This post will be a bit lighthearted while trying to be informative on the topic of e-book piracy.
As with everything on the internet, it’s right to be concerned about piracy if you’re an author (or will be, one day). Yet, it’s right to take some facts into perspective and try to see them from more than just one side.
DRM is useless
Digital Rights Management (DRM) is probably known the most in case of computer games under the specific names of various anti-piracy tools. In case of e-books, what they do is (trying to) prevent someone who did not buy the book from reading it – by only allowing to read it if your account has the book purchased. In the case of software, DRM might be complex. In the case of e-books, not so much. E-books are text files of minimal size (a few MB at most unless it’s a comic or an atlas-type book) and thus even the DRM is simple. By my best guess, it’s probably just a short line of code that checks the account’s purchases. And thus, getting rid of a short section of code won’t be an issue to pirates (unlike game DRMs that take months to break). Yet, most publishers still cling to it, refusing to see the truth – that the way to avoid piracy is elsewhere.
The price of a price
The other part of this story is that the lower the price of a product is, the lower the chance for it to be pirated. Obviously, the only way to make something unpirated is to make it free forever (thus eliminating the need for pirating it) – but that’s not a good way for a writer.
Before I get to some book-specific examples, just something for a bit of perspective: what is known the most for being pirated? Expensive software and games, especially if they lack any kind of “try for free” option.
Authors can avoid both of these. You can have teasers/samples of your book (I plan five for the first book of my WIP series) anyone can read for free – Amazon allows sample download and you can have free excerpts on your website.
Now, ask yourself: what is more likely to get pirated? A $15+ e-book that’s hyped up by massive marketing or a $5 e-book that lives by word-of-mouth? Of course it’s the first – expensive AND hyped means demand not only for legit purchases but also for piracy. Unfortunately, the publishers seem to be blind to this (or refuse to see the truth). What am I talking about?
Price-matching e-books with paperbacks.
It’s a practice of traditional publishers that gives them some money at the cost of both the author and the readers. If a paperback is sold for $10, roughly $5 is the production cost, around $1,5 is given to the author and around $3,5 is left for the agent and the publisher (who uses some of it for marketing and other side costs). If an e-book is sold for $10, the $5 that would be the printing cost of a paperback mostly stays in the publisher’s pocket (thus ripping off both the author and the readers). Now, imagine that with $15 or even $20 e-book… I’d say that’s asking for piracy through publisher’s greed.
You can avoid this harmful practice if you take the self-publishing route and take control of the price (within some limits in the case of paperbacks due to production costs). The price of this option is having a much harder way to popularity even if your book has quality (and all the other downsides of taking that route, of course).
It’s hard to guess how big deal piracy is for e-books. Fact is, the two main contributors are popularity and price. If someone doesn’t know about a book’s existence, they won’t be pirating it. If it’s not expensive, the pirates likely won’t bother even with a trivial task because there won’t be that many downloads. Keep the price of your e-book reasonable (with regards to its length) and the chance of you being pirated drops.