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KristieJ contacted me a week or so ago with a link to an article posted by Pamela Clare. Clare had found that her works were being pirated on various internet sites and this incensed her, rightfully so. The first thing that anyone has to acknowledge is that piracy will always be with us. It will never go away, not matter how much we rant, rage and fume. The second thing is that there are ways to reduce piracy and this post is about the ways we can go about reducing piracy.
There are four key ways to reduce piracy: Education, increased availability, price, and ease of use/interopability.
The best thing that authors can do (other than sending DMCA Cease and Desist letters) is to educate readers, both at their own sites and at the sites where the pirating is taking place. This is best done in a reasoned tone if at all possible. It is absolutely right for an author to be angry over pirating but if the goal is to reduce piracy, you must ask yourself what is the best tone to take.
Is the “angry you are the worst human being on the world” going to change behavior or is a different tone going to make a better impact? It helps inform people that while you understand their financial struggle, that in order for people to keep getting the books that they want, they must buy those books. It helps to inform people that failing to buy a book will result in an author not exhibiting sufficient sales to a publisher. It helps to show people that you are not getting rich by writing but that you do this out of a passion for the written word, a passion that people who download seem to share but that downloading only hurts the entire ecosystem of publishing.
The most effective form of combatting piracy comes prior to the downloading stage. In other words, once you have to write the email on the sharing site or send out the Cease and Desist letter, you’ve already lost the battle.
I would argue that one of the greatest enablers of piracy is the lack of availability of the work. What if the music industry had decided to offer, for sale, music in a digital format? Napster was a two year phenomena but it changed the face of an entire industry because people were finally able to get music in the form that they wanted – individual songs in an alacarte fashion. Many music insiders look back at that and mumble “what if”. What if Sony or BMG had developed that program first. Would there have ever been any impetus for people to create a peer to peer sharing network?
According to one academic study, when NBC removed its content from iTunes in December of 2007, an 11.5% increase for pirated content of NBC works occurred. (The report is downloadable and has some interesting assumptions about pirating behavior). Anecdotally, this would seem to be confirmed. For instance, the English speaking countries (particularly the US) is one of the greatest consumers of scanlations, Japanese manga scanned in and translated into English.
The lack of availability forces the reader to make a choice. Either pirate or go without. Clare noted in her blog post that her books were only available on the Kindle. It’s a closed format available only to those who buy a Kindle or own an iPhone (and are willing to read on the iPhone) and only available to US residents. This is not something to brag about. One of the reasons that people will pirate is because they simply do not have access to the digital file either because of geographic restrictions, format restrictions, or other impediments such as the late release of the ebook compared to the print or the failure of a book to be in digital format in the first place.
I ask authors and publishers this one question. Why would you allow the only available digital copy to be a pirated one?
Pricing is also important in combatting piracy. Price the content higher than the general public believes its worth and the content will be pirated at a higher rate. An author or a publisher must do one of two things: a) convince readers that the content is worth a certain value or b) price the product in line with the consumer expectation. Kindle has gone a long way in convincing readers that $9.99 is the ceiling for ebooks. RAND has announced that $9.99 will be the price point for its books.
Ease of Use:
Never, ever make the free copy easier to obtain than the for payment copy. Digital rights management and the proliferation of proprietary formats is one reason why piracy continues to flourish. DRM prevents readers from actually owning their books. DRM makes criminals of ordinary people by forcing people to violate the DMCA and strip the DRM away. It reduces customer choice and actually removes control over the pricing and sale of the work and places it in the hands of the DRM provider.
One of the reasons iTunes was successful and why Amazon is seeing a market share increase is due to the ease of purchase. Piracy takes some technical know how. A casual reader isn’t likely to turn to piracy if a legitimate product is offered at a reasonable price.
So to authors and publishers out there. Help us reduce the impact of piracy (because it will never be stopped) by giving us the tools to do so. Make every book released in print available worldwide to those who are willing and able to buy. Make it at a price that is fair (which may admittedly vary). Make it easy to purchase and to use from device to device. I am begging you, authors and publishers, to make give readers the opportunity to buy digital copies of your books through legitimate channels.
Readers, buy books when you can and look for every legitimate form of free if you can’t.