I don’t advocate e-book piracy, but it’s time we got real about the effects. Publishers and other purveyors of old media have a lot invested in a system that paid well for them over the last Century or so. Authors gave up control of their work and the publishers dictated how the we bought and read books (along with recorded music, broadcasting and any media). Since digital media hit the scene, they’ve been whining that their industry is doomed.. and quite likely it’s never going to be what it was in the 20th Century.
Will E-Book Piracy Ruin Publishing?
Not likely. As the price of duplication moves toward zero, there will be some who can’t depend on a system that worked for them in the past. If they haven’t read the signs over the last 30 years that digital content is making a perfect copy for next to nothing, and they are relying on printed books, they going to be hurting. But even if the big publishers completely went away, the books that have been published are here to stay, and wider distribution is good for the careers of authors.
Historical Proof of What E-Book Piracy Could Do
Almost as soon as there was publishing there was piracy… and publishers have been complaining ever since. In 1706 Edward Ward wrote:
Property of their Copies, has been of late, not only a Damage to the Trade in Generat, but a great Discouragement to Authors; for there are fo many Piratizing Printers, who lye upon the Catch, that no Saleable Poem or Pamphlet, of Twelve-pence, or Six-pence Price, can be started into the World, but the next Day yon shall have it Bastardized in White-Fryars, or Little-Britain; to the Injury of the Book-seller, and the Scandal of the Author, have it Bawld about for a penny or Two pence, nay, sometimes for a Half-penny, in every Gossipping Alley, amongst Porters Wives and Basket-Women, which we have great hopes will be prevented for the future, in the next Sessions of Parliament, and then we may hope for more of the fame Authors Writings.
This became the basis for copyright law petitions and all the laws that followed. But what of the poor authors who were damaged? In “Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of The Informal Economy” Robert Neuwirth describes how these low priced books spread fast:
“an honest look at the history of trade shows that piracy wasn’t just a form of trade; it was also a potent force that drove the growth of arts and culture. In particular, piracy helped expand literacy and impacted the Western intellectual tradition in some startling ways”
Neuwirth tells the story of a time when all commerce was assumed to be infected with piracy and how the raw capitalism benefited from rules.
But for how long?
Today, there are works that are held back to protect a copyright for the creator who has long since retired, huge disputes and huge corporations trying to hold on to their cash cows.
Some governance makes sense, but does the piracy end progress? Today, authors use books as calling cards, a front piece for business that benefits when more see it. As one of these authors, I don’t want someone to steal my work, but I do like to see that readers who can benefit get it.
Publishing isn’t going away. It IS going to to keep changing. In some ways don’t we all benefit from change.. even e-book piracy?