Last updated: December 30, 2018
Who’s Stealing eBooks? Book Piracy Continues
Production and sales of eBooks increased rapidly in the last decade.
Indie authors may have led the way, but bestsellers (and their publishers) soon joined the eBook revolution.
Publishers begot lawyers; copyrights, DRM, and royalties soon followed.
Who’s stealing eBooks, and who is paying?
What’s the future for digital rights management, and how does this affect publishers and authors?
Our research into eBook piracy found some interesting statistics illustrated in the following graphic:
Who’s Stealing Ebooks?
Book piracy has been around for longer than you might expect. Centuries ago, rogue publishers distributed censored texts and cheap reprints using good old-fashioned paper and ink.
But today’s digital world has spawned a whole new breed of piracy – electronic book piracy – and there’s a raft of new counter-measures in place to keep them at bay.
Piracy in Numbers
$8.19B US eBook sales
- Projected annual revenue from eBooks in US by 2017 (this is up from $2.31B in 2011).
$10M library.nu and file it sales
- Annual revenue for eBook pirate sites library.nu and ifile.it, until they were closed down in 2012.
- 22.5% of today’s consumer book sales are eBooks.
- 76% of digital content meant for academic use is available for free from pirate sites.
- 78% rise in unauthorized book downloads on BitTorret following the launch of the iPad in 2010.
- 75% of eBooks in the US are bought, not copied or downloaded for free.
- 69% of eBook owners purchased all the books in their collection.
- 1.45M education blogs were shut down in response to a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) claim when a copy of the 270-word Becks Hopelessness Scale was shared on the Edublogs website.
- LendInk facilitates legitimate eBook lending between readers without hosting files itself. It was shutdown in 2012 when angry authors wrongly claimed it was a piracy site.
- Boundless has been sued by publishers such as Pearson, Cengage and Macmillion Higher Education for creating free versions of their textbooks.
- A single individual had to pay $7,000 in damages for sharing “Herb Gardening For Dummies” on BitTorrent.
The Digital Rights Management Argument
How it works…
- Protected eBooks are “scrambled” by the seller, and the customer “unscrambles” them using a key or special software.
- Cracking DRM-protected books is easily done using free software and plug-ins.
- In the long term, it becomes more convenient for potential customers to read, share and re-sell cracked (pirated) eBooks.
However, circumventing DRM is still illegal in the US under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
- Tor Books UK Tor Books UK reported there was no discernible increase in piracy of its books after removing DRM from all titles for a year.
- Harry Potter JK Rowling famously withheld publishing Harry Potter eBooks for several years, citing fears of eBook piracy. The eBooks were eventually released DRM-free, even on Amazon.
- The Result Sales of Harry Potter eBooks hit $4.8 million in the first month, despite rampant piracy. Physical book sales also rose due to the publicity.
Authors and Publishers on eBook Piracy
“Rewarding customers, not threatening them, is the most effective tool for getting money in the bank, despite nonsensical revenge fantasies about busting pirates.”
- Cory Doctorow
Blogger, journalist, and science fiction author
“While we have not yet seen harmful effects of eBook piracy and file sharing on our eBook portfolio, these are nevertheless considered serious topics.”
- Springer Publishing
Quoted in 2013
“Just because someone buys a book or movie or song, or gets a download off the Internet, doesn’t mean that they own the right to reproduce and distribute it.”
- Stephanie Meyer
Young-adult fiction writer
“The ultimate goal of a writer is to be read. Money comes later.”
- Paulo Coelho
Author of “The Alchemist”
Russian sales of Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” after he personally released a “pirated” Russian translation. Previously is was selling just 1,000 copies a year.
Even in the days or yore, book piracy thrived in response to the inefficiencies of legitimate book cartels. Today’s publishers are divided over the harm, or even benefits, that eBook piracy has on the industry.
What remains true is that many sellers are discovering that readers are willing to pay for the real deal – as long as the deal is good.
Would You Steal an EBook?
- What happens with digital rights management in the real world? – theguardian.com
- It’s safer to pirate ebooks than purchase them yourself – digitaltrends.com
- Is Rowling Tarnishing Her Rep Abroad over Piracy Fears? – publishersweekly.com
- Lost in Translation – publishersweekly.com
- One Year Later, the Results of Tor Books UK Going DRM-Free – tor.com
- Doubling Down on DRM – publishersweekly.com
- Pottermore sells nearly $5 million worth of e-books in first month – paidcontent.org
- Coda: A Short History of Book Piracy – piracy.americanassembly.org
- E-book sales revenue in the U.S. 2008-2018 – statista.com
- Downloading and streaming content before purchase in the UK by type 2012 – statista.com
- E-book share of total consumer book sales in the U.S. 2009-2015 – statista.com
- ServerBeach takes 1.45 million edublogs offline just 12 hours after sending through a Pearson DMCA notice for a 20 question list… – premium.wpmudev.org
- 3 Major Publishers Sue Open-Education Textbook Start-Up – chronicle.com
- $7,000 Damages for Sharing a “For Dummies” Book on BitTorrent – torrentfreak.com
- eBook Piracy ‘Surges’ After iPad Launch – torrentfreak.com
- Piracy Doesn’t Harm eBook Sales, Publisher Says – torrentfreak.com
- Best-Selling Author Turns Piracy into Profit – torrentfreak.com
- Furious Author Cancels Pirated Book – torrentfreak.com
- Lunch over IP: Paulo Coelho: Why I pirate my own books – lunchoverip.com
- New DRM Will Change the Words in Your E-Book – wired.com
- Students Found to Rely on Pirated Textbooks to Save Costs – goodereader.com
- Copy Culture in the US & Germany – piracy.americanassembly.org
- EBook revenue grew significantly in 2012 – aptaracorp.com
- U.S. Copyright Office – Online Service Providers – copyright.gov
- How To Strip DRM from Kindle E-Books and Others – wired.com