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No, David Pogue, Ebook Piracy Is Not a Given 268

Posted by timothy
from the not-necessarily dept.
adamengst writes "David Pogue recently wrote a widely read blog post in which he explains that piracy is the reason he doesn't make his books available in PDF format. But in this article, TidBITS publisher Adam Engst disagrees strongly with Pogue's opinion, using sales numbers from the Take Control series of ebooks (150,000+ copies sold since 2004 with virtually no copying) as proof that making electronic versions not only doesn't necessarily lead to piracy, it may be the best way of preventing illicit sharing."
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No, David Pogue, Ebook Piracy Is Not a Given

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 05, 2008 @08:31PM (#23676741)
    ...is making your eBook so crappy no one wants to read it.
  • Freetard? (Score:2, Interesting)

    Point to note: Mr. David seems to be pissed off with all the Geeks shouting free (without him realizing the difference between beer and speech, of course). He wrote:

    "Oh Mr. Freetard, you work as a programmer, do you? How interesting. So do you perform all your corporate programming duties for free, and earn your keep by selling personally branded mousemats on the side?

    "Didn't think so."
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 05, 2008 @09:12PM (#23677079)
      Pogue was quoting Steven Poole. Those nasty words weren't his own. See Pogue's weblog post [nytimes.com] and the dimwitted douchebag [stevenpoole.net]'s weblog post.
      • So what? He used it to further his arguments, didn't he? What's your point?

        As noted by AC above, he can't see the parallel. And not only that, he overlooks the most obvious aspect of programmers doing work for free - Open Source. He loves Mac, but conveniently forgets it's roots in BSD etc.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sockatume (732728)
        RTFA, Poole wasn't talking about piracy. At all. He was talking about how a "pay what you like" business model is only viable for established names, while everyone else has to set a price. Poole doesn't have a problem with eBooks as a concept. Actually, neither is Pogue for about 95% of his article.
    • >He wrote:

      Bzzt, wrong. That section is quoted text from the linked blog posting by Steven Poole.

      Obviously, Mr. Pogue is sympathetic to the sentiment, though, otherwise he wouldn't have quoted it.

  • by d34thm0nk3y (653414) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @08:33PM (#23676757)
    Well David, you are passing up sales while preventing absolutely nothing.

    Learn to live with it, the pirates always win. [thepiratebay.org]
    • by Smidge204 (605297) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @09:09PM (#23677055) Journal
      This is certainly true. However, what most people (especially business execs) rarely understand is that piracy usually indicates an unfulfilled market.

      Not everyone steals for the sake of stealing. Some steal because it's the only way to get it, or at least the only way to get it in the form they want. If you find a lot of people pirate your products, then you can probably make legit customers out of most of them by altering your distribution and control methods. Carefully consider your price points too, since the true value of something is what people are willing to pay and not always what you think they should pay.
      =Smidge=
      • by LaskoVortex (1153471) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @10:17PM (#23677613)

        Some steal because it's the only way to get it, or at least the only way to get it in the form they want.

        Corollary: If DRM makes it too hard to steal to get it in the form they need it, then people will seek alternatives to both buying legitimately and stealing, then the companies start to loose their user base. I've phased out Adobe products and Microsoft products for exactly that reason. Both are gradually providing less value to me per dollar and both make it too difficult to get a working copy, so I've moved to OpenOffice, Gimp, and Inkscape. If Apple ever DRMs there OS (and I paid full price for a family pack of 10.5 so I own two more licenses of than I can use), then I'll phase them out too.

      • Some steal because it's the only way to get it, or at least the only way to get it in the form they want.
        That's true, but often those people want as much as possible for free (hey, who doesn't, right?) That would make them less of an "unfulfilled market" as an "unfulfillable market".
        • That's true, but often those people want as much as possible for free (hey, who doesn't, right?) That would make them less of an "unfulfilled market" as an "unfulfillable market".

