eBooks: What Is Theft?

Web 2.0 Opportunities and Piracy!

The possibilities of the internet and our increasingly-connected culture can make a publisher’s eyes light up and can strike fear in his heart simultaneously. As we all know, the internet is a great tool for finding information, for connecting with other people, and now, in this “web 2.0″ world, for creating and sharing your creative endeavors, developing new communities, and connecting with friends and colleagues from all over the world.

It’s also a place where you can illegally download scanned versions of books (a la the last Harry Potter book that was leaked online days before arriving in stores), audiobooks, mp3s, movies, etc. Thanks to filesharing, one-click download sites, and other digital “pirates,” bascially anything you want you can find online for free.

To help give publishers advice on these wonderful/scary opportunities, the International Publishers Association hosted two panels today: “Online Book Piracy: Will the Internet Kill Publishing?” and “Preparing Publishers for Web 2.0.” It was interesting how well these two panels fit together in terms of viewpoint and overall tone, going from a more outraged and suspicious view of how the internet is stealing business, to a more optimistic look at the future of publishing in our digital age.

Here is The Point, publishers:

(I have to admit that I’m pretty suspect of all statistics on how much money is lost due to pirates. These figures seem to assume that people who “stole” a song or ebook would have bought that particular book or album if only the free downloadable version weren’t available. Which is pure rubbish and is why some publishers are experimenting with free downloads of their books.)

Emphasis added by me.

Never, ever think just because someone “stole” something electronically it automatically equals a lost sale!

As I’ve said over and over, there are eejits out there who simply collect. They’ll never, ever get around to viewing or listening to or reading all the crap on their hard drive(s) or optical discs.

With eBooks, it’s theft when they read it and intentionally decide not to pay.

And let me mention another side of theft.

Theft by publishers.

If you slather an onerous DRM onto your eBook or offer it DRMed in only one file format, I have no pity for you.

I can see the day is coming when people who bought eBooks in eReader and MobiPocket file formats will be abandoned.

ePub is the future.

But that future does not mean publishers will allow past paying customers the ability to format swap their paid-for eBooks.

In some cases that simply won’t be possible.

Let’s say Publisher A has offered Book Y in eReader and MobiPocket.

When Publisher A does ePub, however, extras are included.

This is now a new eBook, Book Z. Format-swapping will not be possible because of the additional material.

So will Publisher A offer the original eBook — Book Y — for format swapping? Not doing so is theft in my eyes. People are paying for the words, not the damned container.

And as for DRM, what happens when a vendor goes out of business and decides to shut down the DRM-unlocking? That controversy recently erupted with Wal-Mart and music. It can happen with eBooks too.

So before pointing fingers at people and crying Thief!, make sure you’re not being one too, publishers!

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