E-book experiences: is piracy overrated?

Here I come again with another story about my e-book experiences. I know that this might be topic that goes into speculation a lot as either side in this conflict tries to make the impact look in their favour (there were cases when developers were inflating piracy numbers to make it look like more severe problem and vice versa). I am not here to advocate for any side, but to share my thoughts.

Again I will repeat what David Gaughran said and what I mentioned before: the biggest upside of e-books is convenience. The best way, in my opinion, to attract pirates is to hinder that convenience. In his book, ‘Let’s get digital’, David Gaughran goes into detail on how traditional publishers tried delaying e-book release to try forcing print purchases only to cause pirates scan print books and put them up. Or the DRM struggle that proved totally futile.

There is nothing like announcing a new “impregnable” security measure to attract every hacker from Manila to Moscow.

Any hacker worth his salt can crack DRM in two seconds flat. And it only takes one pirate to set that book free on torrent sites, where it can be endlessly copied.

– David Gaughran, Let’s get digital

Too true. As he says, e-book is basically a pile of HTML in a package, and in such small file, DRM is probably just a few more lines of HTML code. The costs of publishing an e-book are much lower than a print book and the best way to attract piracy is to not respect that with pricing. If both print and e-book cost $10, then something is amiss…

So, the publishers have the best way to fight pirates: prices. When an e-book can be sold for $3 (usual pre-tax price of self-published e-book), people will be much less likely to pirate it than if it copies the $10 or even $15+ price of print book. And the lower the price, the lower the likelihood of something being pirated.

Anyway, I am straying away from what I wanted to say. Barring price, the second obstacle is availability. In my previous post, I talked about how game-related literature is pretty much underground stuff and how slow translations are. Yet, due to low demand, importing originals in English would be a business that would struggle to break even. So what were the options in 2009, when I first thought about reading them?

  • Wait for translation. ~250 CZK (~$10) + 2-3 years of waiting before it gets translated
  • Order original. $10 book, $8 postage, 6 weeks delivery time.
  • Pirate it. $0, delivery time in seconds.

The money would not be the problem so much, but shipping a book across the globe, far too big risk of damage for my taste. So I found a pdf version. My experience? Despite good readability of the pdf itself, reading a full length book on PC monitor sucked hard. I bought print books to let my eyes have some rest from monitors. Before anyone asks: I eventually bought the translated version. It was the pre-last before going full English, because screw waiting.

Now, I’ll share another interesting experience, where the main reason was far too big demand: Harry Potter books. Official translation was usually delayed by a few weeks, but it was well worth it as it was top-quality. Yet, some people were too impatient and could not read in English.

Result was simple: there were fan translations posted on forums and pirate sites with varying level of quality. Recently, I downloaded one, just to see how it went, and it was total chaos. It looked that many people were working on it, by chapters and then somehow posting it on a forum or something. When done, these forum posts were merged into a doc, then converted to PDF and in very bad state, posted on some file sharing service. It was even worse than the converted classics I mentioned in previous post and the language suffered greatly as it was translated in haste by people that often struggled with grammar.


Conclusion: e-book that is not overpriced (for production costs) and not made unavailable for stupid reasons like delayed release will probably not need to fear piracy. Translations might be tricky in that regard as it takes time but I believe good coordination (and giving translator the original in advance) could avoid some trouble as well.

Thanks again to David Gaughran for allowing me to quote him (I have the e-mail saved just in case). If you want to read what he thinks about piracy and the ‘e-book revolution’ in general, you can give his ‘Let’s get digital’ a look, or get the first edition as free PDF on his web. While the later parts are aimed at people that are close to self-publishing something, the early parts are for everyone, and quite nice read.

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