          I think that's the tough part. It doesn't matter how low the price is, unless it's free, there are going to be those that want it but don't want to pay. But those people aren't necessarily your customers.

          The tough part of pricing is you're trying to strike a balance. Pricing has a hand in determining your customers. Sometimes i
          • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

            by pintpusher (854001)
            And those who won't pay for it won't pay for it. So those people will never be your customers whether you stop them from getting the product or not.

            I think the point is that if there is rampant piracy, then there is demand that is not fulfilled by current distribution methods. Some of those pirates will *never* pay for it, no matter what. So they will always pirate it and you can't really stop them. But excluding that lot, then you have a population that *would* pay for it if it was in a form, or at a price
      • by WDot (1286728) on Friday June 06, 2008 @12:25AM (#23678485)
        I can't agree enough. Why am I not allowed to download German or Japanese MP3s on Itunes just because I'm in the US store? The only way to get it is to pay 5 times its worth by importing the CD, or play some stupid game where I import a foreign iTunes gift card.

        How about anime series and films that just don't get picked up by a licensing company? Just because I watch fansubs doesn't mean I'm not willing to pay for the series--QUITE the opposite in fact. And seriously, I'm sick of anime licensing companies packing DVDs with figures and other collectibles to jack up the price. I pick up a box thinking I found a box set of a series, only to find out that there's only one DVD and a bunch of fluff.

        Putting aside foreign stuff for a second. I want all of the Dexter's Lab episodes and Courage the Cowardly Dog episodes on DVD or mp4. I can't get them in this fashion unless I get some burned bootleg DVD on eBay. Why? The series "Reboot" only offered the first and third seasons on DVD. How does that make ANY sense?

        Or how about old Lucasarts adventure games? They aren't exactly rushing to put them out for digital distribution. Id, Epic, Eidos, Take Two, and other companies are offering their back catalog on steam, yet I have to rummage through garage sales to find Maniac Mansion.

        I pretty much have my pick of music that was made in my country, and even some of the more popular foreign stuff. But I want access to EVERYTHING I'm interested in, not just what business deals and International Copyright Law say I can buy.

        I don't pirate because I'm "sticking it to the man." I pirate because I tell the man "Let me give you money!" and he says "No."
      • by Znork (31774) on Friday June 06, 2008 @05:06AM (#23679669)
        business execs) rarely understand is that piracy usually indicates an unfulfilled market.

        Monopoly pricing always creates an unfulfilled market; revenue is maximized at a pricing point far above the fulfillable market.

        A classic economic example would be this: You have ten customers who would pay 1, 2, 3 .. up to 10 dollars, and a per unit production cost of 2 dollars.

        Set the price at 10 dollars and you get 1 customer paying ten dollars; $10 in revenue. Lower the price, $8 gets you 3 customers, $24 total revenue. $7 gets you $28. Subtract 4 times $2 for unit costs and you get $20 profit. Try $6 price, that gets you $30 income minus 5 times $2, the same $20 profit.

        Turns out $7, with 4 customers would maximize your profit. That leaves the 5 people between $2 (minimum production cost) and $7 unfulfilled. In a free market, competition would force prices down towards $2, maximizing the total wealth in the market. In the monopoly market, the wealth created by fulfilling the market is lost (well, unless the potential customers pirate the material).
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Smidge204 (605297)
          Here's the problem, though: What's the true cost of digital reproduction and distribution? Now, if we're talking physical goods you certainly have a case. It costs fractions of fractions of a penny's forth of electricity to make a copy of even large data files, and bandwidth cost aren't a huge burden either.

          With software, there is really only a one-time cost of production and maybe long-term support. With music and video there is ONLY the one-time production costs.
          =Smidge=
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Znork (31774)
            Of course, the monopoly pricing example is much simplified and valid only as a model for demonstrating why selling more copies cheaper isn't interesting when you have monopoly rights; more but cheaper still means less total revenue. In the real world you have many other aspects, for example, if you're making a 500% recordable profit you're not spending enough. Most organizations tend to accumulate waste until they make the minimum acceptable profit; see the music industry as a typical example, they can fail
    • by rboatright (629657) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @09:16PM (#23677121)
      Uh, look, the analysis is flawed.

