The Birth of Book Pirates?

| About 250 Kindle users are using Amazon’s tagging system to boycott e-books that cost over $10, claiming that an e-book is more “restricted in its use” than a paper book and should therefore cost less, reports Wired. One of the boycotters’ main complaints: you can’t lend out your e-books to friends. When digital music fans were confronted with this problem, they just made illegal copies. If Amazon keeps prices above $10, might we soon see a spate of e-book piracy? Or perhaps people simply don’t care enough about books to steal them. [%comments]

Nikhil Punnoose

Again. They do care. And they will steal it. Amazon's stupid DRM might help for a bit, but sooner or later, it will be cracked. I'm surprised it hasn't been, already. (Has it?)


I don't mind saying that I've pirated textbooks before... but when a company is forcing struggling college students to pay $250 for a "new edition" calculus textbook it doesn't feel like piracy. It feels like necessity.

Calculus teaching method hasn't changed in the last ten years. The only "changes" the new edition brought is a rearranging of the problems and a password that lets you access an unfinished online version of the textbook. So who's the real pirate?

Mike B

Oh trust me, if something becomes digital there will soon be a 'Z' suffix scene associated with it. The only reason that the Bookz scene hasn't taken off was that 1) the digitally savy are too busy playing their Gamez and watching their Moviez and 2) ripping ripping books wasn't so much challenging as it time consuming and monotonous. With libraries and bringing the cost of books so low there has been barely any motivation to scan and distribute them.

The publishing industry should be aware of a few indicators that are signaling their imminent demise. First comic books are now so widely scanned and distributed online that the publishers don't even view their products competing in the mass market entertainment market any more. They are basically collectibles and movie fodder only. Second, audio books are now just as available as music tracks. With broadband it now takes as much time down download a 6 hour audio book as it used to download a single 8 years ago. As the techno-illiterate consumers of audiobooks are replaced by more savy consumers look for this market to be decimated as well.

If the kindle, and readers like it, do for reading what MP3 players did for music then the publishing industry will suffer the same fate as the music industry. However it is debatable if an electronic device will ever have the same popularity as a book, so we probably won't see a wholesale collapse.

If the publishing industry doesn't want to cede the market to the Bookz scene they need to become realistic about what consumers want. This means to dump the DRM and lower the price. The DRM will be broken anyway, all it does it alienate the paying customers. If the price is dropped to a point below the hassle of obtaining a free copy people will buy the book. It will probably increase consumer's total book spending if the price were $1-$2 a pop. At that point it becomes an impulse buy.


Dave Bush

In fact pirate books are already well established.

They're made by using a paper book, a scanner and OCR - which puts ebooks about in the Napster era of digital music, "recorded" from radio / CDs.

The problem the Amazon people have is they're trying to stay legal, but are getting ripped off in the process.


Well, people have pirated books for a long, long time. I've downloaded illegal ebooks a lot of times, actually.

(As a matter of fact, I first read Freakonomics from a scan downloaded from a p2p service, and only purchased a couple of years later.)

You gotta love the internet :p


To be honest I've downloaded books before and on torrent websites there are hundreds of e-books people can choose from. Of course many of these are copyright free such as Sherlock Holmes and the like.

I have to say I've downloaded both legal and illegal books however i do buy quite a few books also. I think that more people will pirate e-books as they are too expensive and many times cost more than their physical counterparts.


There already is a pirated book movement. There are torrents of audiobooks available on most places where one can get illegal music torrents.

Just ask any publisher about the impact of book piracy on their business.

Adam Zendel

Piracy is an invariable indicator of future industry. Book piracy may not be as prevalent as say movie or music piracy, but it will. Being an avid content thief, I can say that my first steps into the realm of pirated books have been very good. I can usually find about a quarter of the books I want in a highly readable form on various torrent servers.

I am excited for the day that the kindles DRM is broken and their extensive collection of books made available on the net. The fact of the matter is that publishing, both music, movies and now books, are a dying industry. DRM is simply the last gasp of air these drowning industries have.

For publishers to survive they need to better adapt to the changing market place. The market place will never adapt to fit them, it's capitalism baby!


"If Amazon keeps prices above $10, might we soon see a spate of e-book piracy?"

That's already out there, torrent sites are full of them. If you want an example of how big it's getting take a look at Wizard's of the Coast's press release from yesterday, I think, about how they will be discontinuing PDF releases of their books.

For myself, I still buy a lot of books, a good portion of my paycheck is spent at my local book store. But I will admit that I refuse to pay for a second digital copy if I have already bought a physical copy of that book in the store.

Leland Witter

Please spare me these outraged Kindle owners. Why $10, why not $2? If they want to not buy something due to cost, that's fine, but all of this trying to organize a revolt is stupid.

The vendor or manufacturer can charge whatever they like and let the market speak. And by that I mean individual purchasers, not some sort of cabal.

No one has forced them to give up paper books. I have a Kindle and I love it. I buy both electronic and paper books depending on a number of factors, price being one. And I have bought Kindle versions of books that are barely any cheaper than the paperback, but I get a lot more utility in having it on my Kindle.

I would love it if the books were a lot cheaper, but anyone that spent $350 dollars for the sole reason of saving a few bucks per book wasn't thinking clearly. In the six months I've had mine, I estimate I've read about 14 books (purchased - not including free versions of classics) and saved maybe $5 average over paper, so that's $70 - I have a long way to go.



