Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Do Pirates Cost the Book Industry?

I read a report the other day that looked into the effects of music piracy on the music industry.  Surprisingly, and deeply contested by the music industry itself, it concluded that piracy hadn't destroyed the industry at all - it appears that they did that all by themselves.  According to the report, the majority of pirated music wouldn't have been bought - the people who made illegal copies did so mainly because they didn't value the music itself highly enough to warrant paying for it and would've done without it if the pirated copy wasn't available.

I have to say that I was banging a drum about this fifteen years ago, when the whole piracy thing started off in earnest - or when we all found our desktops had these new fangled CD-ROM recorders fitted.  There was a furore in the papers about people ripping CDs off and selling them cut price.  Some people were even giving their friends copies of their CDs, removing the need for more than one copy of any given CD to be bought, given the six degrees of separation concept.

Personally I never got involved - I did make MP3 copies of my favourite shop-bought CDs to play on my work computer - MP3 players cost an arm and a leg back then - but never felt the need to rip off a CD I really wanted, to fill my shelving with CD-Rs with the artist's name written on with a Sharpie.  In fact, what I actually did do about that time, was reduce the amount of CDs I bought because the music industry seemed to think putting up the price of the media was the way to fight the battle against piracy.  Fast forward ten or so years and the real prices have dropped, mainly due to supermarket and internet pressures, but I've kind of got out of the habit of buying so many CDs.  I suspect many people did the same.  Plus, the methods of delivery and buying have changed, which is why good music retailers are really struggling right now.

I maintained back then that if the music industry, which was carping like a real wounded bitch at the time and as far as I can tell hasn't really changed the record since, should have made it more affordable to own original music recordings instead of spending a fortune trying to prevent piracy.  My view then, and now, is that many of us enjoy the idea of owning the CD (or DVD, or Blu-Ray) and if the price is right and the media artwork is cool, we'd have kept buying the goods.  Of course, they didn't and most of us have found other legitimate ways of enjoying our music.  Maybe, if they had tapped into our need to own physical nice looking and sounding CDs, the cloud based systems for music, films and other media might not have evolved the way it has now.

More importantly, because the technology probably would have evolved anyway, if the music industry had embraced the digital revolution instead of fighting it tooth and nail, then iTunes and all the competing systems being touted by Amazon and Google would have been developed by the industry itself.  They left a gap in the market that took a computer hardware and software company to fill.  If they had, Apple probably wouldn't have been as big as they are now, the iPod, iTouch and iPhone market would have had to align more with the industry and maybe the iPad may not have seen the light of day.

A lot of maybe's and perhaps it's better that history took the course it did.  We'll never know.

The eBook industry is also carping about piracy, and I know it goes on.  Every couple of months I'll be seen in work reading my Nexus and somebody will offer to copy a CD they have 'full of free books'.  I just decline, thanks very much, because I have an ethical standpoint on piracy.  I know these CDs exist - look up eBooks on eBay and you'll find loads on there purporting to be legitimate - like Dan Brown, Stephen King and all the other authors who have books listed on these CDs are cool to have someone other than themselves and their publishers make money out of their hard work.  I like a bargain and if an author allows his or her books to be sold cheaply - such as on the Amazon Deal of the Day - or even for free as a promotional tool then I'll happily jump in and take advantage, because the person who owns the rights has made a conscious business decision themselves.

But how many eBook sales do these CDs spoil?  It's hard to know, partly because it seems the people who buy them off eBay gleefully copy them for all and sundry but also because we don't know how many of the books on each CD actually get read.  Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, sees eBook piracy as a form of marketing.  Sure, the odd book might be read for free by someone who wouldn't have read it in a month of Sundays and may, just, feel the need to read some more books by the same author.  They may even buy a copy or two, but even if they don't then they may talk up the author with their friends and acquaintances.

Perhaps if authors, small guys like me and big fish like Dan Brown alike, gave people the legitimate right to read our books for free or nearly free from time to time, then maybe we would all sell more books in the long run. It would also make it more difficult for the guys and gals copying eBooks onto CDs and flogging them on eBay as if they'd added some value other than dumping the content of their hard drive onto a CD-R.  They would still do it, of that I'm sure, but perhaps the reading public would be less tempted to buy those CDs.  Then the only people buying them would be the inveterate collectors of stuff whose only aim is to own and who wouldn't have bought the prime product anyway.

This is one reason why I serialise some of my books on this blog and on occasions put them up for free on the likes of Apple, Sony and Barnes&Noble.  Unfortunately I struggle to do the same with Amazon, but if you ever find I am giving a book away you want to read on your Kindle, just bubble me to Amazon, who will price match.

Pirates won't cripple the book industry.  Self publishing is reshaping it, sure, and new ways of reading will make the economics less lucrative for all authors, even for the Dan Browns of this planet, but as long as the industry recognises that the world is changing - has changed - then it will survive.  And in this economy, that's the best many can hope to achieve.


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