There be Pirates!

The Millions posted an interview with a book pirate on January 25,2010. The interview leads off with a criticism of the Attributor study that states pirated e-books may costs the market nearly $3 billion dollars,* while The Millions questions this value, they do point our that the study did identify 3.2 million downloaded books. C Max Magee set out to find one of these pirates and found a willing interviewee with The Real Caterpillar. The interview is an eye-opening account of what happens when book-lovers start sharing texts through torrents and the reasoning behind their decisions.

The most important thing for publishers is the last question in the interview:

TM (the Millions): What changes in the e-book industry would inspire you to stop participating in e-book file sharing?

TRC (The Real Caterpillar): This is a tough question. I guess if every book was available in electronic format with no DRM for reasonable prices ($10 max for new/bestseller/omnibus, scaling downwards for popularity and value) it just wouldn’t be worth the time, effort, and risk to find, download, convert and load the book when the same thing could be accomplished with a single click on your Kindle.(emphasis added) Even in this situation, I would probably still grab a book if I stumbled across the file and thought it might interest me – or if I wanted to check it out before buying a paper copy....

Perhaps if readers were more confident that the majority of the money went to the author, people would feel more guilty about depriving the author of payment. I think most of the filesharing community feels that the record industry is a vestigal organ that will slowly fall off and die – I don’t know to what extent that feeling would extend to publishing houses since they are to some extent a different animal. In the end, I think that regular people will never feel very guilty “stealing” from a faceless corporation, or to a lesser extent, a multi-millionaire like King.

Sidestepping the ethical holes in the argument since the interviewee is well aware that his defense is faulty, it's important to point out that this person finds spending several hours to scan and proof text before uploading it to a site is easier than dealing with the DRM and business model publishers have constructed for the distribution of e-books. Publishers need to keep this in mind when they talk about e-book piracy as there's no financial gain for these people just financial loss for the industry.

*The report does not give a time frame for this cost nor is it exactly clear what prices they used to achieve this value. For example one of their most pirated books in the science category is Molecular Biology of the Cell which has a hardcover list price of $152.00, a paperback of $97.73 and no e-book price. Which price was used and is that price different from the one used for books that have an e-book available? More transparency on their methodology would be helpful if we are to trust their conclusions from their report.

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A publishing meme I can get behind

Tomorrow Museum starts their article on how self-publishing can make sense for some authors with this quote from Virginia Woolf:

Books ought to be so cheap that we can throw them away if we do not like them, or give them away if we do. Moreover, it is absurd to print every book as if it were fated to last a hundred years. The life of the average book is perhaps three months. Why not face this fact? Why not print the first edition on some perishable material which would crumble to a little heap of perfectly clean dust in about six months time? If a second edition were needed, this could be printed on good paper and well bound. Thus by far the greater number of books would die a natural death in three months or so. No space would be wasted and no dirt would be collected.

The article cites it via Snarkmarket via The New Yorker. The original quote comes from a 1927 BBC radio broadcast between Virginia and Leonard Woolf. A quick search shows that the broadcast or script isn't readily available on the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg or the BBC.

I once tried to propose this concept to some publishing people and they proceeded to inform me that it makes very little economic sense for the book as the first 12 months of publication are when publishers need to make back as much money as possible on the first edition of the book. Publishers need to sell hard covers at as high a price point as possible to recoup the advance and cost of labor and shipping (oh and sending out all those ARCs and finished copies for review). They also proceeded to tell me that most book buyers want the hardcover to showcase on their bookshelf after reading. A paperback or cheap edition would look horrible on a bookcase. Of course I should point out, in order to cut costs, most of the paper trade publishers use is a little better than the 3-months Woolf talks about.


Running Press Archives

Where do publishing documents go when they die?

In the case of Philadelphia publisher, Running Press, all that documentation is headed off to the University of Pennsyvania. According to an article on Publishers Weekly website by Jim Milliot (January 11, 2010), former publisher, Buz Teacher has donated an "archive [that] includes a complete catalogue of Running Press titles as well as correspondence, contracts, business records and advertising and promotional brochures. This could be a potential boon to all researchers looking to research non-traditional publishers during the last 30 years of the 20th Century. Running Press's main product line included heavily illustrated books, mini editions and kits.