From Baldur Bjarnason, writing at Futurebook:
The greatest threat to the continuing survival of the publishing industry is… the publishing industry
Most incumbents in the industry misunderstand the origin and nature of piracy, how it develops, how it is fostered, and how it thrives. If they did, they’d drop DRM and be scrambling around to transform the industry practices that threaten publishing’s very survival
They don’t understand that piracy is a function of community, not technology.
You can see this process repeat itself several times over in other segments of the comics and TV industry:
Restrictions lock out a large group of interested buyers.
A segment of those buyers form a piracy group reasoning that they can’t be harming anybody because none of them could pay even if they wanted to.
A community is formed that grows used to getting stuff for free.
The existence of the community readjusts the audience’s expectations of what is right and what is wrong.
Piracy becomes endemic and impossible to eradicate, even if you do address all of the concerns that caused the groups to form in the first place.
Attempts to take out the communities result in massive consumer backlash because the consumer now expects these things for free.
The reason why this happens is simple: excepting major taboos, human beings rely on social proof to tell them what is right and what is wrong.
Your average reader’s internal compass for right and wrong is going to take its adjustments from the surrounding social group. The human animal is social to such a degree that the existence of an established community is going to weigh heavier than the voices of lone authors or the PR missives of large companies. People will use social proof to rationalise cheating. Many people will ignore their own beliefs and conscience if most of those they see as their peers say or act differently.
The tragedy of modern publishing is that the industry seems to be trying its best to promote and foster the creation of ebook piracy groups.
They enforce strict geographical restrictions that exclude large markets that are used to buying their books in english (most of northern Europe, for example).
Amazon’s regional surcharges mean that the ebooks that are available are more expensive.
They implement DRM that restricts, sometimes severely, fair use, note-taking, text-to-voice, and clipping.
They sometimes strip the ebook files themselves of covers, leaving the reader with ugly, generic, covers.
The legal ebook versions are much more likely to be filled with errors or even missing text than their print equivalents, leaving buyers uncertain as to whether they should buy more new titles.
Piracy groups solve these problems for many readers. (Note, I am not talking about generic piracy groups that unload hundreds of titles at a time, most of which have clearly never been read.) That the publishing industry stops creating these problems is essential to its survival. Now’s the time to do it. It’s still early days in the ebook transition and the industry has a narrow window of opportunity to address these problems before these groups become more common.
You should read the rest: The Community’s the Thing. I don’t have much to add to this excellent discussion of the origins of content piracy, except to point out there is a mainstream publisher who gets it. In fact, it’s the only mainstream publisher that I actually deal with directly. But for this one exception, I get all my books from Amazon’s site because Amazon’s shopping experience is so great. Why do I go to this publisher’s website? Check out this blurb:
You get lifetime access to ebooks you purchase through [our website]. Whenever possible we provide them to you in five DRM-free file formats — PDF, ePub, Kindle-compatible .mobi, DAISY, and Android .apk. Our ebooks are enhanced with color images. They are fully searchable, and you can cut-and-paste and print them. We also alert you when we’ve updated your ebooks with corrections and additions. Now includes Dropbox syncing.
You don’t get that from a pirated book (or from any other mainstream publisher). This publisher considers piracy “an early-stage marketing investment”. The head of the company says:
… the losses due to piracy are far outweighed by the benefits of the free flow of information, which makes the world richer, and develops new markets for legitimate content. Most of the people who are downloading unauthorized copies of [our] books would never have paid us for them anyway; meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of others are buying content from us, many of them in countries that we were never able to do business with when our products were not available in digital form.
This is a publisher that sells to the crowd most likely to be acculturated to online piracy. And they sell bundles. For example, for a print book that they sell for $24.99 might cost $19.99 in ebook form, but you get them bundled for $27.49. And this is for books where having both has real value to the consumer.
As you may have guessed, this isn’t one of the Big Six. I’m talking about O’Reilly Books. A lot of folks here may have never heard of them because they sell to geeks. They even sell books by other publishers on their website. They are advertising a Microsoft Press book on their home page right now. Don’t let any of the Big Six tell you that this stuff can’t be done. It is being done.
Guest post by William Ockham