      First, books are an odd special case.

      I can't fit the analysis in a slashdot post... if you haven't read McCauley on Copyright, and if you haven't read Eric Flint's analysis of copyright, piracy and e-books as they effect modern authors, do so.

      Start here:
      Spillage: or, The Way Fair Use Works in Favor of Authors and Publishers http://baens-universe.com/articles/salvos8 [baens-universe.com]

      then go here and read _all_ the salvo's columns...
      http://baens-universe.com/authors/Eric_Flint [baens-universe.com]

      Meanwhile, there's been very little said about copyright in the last century that McCauley didn't already address... http://www.baen.com/library/palaver4.htm [baen.com]
    • He is actively hurting his cause. The Bean Free Library proves it. http://www.baen.com/library/ [baen.com] I have actually purchased books I started reading free. And they keep adding books, so I would guess it is not driving them out of business.
      • by MsGeek (162936)
        PDF files of books are enough of a pain in my ass to where I usually break down and buy the book if I use the PDF enough.

        Giving people a taste in PDF form is a great way of promoting your dead-trees book.

        Not everyone is going to do the right thing and buy. But they might not have bought anyway.
  • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @08:40PM (#23676835) Homepage
    I cant help but wonder if the lack of ebook piracy is more down to the fact that old fashioned paper books are still much more prevalent that eboook readers, and can be had for a reasonable cost. I'd say the day ebook readers go the way of the iPod, piracy will explode.
    • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @09:15PM (#23677117) Homepage
      Well, I can't speak for anyone but myself but paper books are very abuse-friendly, I throw it in my backpack when my stop approaches, I can read them at the beach in direct sunlight and drop it in the sand without issue, it's no big deal if I forget it somewhere, it's not attractive to steal, it doesn't use batteries, it's a throwaway so scratches don't matter and so on. As far as environmentalism is concerned it's a drop in the bucket compared to the junk mail / free newspapers I get which go directly into the trash. I can think of some conditions where it could make sense, but they mostly involve using my large monitor rather than an ebook reader. The few conditions where I'd prefer an electronic version (because of e.g. bulk of a paper book) I'd rather have an audiobook than a tablet, it doesn't get smaller than a mp3 player + ear plugs. I think you're seeing more the opposite, people don't have ebook readers because they don't make sense.
      • There's also the friend factor. I share similar taste in books with a few friends and we're always passing books back and forth. And, as you said, if I don't get every one of them back it's really no big deal.

        One genre I do like having electronic copies of, however, is (surprise) tech books. Since they usually don't need to be read cover to cover and often contain a lot of reference material its usually more convenient, especially since their page count often high and carrying even one can be a pain.
      • by rolfwind (528248)
        Once ebooks hardware really matures it will be cheap, thin (not paper think perhaps, but considerably thinner than a magazine), maybe even flexible, and much more abuse friendly. It will also waterproof, I'd think (thinking 20-30 years out).

        Try keeping your favorite book out in the rain and see what happens.

        OTOH, lots of paper products are fragile. The older paper gets, the more brittle/fragile it is. And can you clean cheetos orange or chocolate off of paper pages?
    • by Fëanáro (130986)
      I'd say ebook piracy is less prevalent than movie piracy since movie watchers far, far outnumber book readers

      And since ebooks are that much smaller than video files, all pirated ebook traffic taken together is minimal

      But pirated (scanned) ebooks are not realy rare, I'd estimate there are more ebooks than movies available, if you know where to look.
      • its available but the added value to owning a book, mainly being able to carry it around, is significant whereas that of a movie or CD is not (same applies to vinyl).
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      A run-of-the-mill e-book maybe, but *ahem* downloaded textbooks are a godsend. Try getting one of those for a "reasonable price" when they change editions every 2 weeks and the professors are chummy with their textbook author/professor buddies!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Spacejock (727523)
      My publisher released the first book in my SF series as a free ebook download a week ago, the same day book 4 in the series hit the shops.

