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Updated: Half of All eBooks Downloaded in Spain in 2011 Were Pirated, And Other BS

There’s a new post over on Publishing Perspectives today that has me deeply annoyed. The post quotes a Spanish journalist as making some wild allegations about the Spanish ebook market.

Convinced as he is that peer-to-peer sharing is a major concern, he asserts that “according to the industry, in 2011, 49% of e-book content available online in Spain was distributed without the proper copyright holders’ permission. This pirated content is valued at 793 million euros by the industry. In 2010 the pirated book content was 40% of the total. That 9% increase in one year is supposed to be the highest for any cultural content, for example, music or film.”

I’m calling bullshit.

This story has been bugging me all afternoon as I tried to unravel the nonsense in pursuit of the truth. As I sit here now, I’m still not sure whether the stats above are misinterpreted, misstated, or simply made up.  I have spent 3 hours on this and I cannot say for sure where the data came from, much less whether it is accurate.

Nevertheless, I am calling bullshit. The stats above don’t pass the sniff test. I cannot conceive of the series of survey questions that could have resulted in the stats above. Oh, I can think up questions that would result in 49%, but not anything that would result the statement above.

Was it invented from whole cloth by an industry trade group to support more restrictive DRM legislation? I don’t know, but that’s what I would put money on.

P.S. I’m going to continue to look into it, and let me explain why. It’s not that I want to disprove the numbers (though I expect that to happen); I see this as a puzzle. How exactly were real figures developed, and how did they get distorted into the statements above? This is an intriguing puzzle and I look forward to finding the missing pieces.

Update: I was right; this is bullshit. It turns out that this is based on an IDC report from late last year. (Here’s a summary PDF.) IDC polled 3,000 Spanish consumers on their buying habits. After applying a lot of handwavium they arrive at the 49% figure. This extrapolation from a survey group to a huge statistic is based on too many assumptions to be trusted.

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Fbone April 25, 2012 um 9:35 pm

I suppose the article’s author was not available for comment? Or the "coalition" and IDC?

Nate Hoffelder April 25, 2012 um 9:50 pm

I did ask on Twitter and she would not go further than confirming this was what she was told by the Spanish journalist.

I did track down the journalist and I am awaiting a reply.

fjtorres April 26, 2012 um 7:35 am

The number is probably a lot of handwaving based on anecdotes and (maybe) hardware sales numbers and guesstimates.
Which is to say, meaningless as to accuracy.
On the other hand, don’t assume the *scale* of the number to wrong.
Spain, along with Peru and Argentina are well-known hotbeds of well… "unpaid acquisition"… of commercial digital content. As well as "unauthorized distribution".

(Over at Teleread there’s been a discussion about the P-word being offensive and charged and all that so I’ve decided to be sensitive to the feelings of the p-folk. For may a minute or two. 😉 )

49% is most likely inaccurate.
It is, however a good base for an over-under betting pool.
(I’ll take the over, BTW.)

Nate Hoffelder April 26, 2012 um 8:20 am

In that case, I’ll take under. I like billion to one odds.

Paul Durrant April 26, 2012 um 8:15 am

I’d be astonished if the proportion of pirated:bought ebooks downloaded in Spain was anywhere near 49:51. I’d expect more like 90:10 or higher.

After all, it’s easy to download a torrent with 1,000 ebooks in it, even if you’re only going to read one (or none) of them.

Pirated ebooks aren’t a problem unless they are replacing purchases. In the vast majority of cases, this is not the case.

cookie April 26, 2012 um 10:42 am

No one well informed buys e-books in Spain. They get free shit at sites like these:

cookie April 26, 2012 um 10:50 am

Here is another popular ebook site used by Spaniards for free shit. 62,000 titles at their disposal.

Nate Hoffelder April 26, 2012 um 11:05 am

How is that any different from the many different English language pirate sites? To be more exact, what evidence is there that piracy is more prevalent in Spain than elsewhere?

cookie April 26, 2012 um 11:15 am

I am not claiming there is proof. I am speaking anecdotally based on my own observations and experiences.

Brits Are More Likely to Own eReaders Than Americans – The Digital Reader April 26, 2012 um 12:01 pm

[…] on that is because I want to point out the difference between this statistic and the figures I reported on yesterday.Here we have an admission that some people have committed piracy at least once, while yesterday the […]

Len Feldman April 26, 2012 um 12:40 pm

Nate, the article that you referred to does say that the statistics are suspect, because they were paid for by a lobbying group representing publishers. The writer’s defense was that there aren’t any other statistics to refer to, but the fundamental problem with that argument is that if there’s only one source for statistics, that doesn’t make that source correct. The MPAA and RIAA floated incredibly high numbers for how many movies and how much music has been pirated; those numbers were subsequently disproved by independent third-party research.

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