Two e-books, priced $9.99 and $0.99, start two completely different purchase processes. The price level is affecting how eager we are to get a pirated copy. In case of e-books it’s combined with, in my opinion, the biggest solution to piracy – convenience.
Digital goods (especially the ones under a magical level of 1 dollar) – music, e-books, applications – join a group of impulse purchase products. It’s not only because of a price. It’s because of possibility of immediate consumption. You can use a smartphone to download an e-book or a song. It usually takes a couple of seconds and your effort can be described as a couple of taps. Instant reward is crucial – $0.99 e-book wouldn’t be an impulse purchase if you had to wait for delivery 24 hours.
In the age of instant access to content of any kind, willingness to piracy can be described as “how much will I save for the effort I make”. Let’s analyze it on an example of a $0.99 book from Kindle Store.
A perception of price and savings is different if you are an experienced user of piracy sites and different if you started to embrace e-books (or digital goods in general).
For a piracy site users all what’s there is free (or for a price of a premium account/features – which is another case). In fact they don’t really know how much they save, because they don’t know the price of the original copy.
The economics of downloading pirated content is that you download items in bulk. You download a folder with e-books, convert files to your primary format and upload to your device.
Managing pirated content in bulk is saving a lot of time. You’ll also save time on reading those books, because they’re just files and titles for you. You don’t know most of them, and authors of $.99 books are surely not on top of your mind.
Now, let’s move to a second example.
You’ve just bought a Kindle e-reader. You have to learn how to use the device and download e-books legally – enough for a start. You probably keep in mind that there is always a possibility to use illegal sources. The only thing is that it’s a whole new world to learn. Some people, including me, don’t want to bother with it. I want to read books, not waste my time on file conversion and adding e-books to my virtual bookshelf in a way which is not most convenient.
Kindle owner is aware of the price. It’s $0.99, full stop. She or he has a choice: to get the book in less than 60 seconds and start reading it or look for the pirated copy somewhere else. How long would it take to grab it, download, deal with DRM and upload to Kindle? 5 minutes, 15 minutes? 15 minutes every time you’ve found a book you want to read immediately.
At such a low price what usually turns on is an evaluation how much money would one earn by doing his daily job instead. How much do I earn for an hour? How much time do I waste to save $0.99 on one book?
Let’s go the pirate way first. You download, let’s say 1,000 e-books in bulk. No effort at all, you’re doing this anyway, you’re fixed on getting as much free content as possible, even if you know you’re not going to swallow it till the end of the world.
If you are a Kindle owner with no “torrent skills”, you face a simple choice: a couple of clicks versus a conversion nightmare.
You have to learn how to and where from get a pirated content. You’ll probably have to download some apps, learn some tricks, read some forum threads, fix some problems – all instead of reading a book you want.
Books are different from music. You always had to have a device if you wanted to listen to music. Managing music files and discs is natural. But books… you bought them, you opened them and your read them. Why can’t this be done with e-books? In fact it can, if you are willing to spend a couple of clicks, less than a dollar and a bit of courage to read a book from an unknown author.
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Saving time and money is one thing, but there is also one thing piracy is about. Somebody wants to drain your wallet by setting up a price which is too high. You are the hand of justice and get a pirated copy instead.
In case of $.99 it doesn’t work this way any more. This is a very fair price, set up by the author itself. You are not penalizing all the middlemen, you’re penalizing the man who wants to be honest with you.