As e-book adoption steadily increases, I think writers and artists have a very good reason to wonder if easily pirated e-books are going to do to the publishing industry what Napster did to the record industry. With news that Dan Brown’s last novel was pirated within hours of being released and with e-reader adoption growing steadily, it’s a serious concern.
I know there are lots of bitter types out there who would love nothing more than to stomp on the grave of publishers, but if they fall it’s going to have a profound effect on the quality of books.
Now… There will always be books. Publishers or no publishers, agents or no agents, paid authors or no paid authors, people are going to write, and some will write very well no matter what. But I think the overall quality of books would suffer tremendously if very few people can make any money doing it. Not only because there wouldn’t be publishers to edit and copyedit and market, but the fewer people who can make any money or spend any time writing books because they have no hope of getting paid will result in lesser the competition and lesser the choice and lesser the quality.
This isn’t the music industry – no one is making money on an author tours or Ian McEwan t-shirt sales no matter how many I personally would buy.
Lately something has happened that made me wonder if perhaps my worries about piracy might be somewhat overblown.
There’s a site that I’m not going to link to or name because I don’t want to give them any traffic at all. Let’s call them FakeTorrent. FakeTorrent is a site that purports to contain all sorts of pirated material, including books, that you can download very easily and holy cow thousands of people have already done it. All you have to do is install the right software.
And, of course, the software is a virus. Or they’re phishing for credit cards. Or some other nefarious activity. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. But! There’s nothing being pirated. Essentially: they’re scamming pirates.
Could this be the future? Since pirates are already downloading files from dubious sites, is lacing a highly sought-after file with a virus or ads or scams a sufficient growth industry to actually deter piracy?
Now… don’t get me wrong. I’m not some starry-eyed Pollyanna who thinks piracy is going to go away entirely.
But I also have been around the Internet long enough to know the life cycle of user-generated websites, whether they be eBay, Friendster, Myspace, Craigslist, or a file sharing site. First the early adopters come along and everything works great. Very exciting! Then comes mass adoption, which strains the site’s capacity to keep everything running smoothly. And then, inevitably, come the spammers and scammers to ruin it for everyone. Once they arrive, using the site becomes tremendously annoying.
The only user-generated sites that have had any longevity at all are ones that have successfully kept the spammers and scammers at bay. And it takes an incredible amount of resources and ingenuity to stay ahead of them and sort them out from the regular users. (Twitter is on the cusp of the spammer/scammer wave, incidentally, and it will be interesting to see how well they handle it.)
I wonder if we’re going to see a similar life cycle in Internet piracy. Any piracy site or sharer that has built sufficient users and resources to ensure quality control will also (hopefully) be a big enough target that it can be taken down by lawsuits (see, incidentally, the Scribd lawsuit over its laissez faire policy regarding the uploading of possibly copyrighted material). There’s also, I think, a significant business opportunity for companies that specialize in reducing or eliminating piracy.
Obviously someone that is truly motivated will find a way, and pirates may adapt to new challenges and barriers. But I wonder whether mass piracy is really in our future.
Essentially: my hope is that pirating material will be a sufficient pain in the ass that people will just go ahead and buy through trusted and legal sites that can guarantee quality control. Maybe that’s overly optimistic, but you can bet I’m counting my lucky stars as an agent and author that e-books weren’t all the rage in the year 2000 when many of us had vastly underdeveloped Internet consciences.
What do you think? How big of a threat is piracy? Should I be worried?