Will the growing eBook market go through the same piracy pains that digital music has in the past decade? According to a report from the New York Times it already is seeing a trend toward pirated ebook files on sharing sites similar to the well known Napster over a decade ago.
From my perspective I can see this happening but if publishers handle this situation correctly, it needn’t escalate to the levels the music industry took to try to quell piracy. Were restrictions needed? Certainly but not to the extent that the music industry took. Level heads can prevail and all can benefit if a few things are considered.
First, the cost of eBooks needs to be discussed. Seth Godin has discussed this issue on numerous occasions in his blog and in a post written fifteen months ago, mentioned the silliness of book publishers wholesaling eBooks to Amazon at the same price as their printed versions. They do this even though there are no additional shipping, production, paper, shredding, or warehouse costs with digital files. Clearly the eBook can and should sell for less. Once the file is available, it’s a matter of downloading it to your reader device or computer. Other than the server space used to store the file and maybe the relatively small cost of operating an online store, there’s not other cost involved. As a user of the Sony Reader, I pay anywhere from ten to fifteen dollars per eBook download and while I don’t totally mind the expense, I will say that I do budget myself and buy much fewer books as a result. If the cost of eBook downloads could be reduced to say five to seven dollars per download, I would be more apt to buy eBooks and more of them. Why can this not be done? Publishers first need to stop operating in a paradigm of paper. Understand that the eBook division is a different enterprise with different rules and allow for them. Trying to bind all the book sales into one does nothing but stifle eBook growth.
Second, the eBook market needs to agree on a standard file for readers. The ePub format is a start and I’ve downloaded a few files to my Sony Reader to try out. Most notably, I have the entire ESV Study Bible (footnotes and all) on my Reader in ePub format. I believe Crossway Publishers (Owners of the ESV translation) did this so they could control distribution. The format works on both the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader (as well as other brands I’m sure) and there is no noticeable difference in quality from the proprietary formats of either device. The point is that once I’ve purchased the eBook file, I should be able to have the freedom to read it on a device of my choosing. If the Sony Reader I own needs replaced and I want to change brands (I wouldn’t at this point), I should have that freedom without worrying if my eBook library will transfer to the new device.
It’s going to take some creativity for the publishing industry to embrace the different book sale paradigm that eBooks allow. Lower the cost and establish an industry standard and watch your sales soar. Better yet, give away some of that product to encourage sales and attract customers you might never have been able to previously. Will there still be piracy issues? Yes but they will be reduced substantially. I would rather pay for a commercial download that I’m guaranteed is error free without virus worries than I would a pirated file that isn’t guaranteed to be the entire file or one riddled with errors.
If the publishing industry acts now with a proactive plan including the ideas I’ve mentioned, I doubt it will see the problems that some claim are coming. Let’s not ruin a good thing folks. The eBook market is primed to change the way we think about publishing. Let’s enjoy the diversity rather than stifle its creativity.