Pirated electronic (or scanned) books already exist in large numbers if you know where to look. The Kindle is hooked directly into Amazon's distribution system, which might cut down the piracy by Kindle users, but there are several other e-book readers that aren't tied into any distribution system. Users of those e-books may actually prefer the fact that they aren't tied to Amazon's DRM and distribution system. The DRM issue alone creates a lot of headaches that are avoided by getting pirated copies of e-books.

E-book piracy will likely be tempered as more public libraries embrace e-books and digital time-limited distribution of e-books. For example, Boston Public Library allows card holders the option of "checking out" e-books online for 2 weeks, if I remember correctly.

Leland Witter

Oh, and I have spent over $10 a few times and have been perfectly fine with it.


Some DRM systems for ebooks actually allow you to loan then to friends. The system tracks the number of times you've "loaned out" your book, and restricts it (I don't know how many times, probably one to three). Under their system, you can still read your own book even when it's "loaned out". Because your limited to a certain number of "loans" at any one time, your friend can "return" it and your "loan" count will return to it's original value - allowing you to "loan it" to someone else.

I don't know who Amazon's ebook DRM works, but I think Amazon would probably move to that kind of system before they would drop the price on books.

(I know this because I've heard anti-DRM people complain about any restriction on their ebooks. They were actually arguing that they should be allowed to give away as many free copies as they wanted, without restrictions.)

Based on people's attitudes about piracy (as evidenced by this thread), I think we can look forward to companies working hard on creating secure DRM systems. When you've got a multi-billion dollar industry involved, there's plenty of impetus for them to create DRM rather than watch their revenue collapse under a flood of piracy.



I think the Kindle is the key. I've never read one, but if it provides an experience much more akin to paper then pirating books finally makes sense. While I have peers who can read a lot of dense text on a screen I cannot, so I must read a real piece of paper.

Also, in my grad school program the practice of scanning selections of text and uploading them to a course website is extremely common. This may fall under fair use, but if it does it is just barely. If we didn't have the ability to download these texts and print them (or read them onscreen for those so inclined) our educations would be even more expensive.

The beginnings of book piracy are certainly there. It'll be five years before its perfected, I imagine.


I've downloaded free ebooks in text and scans before, mostly when looking for something for reference. Audiobooks are also widely available on torrent sites. They have books on thepiratebay now that are formatted to Kindle, as well.


Right now the publishing industry sets ebook prices to the same as the real book prices (including ones that are only hardback). Any ebooks priced less than that are being sold at a loss. Amazon is getting it from both ends here, their suppliers refuse to lower prices and their customers (justifiably) think they are charging too much.

Hopefully amazon can manage to build up enough of an market to exert some leverage on the publishing industry and drag them kicking and screaming out of the 19th century.

Doug S.

If you want a pirated book, you can get one for free at your local library. It kinda removes the incentive to bother to crack copy protection and all that.

The difference between online file sharing and public libraries is the same as the difference between marijuana and tobacco: one is legal, one isn't, and it's entirely because of vested interests and historical contingencies instead of a consideration of their underlying merits.

If someone tried to invent the public library today, it would be illegal. The only reason they aren't illegal is that there are special exemptions written into copyright law that make them not illegal. I suspect that if Napster was run by a public library, they might have been able to win their court case.


Declining to buy something because it's too expensive is a boycott now? Wow, who knew, I've been participating in a boycott of Maseratis and infinity pools my entire life!


I've known people carrying around pirated books on a Sony DS- or other similar small device- for quite some time now.

Pirated books are fairly common in some areas already. Call me a nerd, but I've played Dungeons and Dragons every Sunday since about junior high. The books can get expensive. Most of the people I game with (other computer industry professionals) have several hundred dollars worth of hard copy books for D&D, WoD, or other gaming systems. Typically, they have far more books in pirated, electronic form, than hard copy. I will say that they often later purchase hard copies of some of the books they pirate- if they have enough good content to be worth purchasing.

Tabletop RPGs can't be the only area of interest that requires numerous expensive reference books to do. I'm sure there are other such areas, with piracy just as rampant.

Doctor Gonzo

"Please spare me these outraged Kindle owners. Why $10, why not $2?"

Well, cost IS a big driver of piracy, and there are very good economic reasons for it.

For example, most CDs cost around $15 or so. I'm going to be honest and say that yes, I've downloaded plenty of CDs. Would there be a price at which point I would cease to torrent files and buy the music outright? Absolutely, and I peg it at around 10-15 cents per song. When you illegally download a CD, you do have the hassle of finding the torrent, making sure it's the right one, making sure it's in the right format you want (otherwise, you will spend more time later converting it), making sure it's seeded, etc. All of those steps take time. At $1.29 a song, it's worth it to go through the hassle of torrents: the time I spend with the hassle costs less than paying the full price of the CD. If I could instantly buy a song for 15 cents, though, with no hassle, I would.

Same thing for ebooks. At some low price, it will be worth it to stop hacking and just buy it.

What piracy really hurts is the middlemen: the record labels and Amazon, for example. I don't know what Amazon's deal is with authors, but I'm willing to be that if it is anything like the RIAA, when you pay $10 for an ebook the author gets less than $2. In that case, if we eliminate the middleman entirely, the public could get a cheaper book AND the creator of the content would get more money. Win-win in my book, but I'm not Amazon!