Saturday, December 19, 2009

When Will E-books Become Unprotected?

From the Desk of David Pogue - Should e-Books Be Copy Protected? -
All right. So: should e-books be copy protected?

As an author myself, I, too, am terrified by the thought of piracy. I can't stand seeing my books, which are the primary source of my income, posted on all these piracy Web sites, available for anyone to download free.

When I wrote about my concerns a year ago, my readers took me to task. "For all you know," went their counterargument, "the illegal copies are just advertising for you; people will download them, try them out, then go by the physical book. Either that, or they're being downloaded by people who would not have bought your book anyway. Why don't you try a controlled experiment and see?"

Well, it sounded like it could be a very costly experiment. But I agreed. My publisher, O'Reilly, decided to try an experiment, offering one of my Windows books for sale as an unprotected PDF file.

After a year, we could compare the results with the previous year's sales.

The results? It was true. The thing was pirated to the skies. It's all over the Web now, ridiculously easy to download without paying.

The crazy thing was, sales of the book did not fall. In fact, sales rose slightly during that year.

That's not a perfect, all-variables-equal experiment, of course; any number of factors could explain the results. But for sure, it wasn't the disaster I'd feared.
David Pogue is unique.  I don't think it's the currently successful authors who will drive the move to unprotected book content.  I think it will be the new or "long tail" (limited-audience) authors--those who will be willing to give their work away to gain attention or recognition, to develop a reputation, to build our trust, or to get paid to consult or speak. 

As Tim O'Reilly is quoted as saying:  "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy."  If Wikipedia is any example to us, as the platforms for unprotected e-books become more commonly available for easy reading, we should see more and more free book content.

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