How big of a threat is ebook piracy?

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The popularity of ebooks is rising, and so is the concern about ebook piracy. This in part explains why publishers have been treading cautiously in the ebook trade. They demand stringent DRM, the use of proprietary formats and a pricing model similar to print books.

But how big of a threat is ebook piracy? I’m not naive, so I know that piracy takes place, although I am skeptical of how big of a problem it really is.

I came across this article from in Edmonton Canada entitled Ebooks embraced, but what about illegal downloads?

Google searches for illegal downloads are up 50 per cent in the last year. Publishers hope to appeal to readers to make the right choice, said Jim Pitkow of Attributor, a company that attempts to track and fight copyright infringement.

The article continues:

In a recent study, Attributor created a series of fake download websites for the most popular ebooks on Amazon’s bestseller list and tapped into Google search statistics to assess the state of ebook piracy. The report estimates there are as many as 1.5 million to three million Google searches registered daily for illegal ebook downloads and interest jumped by about 20 per cent after the release of Apple’s iPad tablet.

But Attributor also embedded some links to Amazon’s ebook store on those dummy pages and about one in five web surfers ended up buying a legitimate copy of the ebook they were searching for.

“That shows us that people are malleable and they’re open to the different choices they can make,” Pitkow said.

My own anecdotal evidence seems to affirm that people are open to buying an ebook instead of illegally downloading one, like Mr. Pitkow says. In one of my most commented on posts (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, Ebooks and the Definition of Irony), people overwhelmingly say that they are more than willing to purchase an ebook if two basic conditions are met:

1. That the book desired is available in ebook format from the publisher. The ebook should also be available when the print book is released.

2. The ebook price is reasonable (i.e. at about $9.99 or lower).

When those conditions are satisfied I think most people will legally purchase the ebook. Both publishers and certain authors need to be a little more trusting. Also, publishers need to really revamp their business model to make ebooks more profitable.

There will always be dishonest people who will pirate ebooks. There’s nothing publishers can do about it. It’s a fact of life. What publishers can do, however, is cater to us honest folk by satisfying our increasing demand for digital content.

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