      Despite being publicised on some well-known blogs, and despite being available as a completely free, DRM-free, download to anyone worldwide, there are still more copies of the printed book in circulation than there have been downloads of the ebook. (And we're talking multi thousands in both cases.)

      My point is this: if a legit, proofed ebook copy of a bestselling boo
  • by Knightman (142928) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @08:44PM (#23676863)
    Macaulay on copyright law: http://www.baen.com/library/palaver4.htm [baen.com]

    Eric Flint on making books available online: http://www.baen.com/library/palaver6.htm [baen.com]

    nuff said.
    • by eht (8912) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @08:52PM (#23676919)
      I love directing people here

      http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/ [thefifthimperium.com]

      Because I know that people who read these books end up buying more books, maybe not everyone, but enough that they're still running this program with more CD's each year
      • by Minwee (522556)

        Because I know that people who read these books end up buying more books

        And they can buy them in the same formats that the Free Library uses at Webscription.net [webscription.net]. It's the next best thing to throwing money directly at the authors.

        • by Firethorn (177587)
          Heck, Baen must love me. I've spent a couple hundred there at least.

          Part of it is organizational. I often travel for extended periods of time, and can read a book in an hour. I can carry several hundred books in the space of one. I often have limited access to the internet, but little access to libraries or bookstores durng my travel. Ebooks don't take much space individually. Electronic format works quite well for me.

          And I LOVE that I'm supporting the authors by purchasing there. Encourages them to
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Is0m0rph (819726)
        Tor as well with their free Ebook mailing list. I read primarily Ebooks and I want to read them in text format on my phone or DS so I don't buy DRM ebooks which leaves me little alternative but to download them. But in Tor's case they've been giving out DRM free ebooks every week for a while. They are usually the first book in a series. When I had a work trip coming up last week and a paper book was more convenient to read on the road I went out and bought several of the second books in the series I had
  • PSP eBook Reader (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GottliebPins (1113707) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @08:45PM (#23676869)
    I have a PSP and thanks to all of the rediculous DRM to prevent people from enjoying various media on the device of their choosing I have no choice but to pirate eBooks that I already paid for to remove the DRM so I can read them on the PSP. I found that hacking PDF's is impossible, but eBooks are easy to remove the DRM then convert to PDF so I can read them on my PSP. Because of their rediculous paranoia it actually encourages people to pirate to avoid all of the lame restrictions. Same with iTunes. I looked all over for a song and could only find it on iTunes. So I had to buy it there, then burn it to cd, then rip it back to mp3 so I could play it on my PSP. DRM is stupid. It just encourages people to download it without paying.
    • I found that hacking PDF's is impossible, but eBooks are easy to remove the DRM then convert to PDF so I can read them on my PSP. Because of their rediculous paranoia it actually encourages people to pirate to avoid all of the lame restrictions.

      Changing a document (or an audio or video track) to another format is not pirating, even if you circumvent copy protection in the process. If you were to copy the item and then sell it, or make it available via internet that would be copyright infringement [wikipedia.org].

    • by jaaron (551839)
      What PDF software do you use on the PSP?
  • I like dead trees (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fyoder (857358) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @08:51PM (#23676911) Homepage Journal
    It might not be green, but the best reader I've found is the book. Perhaps I'm in the minority. I saw somewhere that there are people in Japan who not only read books on their cell phones, they also write books on their cell phones. Perhaps they're more evolved than me. If I found a book online that looked interesting and was available in dead tree format, I'd buy it in dead tree format, or look for it at bookmooch.com [bookmooch.com].

