Firstly, all the opinions here are my own, not my employer’s, not my publisher’s. Me.
We have a new survey on piracy, which makes this bold claim:
An average of nearly 10,000 copies of every book published is downloaded from filesharing sites, according to a new study by Attributor. The study examined a sample of 913 popular titles and 25 filesharing sites. Fiction titles were actually among the least affected titles, with an average of around 6,000 copies downloaded per title; business and investing titles were the category most likely to be illegally downloaded, with over 13,000 per title.
Dear fiction publishers: please don’t believe this and tell your digital team to put up more barriers to reading. Firstly, this survey was conducted by a web-wide monitoring and enforcement company. No vested interests there, then. And they surveyed 913 titles, a slither of a slither of the market. Have you ever been to a torrent site to look at the top seeded ebooks (i.e. those being shared the most)? Aside from these, you will often find the Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, and the like, all listed. The top-whack books that are so mainstream they are read by non-traditional readers.
I’d suggest that people who download torrents of ebooks are people who will rarely want to buy the actual book anyway. Their (mostly non-fiction) download will most likely be a curiosity, something of the same emotional level of a wiki search. In fact, those particular users will probably not take notice of that book unless it’s free in the first place. I’ve been tracking one chap (via a Google ego search) who’s been after a torrent of Nights of Villjamur for about six months now, and he still refuses to actually buy a copy. He will probably never buy a copy either. He’s my biggest fan who’s never read the book. If he did finally find that torrent, download the book, and read it – fantastic. I’m not that bothered. He’ll possibly go on to tell someone else about the book, and in theory, sell a copy for me. And so on. If he doesn’t, fine. I’ve not lost anything – I’ve just not pissed someone off for spending money on my book.
Industry folk have The Fear when it comes to piracy. They want to act against this unknown evil, and slap DRM all over an ebook. Stop sharing! Because, you know, no one has ever leant a real book to someone else. Surveys like this – where a company is effectively propagandising, and scaring publishers – do nothing to help.
In an age where we need as many people reading books as possible, no matter what the format, to focus on short term fears and restrictive reading models is damaging. As are surveys like the one above.