How to Deter Piracy of E-Books
January 28, 2013 | 9:15 am
By Juli Monroe
In my last post, I discussed what I’ve observed to be the three biggest reasons people pirate e-books. Now that we understand the reasons, how do we actually deter piracy of e-books? Let me answer that question for each of the three reasons.
Here’s the bad news: There’s not much you can do about this one. Collectors like to collect in quantity. They are unlikely to spend much money, if any, on the books. You can deter piracy by offering free books for download, but that will only solve the problem for people who are willing to download through legal means. The good news is that people who pirate huge numbers of books are not “lost sales.” They weren’t going to buy them anyway, so my suggestion is, don’t get too concerned about all the bits and bytes on their computers. Yes, it’s wrong, but it’s probably not worth worrying about them.
2. I’ll Never Pay for An E-Book
It’s possible to address some of the needs of the people in this group; it’s also possible to discourage piracy among them. Mostly, they refuse to pay for books because they:
• Are opposed to DRM
• Refuse to pay for something they don’t “own”
•Believe that e-books are overpriced
The easiest fix for this category of pirate is to release books DRM-free. This addresses two of the three concerns. DRM is so ridiculously easy to crack that it doesn’t slow down—much less stop—piracy, and it just angers this group of reader. It was interesting to note that on alt.binaries.ebooks, if people asked for Baen books, most of the time they were told to “just go buy them; they’re inexpensive and DRM-free.” I believe that sentiment makes it obvious how to convert this category of pirate into paying readers.
What about the people I mentioned who are too poor to buy books? Sane pricing strategies will address them. I’m not saying every book has to be $0.99, but don’t play pricing games that are obvious ploys to “encourage” us to buy hardcovers. A significant number of e-book readers never go back to paper. Artificially high prices either lead to piracy, or, almost as bad, to a reader not buying the book because by the time the price was lowered, he forgot it even existed. Treat us fairly with decent prices, and when we can afford to buy, we will.
Paul Salvette, author of The eBook Design and Development Guide, posted an excellent suggestion in the comments to the previous article. “The eBook vendors may want to consider selling eBooks based on a sliding scale in countries with lower GDPs,” he wrote. “So in West Africa, an eBook might be $2, whereas in the US, it would be $8, as an example. Piracy is [a] lost opportunity for the both the vendor and author, and $2 is better than zero.”
Libraries are also an answer to this one. If a reader can legally get a book for free from a library, the urge to pirate is much reduced. The big publishers all have ridiculous library polices that have been well covered here and elsewhere. Guys, accept that not everyone is going to pay for your book, but if I read it from a library and talk about it to my friends, it’s likely some of them will buy. Libraries are your friends, not your enemies.
3. The Book I Want Isn’t Available As An E-Book
This one is just blindingly obvious: Make them available! Release backlist books. End territorial restrictions. Bottom line: Release good quality e-books at decent prices, and you’ll attract and keep these readers.
Do these suggestions sound like many you’ve heard before? Sure, because they’re just common sense. What I’ve done is (I hope) showed why they will work to address some of the biggest reasons people pirate. Treating readers like ignorant criminals hasn’t worked so far. Why not try something different? It can hardly make the problem worse.