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Chrome Plug-in Turns Amazon into a Pirate eBook Site

amazon-pirate-logo[1]I’ve often felt that ebook prices from certain major publishers were tantamount to highway robbery. Thanks to a new Chrome plugin we can now change that to high seas.

A pirate ebook site by the name of LibGen released a Chrome extension early last month which makes it easy to browse the world’s largest bookstore and, rather than buy a book, downloaded a pirated copy of any ebook which interests them.

When installed, the LibGen plugin modifies what a user sees on the Amazon website by inserting a new row of information near the top of the Amazon product page of books. The newly added info is drawn from the LibGen website , and it lists possible unauthorized sources where one might download the ebook.

You can see the extra text as a blue line in the screenshot below:


Apparently based in Russia, LibGen has been around since at least 2010. LibGen, short for Library Genesis, is by no means the first to offer a plugin which mashes up commerce and piracy but it could be the one with the most staying power.

In 2008 hackers developed a similar plugin for Firefox called "Pirates of the Amazon". That plugin was only available for a short while before it was taken down, but when it was available it added an extra button to listings for videos, books, and music which helped a user pirate the content via The Pirate Bay rather than buy it.

And that’s not the only one. Torrent This, for example, enhances Amazon with links to Pirate Bay download pages for all sorts of media, much like the "Pirates of the Amazon" plugin did.

The point I would like to make, folks, is that these kind of tools are prevalent and yet commerce goes on. This would lead to the obvious argument that piracy isn’t as big of a deal as it might appear, but I’m not going to make that point.

I’ve recently learned that I haven’t had much of a problem with piracy – not compared to other bloggers, any way. Since I seem to be uniquely immune to the problem I am not sure that I can argue that it is a minor problem.

I know that it might be strange to bring up that point in a post on piracy, but some time back I got into an argument over whether piracy was a serious problem. My opponent pointed out that it sounded like I didn’t have much experience with piracy. I was offended by the claim at the time, but it turned out she was right.

And so I’m not sure I can comment on the seriousness of piracy issues.

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Deborah Smith August 2, 2014 um 7:27 pm

Stealing is stealing. My small press pays a freelancer to take down pirated copies of our books. He nabs as many sites as he can, although some are impossible to monitor or control. We’ve had up to 40,000 copies downloaded of some novels.

How much does it hurt? Who knows? It sure as hell doesn’t seem to help. Between pirates, used book sellers, readers who think ebooks should be cheap or free, and the invasion of cheap ebook subscription services, my partners and I are seriously making plans for a future in which publishing (either traditional or self-pub) is a ghetto for most small presses and a majority of authors.

Hayden August 2, 2014 um 8:28 pm

Piracy is obviously not good and illegal.

@Deborah Smith. If your business fails, it is not totally the fault of pirates. You and your partner’s policies may also be contributing to this.

Peter August 3, 2014 um 10:53 am

Unauthorized downloads are the single greatest boon to small publishers and independent authors ever.

No matter how bad the marketing, now matter how dreadful the writing, no matter how poorly you misjudged the potential audience, you can still convince yourself it would have sold a billion copies if not for those nosy kids.

Valentine August 3, 2014 um 11:36 am

Game companies lose more money because of shoddy releases full of bugs, stripped down content later added back as DLCs and the good old DRM issues that basically kill any chance of playing.
Here’s the funny part, they disgusted me so much, I didn’t even bother pirate their next games though the money wasted on the first, certainly made me feel entitled for half a dozen titles each.

As for ebooks … Why would I buy something that is locked into a single hardware platform?
Do you know that Epub, Mobi, Azw etc are nothing more than Zip files with JPGs and chapters split in Html files?

Also, do you know why people accepted high prices for music/movie CDs or DVDs and paper books? Because they would then trade it with one of their friends for somehting they didn’t have. You could with one book, read 10 others.

Karl August 3, 2014 um 11:42 am

"Do you know that Epub, Mobi, Azw etc are nothing more than Zip files with JPGs and chapters split in Html files?"

In addition to not being entirely accurate, I don’t see how that’s relevant to anything.