    That applies to reference books as well, like Mr. Pogue's. I've got shelves of them. But in the case of reference books, I wouldn't mind a searchable version as well. Hm, perhaps I should pay a visit to thepiratebay.org...
    • "It might not be green, but the best reader I've found is the book."

      How is that not "green"? it is far more ecologically "green" than a PDF Reader which is filled with all sorts of different plastics, chemicals and alloys.

      Paper, generally does contains some chemicals, but, it all breaks down in the span of a month (excluding the plastic coating on newer book covers)

      Plus, like Maxume said, "Pulp wood is a well managed resource." You can also hand over a book to anyone you wish, without worrying about DRM, or
      • by Obfuscant (592200)
        Not only all those things you said, you forgot that a book is a dandy carbon sink. I have a whole wall of carbon credits on my wall and stacks of carbon credits all over the place. Each one has a title and consumes NO futher energy. I've even read some of them. :-)

        I came across the silliest DRM a few days ago. A research group had produced it's translation of a text in PDF and had turned on the "you may not print this" flag. The only way they wanted me to read their work was on-screen. Consuming power the

      • pixies?...
        Don't be silly. Everyone knows we get electricity - Daddy calls it the "Devil's blood" - from the heat generated by fairies having sinful relations in Hell while being burnt for all eternity.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by shadwstalkr (111149)
      They aren't more evolved than you, they just have better phones in Japan.
    • When reading a paper book these days, I often find myself missing the features of the e-book, like tapping on a word to get the dictionary definition, or changing the font size.

      Speaking of font size... PDF for e-books is idiocy, lunacy, and the worst possible format I could think of. When the content is TEXT, why should you want to enforce a special formatting on the user? That's removing some of the great advantages of e-books, namely that you can change the formatting and fonts to suit the USER, and n
  • by WallyDrinkBeer (1136165) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @08:52PM (#23676915)
    There are these "libraries" where people file-share paper copies of books. FOR FREE!!!!
    David better not release paper copies either.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Last time I checked, library books were a limited supply. You can only lend a book out to one person at a time, and only for a certain amount of time. If libraries gave away unlimited free copies, I'm sure more people would have a problem with them cutting into sales.
      • by Zironic (1112127)
        Technically you're allowed to reloan a book as many times as you want so the time isn't really that limited.
  • by cdrguru (88047) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @08:56PM (#23676937) Homepage
    If it is in digital form, and it is popular, it will be pirated. Period.

    If there are eBooks that are not being passed around on P2P sharing networks, it is not because there is any increased respect for eBooks than music or movies. It is because nobody cares about the content.

    If I were to publish an eBook on the mating habits of the German Cockroach, I would expect that it would not be heavily pirated. Equally, I would expect a photoeassy on the day in a life of a proctologist would similarly be immune from piracy. However, an eBook of any popularity would immediately be copied and passed around freely regardless of the wishes of the author.

    Does eBook mean piracy? No, clearly not. However, anything that is popular is likely to be pirated regardless of any wishes of the author. The author (like Stephen King) can make the content available online free or not, as they choose. However, once it is in digital form the author loses the ability to control the outcome. This much should be obvious to everyone by now.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kernowyon (1257174)

      If I were to publish an eBook on the mating habits of the German Cockroach...

      Insect pr0n? I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.....
      I expect it beats David Pogue's ebooks anyway!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by cavtroop (859432)

      Equally, I would expect a photoeassy on the day in a life of a proctologist would similarly be immune from piracy.

