piracy negatively affects sales; and
  2. that the majority of publishers still refuse to collect the information that would be necessary to answer this question definitively.

Meanwhile, companies continue to treat the world like it hasn’t transformed in the past decade, and then wonder why their customers have jumped so far ahead of them in the marketplace. An article from last week in the Sydney Morning Herald points out how Australian readers shop elsewhere when local publishers delay publishing foreign titles for months:

“Publishers who think they are protecting their markets are mistaken: the keen readers who go overseas for their niche or advance books will justify the cost of shipping by also buying those titles they may have otherwise picked up at home.”

You know what else they do, all over the world? They open up accounts at the U.S. Amazon store. They check out library books. And they look online for pirated copies.

“What leads to rampant piracy is not meeting emergent demands.”

“Book piracy: Less DRM, more data” [radar.oreilly.com]
“Culture vultures forced go pirate” [Sydney Morning Herald]

(Photo: Corey Leopold)

reposted from BookSprung


  1. monopole11 January, 2011

    Hooray for O’Reily! No DRM, easy reading on all my devices, excellent combo deals on ebook/dead tree copies. When prices are reasonable and you can be secure that your purchase can be backed up/reloaded after a change in hardware the legal option is a no brainer.

  2. Perry11 January, 2011

    Too true. I don’t excuse piracy because ‘if I can’t buy it, I’ll steal it’ isn’t a good argument. But, I do get tired of geographic restrictions when I go to purchase a book.

  3. Jason Evans12 January, 2011

    Although a slightly different format, until last year you couldn’t get a legal digital download of The Beatles. Whoever owns those copyrights has been missing out on millions of dollars of revenue because they refused to address that market. Paper publishers need to learn the same thing not only with new books, but also with out of print ones that are still under copyright. Transfer them to easy to exchange ebook format, sell them for cheap, and make money where you were making none before.

    Cory Doctorow has an excellent piece on this topic called All Complex Ecosystems Have Parasites

  4. […] Chris Walters’ article from The Digital Reader lays the blame on publishers for not moving fast enough – “What leads to rampant piracy is not meeting emergent demands.”. […]


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