Valentine August 3, 2014 um 12:04 pm

Because of people like ucfgrad93.
Ebooks are simple document files. They’re nothing fancy. They can be run on anything, phones, tablets, laptops, yet, we’re forced to run them on specific hardware and maybe pay extra for the privilege.
You don’t see anything wrong with that?

Times are changing, Netflix, Pandora, etc are proof of that. Ignoring or fighting it instead of adapting makes for a short lived business.

Piracy exists because the current business models aren’t adapting fast enough or the right way. And you know what? Book business doesn’t generate a fraction of the money media companies do, and they aren’t winning.

Karl August 3, 2014 um 12:34 pm

"[eBooks] can be run on anything, phones, tablets, laptops, yet, we’re forced to run them on specific hardware and maybe pay extra for the privilege.
You don’t see anything wrong with that?"

If you’re trying to say that DRM is a Bad Thing, I’m with you 100%.

But no one is paying extra for the privilege of reading eBooks on specific hardware. EBooks _are_ run on phones, tablets, laptops, etc., via free applications from Amazon and others. If I "pay extra" for a Kindle Paperwhite or whatever, I’m paying for the technology that’s inside the device, not because I’m forced to buy Amazon hardware in order to read Amazon eBooks. The only case where you might have a point is with regard to Apple; the absence if an iBooks app for android or Windows means that you’re generally forced to use Apple hardware if you buy Apple eBooks

Felipe Adan Lerma August 4, 2014 um 7:39 am

Deborah – "Between pirates, used book sellers, readers who think ebooks should be cheap or free, and the invasion of cheap ebook subscription services" –

Used book sellers? Folk who want things cheaper? Cheap (ie, affordable) ebook subscription services? –


How ’bout libraries?

Reading a family member’s copy?

I do wish you all the success Deborah, but you’ve got all the competitive challenges we all have. Best wishes –

ucfgrad93 August 2, 2014 um 9:55 pm

I don’t pirate. If a book isn’t available to read on my Kindle, there are plenty of others that are.

dave August 3, 2014 um 12:18 am

I wonder what cuts into sales more, piracy or DRM? Seriously, the people that steal
copyrighted material are likely not people who would have purchased it. However,
many honest people feel ripped off by DRM, especially at the high prices charged for
many of the mainstream books, and choose to read something else or wait for their library to obtain a copy. Face it, with DRM Amazon, B&N, Kobo etc. are simply acting like a library with strict rules & high loan fees. They don’t sell you the books, you have zero ownership rights, but they certainly charge as if they have.

Juli Monroe August 3, 2014 um 11:25 am

Well crap! I just installed the plugin and checked my own books. I’m apparently not important enough to pirate on any major sites. 🙁

Or alternatively, the plugin just doesn’t work very well. I just checked a few books I’m certain would be highly pirated (like the latest Stephen King). No results, although a quick Google search got me to a pirated copy in seconds. (No, I didn’t download it.)

I was going to recommend this as a tool for authors to see where they are pirated, if they are worried about it, but it doesn’t seem to work well enough for even that purpose.

Karl August 3, 2014 um 11:36 am

I’m not sure what you mean by saying you don’t "have much experience with piracy." What is "experience with piracy," and would having it make you more of an expert? I’ve certainly had books of mine pirated, but that doesn’t make me more "experienced" or more authoritative than you or anyone else. It just tells me that piracy exists, which is hardly news.

Michael W. Perry August 4, 2014 um 10:15 am

Those of the 'books should be free" (or at least cheap) should learn a lesson from the Russian roots of this plug-in.

Piracy is widespread in Russia and one result of that is that the country is far behind in software development. Only a fool would get into an industry beset by pirates. And if I were a software developer, no matter where I was located, I’d never release a Russian version.

The same could become true with ebooks in this country. Steal an author’s ebook and you’re making it just a little bit less like that he (or someone who writes like him) will write another. You’re cutting your own throat as a reader.

If you like an author, pay for his book. If a few publishers charge too much for their authors, cultivate a taste for authors whose books aren’t so expensive. But stealing is stupid as well as wrong. It even offers those high-priced publishers an excuse to keep their prices high.

