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The Bookseller has some interesting coverage of the London Book Fair, but I don’t have time right now to go over all of it. I’ll focus on the one bit that just leaped out at me. A number of execs—David Shelley of Little, Brown, Richard Mollet of the Publishers Association, and Stephen Page from Faber—explained that fighting online piracy is costing publishers a bundle, and is one of the reasons publishers cannot afford to raise e-book royalty rates as some publishers have been requesting.

In the FutureBook blog, Philip Jones notes that there was some skepticism from the audience, and also finds it a bit odd that a PA executive was making the assertion given that in a recent report the PA examined two books and concluded that P2P infringement represented only 1/20 of 1% of sales. “It would be wrong, therefore, to overstate the extent of online infringement for published content at this time,” the report said.

And publishing guru Mike Shatzkin told The Bookseller, “No publisher I know has actually done any serious research into the commercial impact of piracy, and therefore I would not at the moment spend a lot of money containing it.” Amazon doesn’t seem to be worried about it, offering 70% royalties to its self-publishing authors as it does.

Certainly, publishers may think they’ve found the perfect solution to get authors off their backs—piracy is just about the only bigger “hot button” than royalties they have. If the publishers can convince the authors that this is the reason, it then shifts the blame for not only piracy but also low royalties toward pirates and away from publishers.

But on the other hand, it all seems awfully convenient to me. “We’d like higher royalties, please.” “Look! Pirates!” Authors are, for the most part, intelligent people, and I have a hard time imagining many of them buying this rationale for very long if publishers aren’t able to provide some serious proof of what they’re spending and the effectiveness of the efforts.

(For that matter, how effective are these anti-piracy efforts? The RIAA poured $64 million in cash down the mass-lawsuit funnel to earn back only $1.4 million, benefiting nobody but the lawyers, and there’s no proof the lawsuits acted as any kind of a deterrent—illicit music downloading continues to this day. More than one person has remarked that the recording artists it claimed to represent would have been a lot better off if the RIAA had just taken that $64 million and divided it up evenly among them instead. Hmm, like, say, publisher piracy-fighting efforts and royalties?)

Piracy is a favorite bugaboo of the content industry, largely because they can (and often do) make up whatever numbers they like to paint it as a menace. It’s used as an excuse for all sorts of things, from the imposition of DRM to, as we now see, not paying royalties. Sooner or later, people are going to start realizing that this emperor has no clothes.

 
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