      You, sir, must be new to this internet thingy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jonaskoelker (922170)

      Equally, I would expect a photoeassy on the day in a life of a proctologist would similarly be immune from piracy.
      I think it was preemptively pirated under the name hello.jpg.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WolfWalker545 (960367)
      But how many of the people who get a pirated copy would have paid for a reasonably priced copy if it was available? My wife's book is available on one of the Baen free CD's at baencd.thefifthimperium.com, and has been for a while, but the royalty statement she got today still has Webscriptions royalties... There have actually been cases where people tried to upload Baen ebooks to pirate sites and were shot down by the pirates because they feel that Baen, by charging a reasonable fee, is doing it right, an
      • ---There have actually been cases where people tried to upload Baen ebooks to pirate sites and were shot down by the pirates because they feel that Baen, by charging a reasonable fee, is doing it right, and that pirating their stuff is like killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

        That reminds me of something. I had a 300 level class in middle to late ages Europe that discussed a phenomenon that occurred in Europe during the 1770's. Because of pressures of economics and agriculture, bread/grain prices sky
    • It is because nobody cares about the content.
      If you're an author and you can't write something more popular than Fecal Incontinence - Diagnosis and Treatment - C. Ratto, G. Dogglietto (Springer, 2007) WW.pdf (a random pdf from hfrarg), it's time to consider a new line of work. ;)
    • However, once it is in digital form the author loses the ability to control the outcome. This much should be obvious to everyone by now.
      Which is a core reason why we need better copyright enforcement. (you seemed to forget that last bit, so I added it for you)
    • There are these magical things called photocopiers or scanners, in which you can put a book and get out a copy. This means that when an author publishes they also lose control.

      The reason there is little book piracy is because:
      1) books are reasonably priced
      2) people like reading paper copies
      3) few people will download a book to 'check it out'

      A lot of pirates music is gained listens but not necessarily lost sales, for non-textbook books id guess this number rises to above 90% as people will read the book AND
  • I didn't read any of the articles linked but I can say from person experience that, even though Practical Common Lisp [amazon.com] is available for free on-line [gigamonkeys.com] (HTML, PDF) I still bought my copy. It is worth every penny. Had it not been available on-line, it probably would've taken me even longer to convince myself to buy it.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "due to the way his technology sensibilities have been honed by years of being a Mac user. "

    stopped reading right there :-P
  • PDF = Promotes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Piranhaa (672441) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @09:05PM (#23677013)
    I didn't RTFA... but i know as a fact that people would rather read a hard copy book rather than on a screen. I, myself, have downloaded many ebooks (and had some sent to me from friends), read them and bought them after if they were actually good. It's sad to see that some authors (and other corporations) that 'piracy' always leads to lost revenue.. Even if someone would never have purchased the product before. When will they learn?
    • But he writes reference material. Many people just want to know something and decide to take the cash hit since they know they will get the info they need. If they can get it for free, they are probably more likely to justify doing so than with a fiction novel as you don't normally decide to read only a few parts of a novel -- you intend to make use of the entire work.
  • Things will get pirated. It's undeniable. I'm also not familiar with Pogue's writing.

    But 99% of what I need to read is already freely available on the internet not only because of books, but also forums about specialty topics, news sites and things of that nature. Years back, when I was looking to learn lisp I found the easiest/best book was available free (by Touretzky). [cmu.edu]

    And several newer ones (and highly acclaimed) were freely available as well. They sold well when they made it to print.

    The way I see i
  • Little Brother (Score:2, Insightful)

    by davidpfarrell (562876)
    I'm guessing Cory Doctorow [craphound.com] might have something to say in regards to Pogue's sentiments.

    The link is to the main page for Cory's "Little Brother" which is hitting its 4th week on the bestseller list.

    And there is a link to download the eBook right there on the page.
    • by Zadaz (950521)
      I'm also put to mind of Getting Real [37signals.com]. You can read the HTML version for free or pay $19 for a PDF and they've still sold tens of thousands of copies of the PDF, not to mention the paper version.
  • by Rakishi (759894) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @09:25PM (#23677203)
    I've seen some lovely torrents filled with thousands of OCRed versions of paper books. All you need I'm assuming is an auto-feed scanner, some nice paper cutting equipment and decent OCR software.

