Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pirating eBooks

A reader kindly directed me towards the Mobile Read Forums, a great source for free eBooks without copyright. That and Project Gutenberg would be enough to keep somebody reading until the end of days. But while searching for free eBooks, I inevitably also stumbled upon the other kind of "free", that is free but illegal. And I noticed something which is slightly different in eBook piracy compared to the piracy of films or music: eBook files are generally small, often under 1 MB when without pictures; and in consequence people pirate complete libraries. Finding a torrent with hundreds or even thousands of pirated books is not unusual.

Jeff Bezos presented numbers during his Kindle Fire presentation showing that Amazon is now selling more eBooks than physical books. Their profit margin is only dented by the fact that they sell the Kindle devices at a loss. They obviously wouldn't do that if they thought that people would then stuff their Kindles with pirated eBooks. While all we hear from the music and film industry is wailing about piracy, the eBook industry appears not be very concerned, in spite of the fact that pirating eBooks is easier than pirating films or music.

Thus I wonder whether people reading eBooks are inherently more honest than people consuming other forms of electronic content. Maybe it is only people of a certain age and social class that are interested in books at all. This summer, during the London riots, the only shops that weren't looted were book stores. The underprivileged young people who thought that society owed them something and took everything they wanted by looting obviously weren't even interested in books when they came for free. It stands to reason that in calmer times, when looting is limited to electronic piracy, these priorities don't change.

Personally I generally don't pirate. I spend a lot of money on DVDs, mostly of TV series, instead of downloading them illegally. Music is less of an item, but what songs I own either came on legally bought CDs or from iTunes. But then I am middle class (in the UK definition of the term, not the US one which includes the working class) and middle aged. Thus presumably I will be a good customer for Amazon for eBooks too, only downloading for free the books that have no more copyright (and even Amazon has lots of those for free). The only problem with that is that there are books I already paid for in the physical form, and if I want those on my Kindle, I will have to pay for them again.

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