Excellent commentary on a recent NYT Op-Ed by Scott Turow (head of the Authors Guild). I definitely recommend reading both.
What might this mean for our consideration of ebooks? Even though music and books are different in some aspects, they would both fall under what the report refers to as an “experience good” so I believe we can (at least cautiously) extrapolate the findings of this report to ebooks. A perennial issue in conversations with the Big Six is the displacement of sales due to library lending. At times, it even seems that the Big Six view library patrons as ebook pirates, so let us then embrace this study’s findings, which show a lack of sales displacement. In fact, libraries are much more similar to the legal music streaming services discussed in the report—and those streaming services stimulated sales.
I have long maintained that I only buy something if I already know what I’m getting and know that I like it, whether it’s music or books (print books; I still haven’t made the plunge into ebooks for my recreational reading). I’m glad studies continue to support the idea that “preview services” (like streaming or libraries) can and do stimulate sales rather than diminishing them.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to feel this way, but my overall impression of copyright, intellectual property, and swirling vortex of issues around those two issues can be summed up in one word: unsatisfactory. […]
Professionally, it feels like dancing through a landmine field. I am trying to steer people to the legitimate track of properly authorized and compensated copies of digital media, but society and business seems to conspire against this ideal. The social acceptance of media copying have lead me to the hardly surprising conclusion that people are copying the music and movies that they check out from the library at home. Over the course of my library years, I’ve even had the unfortunate experience of intervening when people were brazenly ripping CDs onto their laptops at the library. Some honestly didn’t know that it was a copyright infraction while others picked up on the fact that they could copy those CDs but in the privacy of their own homes. When it comes to eBooks, it’s tricky to guide people away from the ease of P2P downloading when the so called “friction” of eBook lending turns the question of borrowing into a overly long complex and extremely contextual answer. In trying to respect the owners of copyright, I end up showcasing all the madness that they have brought down on themselves in order to enforce it. It does nothing to encourage compliance nor engender respect for the concept or the laws supporting it.
Great post on his experience with downloading/file-sharing and copyright issues.
This is a very good piece from the WSJ on piracy and the difference between music and books when it comes to digital transition. http://on.wsj.com/JPYJ42
Of course both products are very different. Over the 400 years we have been trained to think of books as a self contained artifact and a physical product acquired and lovingly shelved in your home or library. Music’s “product” is the sound emitted invisibly from a speaker, often enjoyed communally and broadcast for free, turned on at will pouring from speakers like water from a tap. Vinyl, cassettes, and CDs were packaging and since the demise of the album cover just soulless containers. Training us to buy digital music by the download is like training us to buy bottled water. Convenience and prestige help but if you’re thirsty you can always find a water fountain or turn on the tap. The closest thing books have had to a public fountain are libraries.
That is the big question in digital book’s future. Will we see book’s content become a utility like water pouring/streaming to our screens like tap water? As we move away from native apps and the internet becomes the entertainet will we stop thinking of books as artifacts themselves and consider the words like music or television images - something we pay for monthly for unlimited access like cable, electricity, or water?
The comments may be the best part of this as people argue about some of the points the author made.
My favorite line:
Publishers need to make e-books worth the download. They need to explain the value of the book to a plugged-in audience and they need to grab fans’ attention before the pirates do.
At least one of the commenters disagrees, saying it’s all about cost. I agree with both sides: making ebooks worth the download includes making them worth the cost being charged. So long as the consumers think they’re being overcharged for ebooks, ebook piracy is going to be a fairly common thing.
I mean, come on. If all you’re doing is repackaging the text in an electronic file, then no, people are not going to be happy paying a lot for that (“a lot” being relative, of course). Perhaps publishers should imitate the video industry and release two versions: 1) the barebones text for a lower price, and 2) a “special edition” with enhancements (video, images, links, the possibilities are numerous) for a higher price, just like there are DVDs with just the movie on them and DVDs with commentary, special features, etc. Then they can cover the people who really just want an electronic version of the text as well as taking advantage of the things that can be done in ebooks that can’t be done in print. (How that would work out in the consumer market for born-digital texts where the “enhancements” are a crucial part of the content, I don’t know, but it seems like the ebooks being talked about aren’t that type.)
N.B.: I have not bought any ebooks, so this is my outsider’s view on things.
Interesting comparison of how the publishing industry has differed from the music industry in its reaction to digital distribution.
