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Piracy will bring about the end of Western Civilization

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.


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idi April 19, 2011 um 7:37 am

"I guess because so many people are buying ereaders. Everything I have ever had published is out there now."
I’m definitely missing something here. Isn’t that the job of publishers and authors , make something worth reading and earning money for it?
PS. I do have tons of pirated textbooks , mainly scanned , just because there isn’t a single place here in Turin to buy them, especially technical ones , and i have no intention to build fuel stock for the glacial age.

Julie April 19, 2011 um 9:26 am

Piracy has always been hard to quantify. The thing that really burns me up, though, are the pirates on eBay making money off of other people’s work, and eBay does nothing. They put up CDs FULL of ebooks and sell them for up to $20 (sometimes more) and claim they’re in the public domain. If Ebay does swat a seller down, they show up the next day under a different user ID.

File sharing is one thing, but when I see people making money off of MY hard work (stuff that’s still in print), it burns me up.

Lorraine April 19, 2011 um 1:51 pm

You may lose some customers to piracy, especially those who can’t get an ebook by legitimate means due to geo-restrictions.

But most people who pirate would have never purchased the book in the first place, so they are not lost sales.

Some authors (and musicians) and put their work out there to be pirated on purpose to build an audience. They seem to be fairly successful.

Mike Cane April 19, 2011 um 3:25 pm


Mini me April 20, 2011 um 12:10 am

Hmmm. Hyperbole, much?

Sweetpea April 20, 2011 um 5:52 am

The decline in overall book sales isn’t caused by the fact that people are simply reading less? I wonder how the decline of book sales would have gone if there hadn’t been an evolution from paper to bytes. Today’s youth mostly watches tv, the internet and plays computer games. Most of them can’t even spell anymore… (unless it’s in sms-language…)

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