So a friend tipped me to this story on piracy that was on front page of Metro, a free UK daily newspaper. Normally I would read it, laugh at the inaccuracies, and go on with my life. But I decided to rebut this one. It should only take me a half hour or so, and then I have a cheapo post.
But then I got several levels into it by arguing point-counterpoint with myself and I realized that this really was worth a post. I thought up a number of arguments that could be made about the threat of piracy that I haven’t heard before. Some were rather interesting, and debunking them was an excellent diversion. I’m not going to share them all, though.
Here’s a snippet that more or less sums up the article:
The practice is threatening to cost authors and publishers millions of pounds and there are fears it could be as devastating as illegal file-sharing was for the music industry.
My rebuttal is simple: the US ebook market in February was 3 times the size it was back in February 2010. I know those numbers are for the US market, not UK, but I’m willing to bet that the UK saw similar growth. How can you claim that piracy is a serious threat, given that the market is growing by leaps and bounds?
I can do that, actually. If you look at the US figures again, you’ll see that paper book sales dropped significantly more than ebooks grew. One could argue that the loss in paper sales were due to people who went digital, and now pirate their content.
That’s a good argument except there isn’t any data to back it up. You could try to compare ebook sales vs trade sales, but it’s not a valid comparison. The sales figures for ebooks include not just fiction ebooks but religious, textbooks, and just about every segment of the market. And then there’s also the fact that only 16 of the 84 publishers who send their data to the AAP (only about a fifth) also send in data on ebooks.
That point didn’t go where I wanted, dammit.
But it still illustrated a related point. The market is in upheaval right now and it is difficult if not impossible to make claims about the effect of piracy. Anyone who does make an absolute statement is probably blowing smoke. He has little or no real data to back them up.
Of course, that won’t stop some. Take Dave Hewson, for example. he was quoted in the article as saying:It’s colossal. It’s really got big over the last year, I guess because so many people are buying ereaders. Everything I have ever had published is out there now.
Sir, could I please see your data?
The picture of David Hewson was posted on Flickr by davidhewson.