Of course, piracy emerged anyway. Countless unlicensed e-books can be found online, and millions of people use them. But sales figures suggest that relatively few of these downloads represent foregone purchases. Most Kindle, iPad and Nook owners seem to view piracy as a low-rent and time-consuming experience compared with the sanctioned alternatives. They probably wouldn’t if the publishers had kicked things off with a five-year content boycott [like the music industry did].
On the one hand, I’m glad publishers learned from the music industry’s mistakes. On the other hand, libraries wouldn’t need to be dealing with ebooks yet if publishing had imitated the music industry. Hm, now there’s an interesting thought…
Has DRM prevented piracy? That seems unlikely, since it is relatively easy to get around those locks and copy a book if you really want to. What is pretty clear, however, is that those rights-management locks have cemented Amazon’s control over the publishers’ content. In other words, it has given the online retailer a stick with which to beat them, as Stross described it recently. And it has also made it more difficult for some independent e-book sellers, because publishers won’t let them sell their books without DRM.
Following up on comments last week in which the RIAA finally admitted that innovation is the best tool for tackling piracy, Brin said that the piracy problem would continue as long as people found it easier than using legitimate offerings.
“I haven’t tried it for many years but when you go on a pirate website, you choose what you like; it downloads to the device of your choice and it will just work,” Brin explained, adding that the restrictive mechanisms employed by authorized sites only represent artificial walls and “disincentives for people to buy.”
Yesterday on twitter, I expressed annoyance with the hundreds of people who send me emails or tumblr messages or whatever to let me know that they illegally downloaded one of my books, as if they expect me to reply with my hearty congratulations that they are technologically sophisticated enough to use google or whatever. (I dislike it when people pirate my books. I know that not all authors feel this way, but I do. As I’ve discussed before, I think copyright law is disastrously stupid in the US, but I don’t think piracy is an appropriate response to that stupidity.*)
I then pointed out that my books are already available for free at thousands of public libraries not just in the US, but also in Europe, South America, Australia, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, the UK, etc., to which many people replied, What’s the difference between pirating a book and checking it out from the library?
Continued at original post, and I highly recommend reading the whole thing. :)
…as the growth in ebook demand continues to increase, access to legitimately free ebooks is decreasing. The reason is that the Big Six publishers are fucking stupid. If you want to borrow an ebook from one of the Big Six, your ability to get it from the library is down to almost zero.
Now, what happens when you take all the ereader and tablet and laptop users who have been behaving like good citizens by borrowing their ebooks from the library and you cut off their legal supply? They’re going to get their fixes from the Dark Side of the internet. Or from each other.
This pattern is common. We often try to fight problems by yelling at them instead of accepting the reality of what people do, from controversial national legislation to passive-aggressive office signs. Such efforts usually fail, often with a lot of collateral damage, much like Prohibition and the ongoing “war” on “drugs”.
And, more recently (and with much less human damage), media piracy.
Big media publishers think they’re right to keep fighting piracy at any cost because they think it’s costing them a lot of potential sales.
It is, but not as many as they think, and not for the reasons they think.
Imagine buying a car that locks you into one brand of fuel. A new BMW, for example, that only runs on BMW gas. There are plenty of BMW gas stations around, even a few in your neighborhood, so convenience isn’t an issue. But if one of those other gas stations offers a discount, a membership program, or some other attractive marketing campaign, you can’t participate. You’re locked in with the BMW gas stations.
This could never happen, right? Consumers are too smart to buy into something like this. Or are they? After all, isn’t that exactly what’s happening in the ebook world? You buy a dedicated ebook reader like a Kindle or a NOOK and you’re locked in to that company’s content. Part of this problem has to do with ebook formats (e.g., EPUB or Mobipocket) while another part of it stems from publisher insistence on the use of digital rights management (DRM). Let’s look at these issues individually.
To sum up my original point, I’m trying to get the message across that piracy is a service problem. If media companies start embracing easy to use digital methods of distribution, it’s the best way to combat piracy. You might not be able to ever beat “free,” but you sure as hell can compete with “easy.”
…The idiotic rule of thumb in the industry is that one download equals one lost sale, and as such they are able to compute HUGE losses for themselves with download statistics. Using this sort of logic, the entertainment industry has claimed that despite record profits and returns, piracy is taking a giant chunk out of their bottom line.