    In other words if your book is popular it will be pirated without too much difficult no matter what format it's in. If it's not popular than likely no one will care enough to pirate it no matter what format it's in. On the other hand if I can't easily get an non-pirated copy of you book then well the pirated version will be tempting simply because its more convenient.
  • by Marful (861873) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @09:34PM (#23677269)
    Baen Publishing (Baen.com) has been offering most of their books FOR FREE on their website [baen.com] for years.

    Here is what Eric Flint has to say about ebooks and piracy:

    Baen Books is now making available â" for free â" a number of its titles in electronic format. We're calling it the Baen Free Library. Anyone who wishes can read these titles online â" no conditions, no strings attached. (Later we may ask for an extremely simple, name & email only, registration. ) Or, if you prefer, you can download the books in one of several formats. Again, with no conditions or strings attached. (URLs to sites which offer the readers for these format are also listed. )

    Why are we doing this? Well, for two reasons.

    The first is what you might call a "matter of principle." This all started as a byproduct of an online "virtual brawl" I got into with a number of people, some of them professional SF authors, over the issue of online piracy of copyrighted works and what to do about it.

    There was a school of thought, which seemed to be picking up steam, that the way to handle the problem was with handcuffs and brass knucks. Enforcement! Regulation! New regulations! Tighter regulations! All out for the campaign against piracy! No quarter! Build more prisons! Harsher sentences!

    Alles in ordnung!

    I, ah, disagreed. Rather vociferously and belligerently, in fact. And I can be a vociferous and belligerent fellow. My own opinion, summarized briefly, is as follows:

    1. Online piracy â" while it is definitely illegal and immoral â" is, as a practical problem, nothing more than (at most) a nuisance. We're talking brats stealing chewing gum, here, not the Barbary Pirates.

    2. Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.

    3. Any cure which relies on tighter regulation of the market â" especially the kind of extreme measures being advocated by some people â" is far worse than the disease. As a widespread phenomenon rather than a nuisance, piracy occurs when artificial restrictions in the market jack up prices beyond what people think are reasonable. The "regulation-enforcement-more regulation" strategy is a bottomless pit which continually recreates (on a larger scale) the problem it supposedly solves. And that commercial effect is often compounded by the more general damage done to social and political freedom.

    In the course of this debate, I mentioned it to my publisher Jim Baen. He more or less virtually snorted and expressed the opinion that if one of his authors â" how about you, Eric? â" were willing to put up a book for free online that the resulting publicity would more than offset any losses the author might suffer.

    The minute he made the proposal, I realized he was right. After all, Dave Weber's On Basilisk Station has been available for free as a "loss leader" for Baen's for-pay experiment "Webscriptions" for months now. And â" hey, whaddaya know? â" over that time it's become Baen's most popular backlist title in paper!

    And so I volunteered my first novel, Mother of Demons, to prove the case. And the next day Mother of Demons went up online, offered to the public for free.

    Sure enough, within a day, I received at least half a dozen messages (some posted in public forums, others by private email) from people who told me that, based on hearing about the episode and checking out Mother of Demons, they either had or intended to buy the book. In one or two cases, t

    • I forgot to add, that when you buy a hardbound book from baen, it includes a CD with an electronic version of every book they have published that month.

      Needless to say, their hardbound book sales figures extend for a longer period of time than normal because of this.


      I also almost exclusively buy ebooks and paper books from them now because of their policies.
      • by pimpimpim (811140)
        Amazing! The best kind of advertising you can have. That is, as long as your content is worthwhile (probably the reason why piracy of most blockbuster movies is so strongly enforced, there is absolutely no reason to have a high-quality version of them).

        News for content creators: Advertising sells.