One final note. In many cases, the real culprit behind high ebook prices isn’t the publisher. It is Amazon’s bizarre royalty scheme. Amazon only pays the market rate of 70% for books priced from $2.99 to $9.99. Outside that range, it pays a measly 35%. If for some reason (say a huge author advance), a publisher needs to earn more than $7 per sale (70% of $9.99) then it HAS to raise that price to well over $20 to begin to earn more than it did at $9.99.

Or to put it another way, don’t grouse about that "greedy" publisher when a book or textbook you want costs $25. Of that $25, the publisher (who must bear all the cost of producing the book) is getting under $9. It’s Amazon who is pocketing over $16 for doing no more than process a financial transaction and download a file.

And since Amazon will sic lawyers on any publisher who sells an ebook cheaper elsewhere, an ebook that has to be priced high to overcome Amazons measly royalties has to price priced high everywhere.

In short, if you’re ticked off about high ebook prices, your real enemy is probably Amazon not the publisher.

Karl August 4, 2014 um 10:33 am

In your "final note" you assume that the 70%/35% rate that Amazon pays to self-publishers also applies to corporate publishers. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case; do you have a source for that info?

And re. Russian piracy and Russian software development, correlation does not equal causation; Critical Thinking 101.

puzzled August 4, 2014 um 5:57 pm

Michael, do you even read this site?

An article posted here on 31 July showed that publishers make more on $9.99 books than at $14.99. Not only are the publishers being greedy, as this article shows, they’re being stupid.

Royalties from the big publishers are generally low, for ebooks they are almost always 25%, much less than Amazon is paying. For physical books, the royalties are usually less.

Your comment on Amazon’s 'bizarre royalty scheme' (70% under $10, 35% above that) is completely wrong. What Amazon is paying in royalties to the authors that it publishes, has absolutely no relationship to the price that the big publisher’s set for their books, nor to the royalties that they pay their authors. And, in the ebook world, 35% is still a lot more than the big publishers are paying.

And, the math demonstration ($25 book leads to Amazon getting $16, publisher getting $9), shows a complete lack of understanding of simple economics of the pricing of books. The publishers set a price for the books, which Amazon pays. Generally, the price set is about 70% of the retail price of the book, which leaves a 30% margin for Amazon. This is a fairly standard margin, across many industries. So, for a $10 book, the publisher gets $7 and Amazon keeps $3. For a $25 book, the publisher gets $17.50 and Amazon keeps $7.50.

What’s at dispute is whether or not Amazon can discount the books, and the size of the margin and other payments. The publishers want agency pricing, where Amazon cannot discount the books. Amazon wants to be able to discount the books. In neither case do the publishers get less than the price that they charge Amazon, regardless of what Amazon charges their customers for the book. For instance, with that $10 book, the publisher will always get $7, regardless of what Amazon prices the book at. If Amazon charges $10, they keep $3. If Amazon charges, $8, they keep $1. If Amazon charges $7, they keep nothing. If Amazon charges $5, they LOSE $2.

Amazon doesn’t sic lawyers on people who sell ebooks, regardless of the price. It’s the big publishers that ILLEGALLY colluded to set the prices of ebooks artificially high. Amazon’s 'measly' royalties are much higher than the big publisher’s pay.

Other factual misinterpretations from your comment:

The Russians (and everyone for that matter), are quite happy to pirate English (or other language) versions of software, they aren’t lying in wait for the Russian version to be released. So teach them a lesson and don’t publish your software anywhere.

Piracy is rampant in Russia is due to: the lack of availability and the general not caring about piracy. The lack of availability is something that everyone who lives outside of the US runs into.

Felipe Adan Lerma August 4, 2014 um 10:25 am

Michael, I never thought of the pricing that way, but sounds valid.

I think the bottomline is, all the hype from both sides of the Amazon-Hachette divide is probably missing valid points from either side.

At least it’s not as bad as our two political parties here (US), I hope (smiles).

Steve August 4, 2014 um 11:30 am

You simply have to ask yourself – 'How many of the users of this plugin would have bought my book if they could not have downloaded it for free'? The answer is probably 'none.' So how much is the loss of sales? Nada.

