The Dark Side

Publishing houses make millions of dollars off eBook sales, and will continue to do so as newer technologies (such as the iCloud) become more accessible to these companies. There is no denying that the eBook market will continue to grow as booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble focus more and more on digital publishing, but will it also cost publishing houses millions of dollars in losses?

eBook sales went up 164% last year, generating $441.3 million1. Without a doubt, digital publishing is becoming a huge moneymaker. But with the rise of digital piracy, publishers are seeing losses in the millions—PDFs being easily copied and distributed over and over without a hassle. Where the digital publishing world is a beautiful chrome metropolis, piracy is undoubtedly its black market.

David Carnoy of CNET says, “The point here is that there may very well be a dark side to the success of eBooks, which some are speculating will make up 50 percent of the market in as little as 5 years2.”

Let’s take, for example, that behemoth of online piracy: The Pirate Bay. One of TPB’s top downloads is a 600+ eBook collection. Let’s say each book in the collection normally sells at $2. This pirated collection represents $1200 in losses every time someone downloads it off TPB3.

President of the Authors Guild, Scott Turow said, “[Piracy] has killed large parts of the music industry. Musicians make up for the copies of their songs that get pirated by performing live. I don’t think there will be as many people showing up to hear me read as to hear Beyonce sing. We need to make sure piracy is dealt with effectively.”

Piracy is undoubtedly affecting the Stephen Kings, Dean Koontzs, James Pattersons and Dan Browns of the world, but there are many lesser known authors who are enjoying the unexpected success of this pirating, such as Neil Gaiman (of The Sandman fame) and Adam Mansbach (author of the viral adult children’s book Go the F–k to Sleep [you have undoubtedly received a copy in your spam folder]).

The latter is especially basking in the rays of success since his book has reached millions of computer screens through the viral PDF. The free audition edition has Samuel L. Jackson narrating the adult bedtime story—the success of which has been optioned as a film by Fox 20004.

Spam books have also become a problem in the digital publishing world5. Millions of users have flocked to the Amazon digital bookstore to purchase inexpensive books. Most of the time, consumers can find what they’re looking for, but this process has been made a bit harder by spammers. Spammers upload fake pseudobooks and sell them for 99 cents or more. Most of the time the pseudobooks are not at all what a user is looking for or the file is ripped from an actual book and sold for less money.

Rebecca Boyle of Popsci says, “Reuters’ thorough investigation points out that this is a growing problem. In 2002, 33,000 “nontraditional” books, meaning those without a traditional agent-publishing house background, were published. The number rose to 2.8 million last year. Apparently, that staggering increase is powered as much by spam as it is by earnest writers trying to reach an audience. It’s unfortunate news for the e-publishing world, until Amazon (and others, too) determine a better way to authenticate submissions.”

Don’t be surprised if you find Go the F–k to Sleep for less than its original price on Amazon. Beware: it might be ripped or might be full of ads. Undoubtedly every click of a button is making Mansbach more and more popular.

Sure, piracy isn’t a problem for a writer trying to get into the publishing scene, especially when his book is getting so much unexpected attention, but it’s inevitable to see the loss in sales. One day, Mr. Mansbach will look back on his rise to fame and wish readers had gone the F–k to the store.

Links:

1 http://productivewriters.com/

2 http://reviews.cnet.com/

3 http://blog.the-ebook-reader.com/

4 http://www.baycitizen.org/

5 http://www.popsci.com/gadgets

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