Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, March 4, 2010

book pirates

An excellent point by Ted Striphas:

Wax cylinders, forty-fives, LPs, eight-tracks, cassette tapes, CDs, mini discs, digital audio tapes: the fact is that music formats have changed significantly — indeed, regularly — over the last 50 or 100 years. Music lovers have long understood that “music” is not equivalent to “format.” Even before the introduction of digital music downloads, listeners were well disposed to format change.

The same isn’t true for books. With the exception of relatively minor disturbances — chapbooks and paperbacks come most immediately to mind — the bibliographic form [hasn't] changed all that much since the introduction of the codex. The result is that book readers are much less inclined to embrace format change, compared to their music-loving counterparts. And this inertia is, in part, what has held up widespread e-book adoption.

Very true. Though I don't think I follow Striphas’s view that what RapidShare is doing is not stealing, but rather “pirate pedagogy.” But I have a lot to learn in these matters, starting with — I hope, and soon, I hope — what looks like a fascinating book: Adrian Johns’s Piracy.

Interestingly, Johns’s book was available for free last month from the University of Chicago Press, and I downloaded it then, even though that meant having to use that execrable piece of software known as Adobe Digital Editions (to which I shall not even link). Presumably the press chose this venue because it’s resistant to . . . piracy.

Anyway, more on this later, I trust.

5 comments:

  • Ironically Adobe Digital Editions is very easy to break DRM. Anyone, with just a little bit of desire could remove DRM off that book in a matter of minutes by just googling for directions. Start to finish maybe 10 minutes max, probably closer to 5.

  • Very true, Adam — I've seen the instructions myself, though they do require a little bit of technical skill. But presumably the press was afraid of plain old PDFs.

  • Michael Straight said...

    I think a very good case can be made that Napster and all the other ways that the internet made pirated mp3 music files freely available created the critical mass of users that made the iPod and the iTunes store such a big success.

    Seems likely that a lot of people would be more likely to spend $200 on an eBook reader if there were lots of free books available to read with it. iTunes seems to show that if you get enough people to buy readers, you could make a profit selling eBooks even if there are still lots of free pirated versions available, at least in the short term.

    All of that assuming that lots of people would abandon paper books for eBooks the way they abandoned CDs for mp3 files, which I doubt.

  • Michael Straight said...

    Sorry to spam, but wanted to mention one other way these things are not alike. It was not too hard and perfectly legal to move one's CD collection onto an iPod. It will be almost impossible to move one's library onto an eBook reader without having to purchase each book all over again.

    Here too, piracy might give the eBook industry a big boost. Maybe people will decide it's OK to pirate eBooks which they already own in hard copy (making the reader seem much more worth owning), while feeling obliged to pay for eBooks of titles they don't already own.

  • Useful comments, Michael. Your first one raises again the perennial question of whether in the Kindle Amazon is about selling the razor or selling the blades. The deep discounting of books and the high price of the device suggest the latter, but the long-term strategy is hard to discern. For me, anyway. Amazon may be just trying to habituate people to electronic reading in order to raise prices later.

    About two-thirds of the items on my Kindle are PDFs or files from Project Gutenberg — in other words, items I didn't have to pay for. I wonder how common that is among Kindle owners.

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