Hayden August 4, 2014 um 7:57 pm

Before I begin, I will say again that I think that piracy is wrong.

However, the publishers must have known that when they pushed prices for general fiction books up to $15, there would be a percentage of people who would not be able to afford to buy these books. Some of them may have even gone down the piracy route.

Cause and effect. I am sure that there are books written about this. I would suggest that the Publishers should buy one

Swedoc D. August 6, 2014 um 12:38 pm

I’m a firm supporter of piracy.
Believe it or not, the music industry got better since the advent of piracy: there’s more records being bade today than in 1999 (go ahead, challenge this FACT!), DIY flourished and big companies keep getting hurt. EMI collapsed just a couple of years ago.
Oh, also, EVERYONE listens to music now: you don’t have to be a privileged white middle class kid who happens to find 20$ in his pocket like it used to be. Oh, and by the way, 20$ used to be the price OF ONE CD!

On the other hand, buying books IS INDEED a problem for people who don’t have plenty of money. I know many paperback releases are priced at less than 10$ but you can’t ALWAYS read the classics!
If anything, I wish book piracy was MORE widespread. Tools like this Chrome extension are what helps keep the fight up and get more people to pirate stuff.
Books SHOULD be free if they’re in digital format.

I could conceive paying 1 or 2 bucks for a book, actually. But only if that 1 or 2 bucks went ENTIRELY to the author.

Oh, and one more thing: today you can find practically every movie you can think of online, for free. Does that mean the movie industry is suffering? I hardly think so… we’ve had more top-grossing movies in the last 5 years than in the last 50 years of film history.

Wake up, people. Culture is made to be free.

Felipe Adan Lerma August 6, 2014 um 4:22 pm

Swedoc, I’ve come to believe one of the best ways to obtain and view or read creative content, is via libraries.

More and more self-published authors are getting small royalties for reads or loans in libraries, often offered at extremely reduced rates, good for all reads on that one copy (big publishers usually aren’t as generous). And not all book sellers let all their authors have their books in a library (yuk!)

This is a good article dense with info, especially the interlibrary loan program.

Libraries support not only folk who feel prices are too high, but many many that can’t pay at all. Plus huge out-reach programs that help people who wouldn’t have ever thought they might read a book, study something of interest, or even catch the most recent movie.

Below is a link to a program in (near?) San Antonio.

Anyway, here’s hoping libraries also become something you might be interested in. Thanks so much for the viewpoint, it’s good that you’ve shared it.

Maybe we need a Chrome Library button (smiles)

Swedoc D. August 6, 2014 um 5:12 pm

You make a really good point too, I must admit.

Come to think of it, I’ve been going to the library less and less over the years. I guess I still have my card from ten years ago, though…

One thing I would immediately object, though, is what happens if a bunch of people from the same city want to read the same book? They usually stock a single copy of each book. I mean, if we had digital libraries this wouldn’t be a problem and I’m sorry if the stuff you linked touches on the subject (I haven’t had the time to read it yet) but this could really lead somewhere.

Felipe Adan Lerma August 6, 2014 um 5:24 pm

Good questions, but yes, these are referring to digital libraries.

Libraries aren’t just entering the digital age, they’re pulling people into it! 🙂

Big publishing does have very tight requirements as to how many people can read a digital copy before the library has to pay again for the rights to use it. But at least they’re mostly on board. At this time, some big publishers and Kindle Unlimited still aren’t allowing some of their books in libraries.

For little guys like me, I only get 45% royalty, once, for good.

If demand is so heavy a library needs more copies, then it’s still just that low royalty price for another copy, for the library’s permanent use.

The first link above addresses if more than one person in one library want a copy. For me, I waited two years to get a copy of Patterson’s Zoo (which I loved) because it was too high (hd or digital). Got it at Half Price Books using an additional 50% off coupon 🙂

But the U.S. is surprisingly ahead of a lot of the world. The UK is having a lot of problems I think. Digital Reader has a good article on it here :

Swedoc D. August 6, 2014 um 5:28 pm

Nice exchange of thoughts, thanks!

TheGreatFilter August 7, 2014 um 10:25 am

It’s probably not a good idea to give publicity to pirate sites. You could have removed the names.

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