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Why don’t people care enough about literature to steal it?

Yesterday, Dubner was part of a Google event entitled “Un-bound: Advancing Book Publishing in a Digital World.”

Rebecca Lieb provides a fascinating write-up of the day’s events. I was particularly struck by the comment made by Cory Doctorow, “Why don’t people care enough about literature to steal it?” In a world in which illegal downloading of music is endemic, copyright violations on books are rare.

My guess is that the answer isn’t really about people not caring enough, but rather because so few people want to read electronic versions of books (where technology makes illegal file sharing very easy), and it is generally too costly for people to print and distribute illegal versions of paper versions of books. The fact that people will pay $25 for a book means they care enough to steal it, if there were just easier ways to steal.

(Although distributing illegal hard copies of books does happen — a friend of mine was in a car stopped in traffic in India and a young child knocked on the window of the car and attempted to sell him a pirated version of Freakonomics. I wish he had bought it — I would love to have one. If any blog readers have fake copies of Freakonomics, I will trade you an autographed copy of a real one for it, let me know.)

Other interesting comments at the event include Chris Anderson noting that the typical book only sells 500 copies in a year, and Seth Godin adding that nobody knowing your book exists is a good way of keeping it from getting stolen, and from selling it.