        Something related that bugs me: a music video is a bloody "promotional video" for the music it is made to. Doing your best to limit the distribution of that advertisement is just shooting yourself in the foot. I

    • Makes me want to vote with my dollars... read a few of these and buy some of the dead tree format... Apparently the post above this one indicates that when you buy the dead tree version you get the electronic versions of ALL of the ebooks they've ever published as well.
    • Where is the mod-option "suddenoutbreakofcommonsense"?
    • Yeah I've gotten quite a few books from Baen. I actually avoid most other ebook sellers because of their idiotic inability to not stuff some sort of DRM onto their books. Well that and their inane desire to charge as much for an ebook as for a paper version.
  • Foiled my plan (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wildem (1267822)
    I love reading great books and some are either way overpriced or the hold on them in the library is 50 plus long. If a book is on the shelf and I can physically pick it up , guess what , I'll read it in store for free. What's his answer to that ?? Turn down the lights in the book store to stop me from reading the damn book.

    Write a good book, price it well and people will support you so that you won't have to pander to the copyright zealots.
  • by SoupIsGoodFood_42 (521389) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @09:50PM (#23677389)
    Do we really need to point out the obvious -- that perhaps David Pogue's books are more popular than whatever this guy is talking about?

    I don't get too many people copying photos from my site, but that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of Ansel Adams' photos scattered around the net in violation of copyright.

    If David Pogue doesn't want to risk a loss in sales because of piracy of ebooks, then at least he has simply decided not to make an ebook available, rather than jump on the pro-DRM bandwagon. He has to put food on the table and it's his reasonable right to make such a decision.

    Of course, as many of the comments here already confirm, I'm sure this forum will simply end up twisting this into some sort of anti-Pogue, anti-DRM argument, making him out to be the same as the RIAA. I mean, look at WallyBeerDrinker and his knee-jerk comment about libraries (which I would normally agree with, BTW), or d34thm0nk3y.
  • by sentientbrendan (316150) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @09:56PM (#23677437)
    Check out his article, which I found to be pretty intelligent.

    http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/29/readers-have-their-say-in-the-e-publishing-debate/#more-475 [nytimes.com]

    I have to say that his argument is fairly well reasoned.
  • by urcreepyneighbor (1171755) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @10:11PM (#23677561)
    From the article:

    Actually, authors like me are lucky; our work is, at this point, pretty much protected with unbreakable copy protection. That is, our bound and published books can't be duplicated infinitely and distributed by the millions online.
    Speaking as someone that has personally scanned well over a hundred books (I have no life... seriously... sadly), all I can say is: never underestimate the length a person with OCD will go.

    Never. :)

    The only form of "unbreakable copy protection" (in the sense used by the author of the article) is security thru obscurity. Ha!
  • by syousef (465911) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @10:17PM (#23677611) Journal
    The problem I have with copyright and IP law in general is much less to do with compensating the creator (Why a creator should be compensated every time their work is used, when the work is only done once is a whole other issue). My main issue is that it gives someone the artificial right to control something they've created. If a plumber does a job for you he doesn't then get to tell you how the pipes may be used, or dictate when you can shower or use the toilet. (Perhaps I shouldn't give plumbers ideas). Why should a an author or other media creator, or inventor have this level of control? IP law lets the creator deny innovative use of his or her creation outright, or charge through the nose for it. The trouble is we've grown up being taught that this control is a right and all our laws are based on it. Not just for original works but also derived works. It's so wasteful it's insane.
    • by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @10:51PM (#23677883) Homepage Journal
      I believe the idea is to protect creators for a reasonable period of time during which they can profit solely from their labor. The idea was to offer an incentive for the creation of art, literature, music etc. in the first place, which seems reasonable to me. The problem is that for the last several decades the big dollar content owners (not necessarily creators) have lobbied for and gotten unreasonable extensions to copyright periods. Mickey Mouse should have been in the public domain long ago.
    • by pintpusher (854001) on Friday June 06, 2008 @12:44AM (#23678607) Journal
      A better analogy is an architect/builder or a design/build construction firm. The design/build team "creates" a house, or in the case of a tract development, "creates" many copies of the essentially the same house. They then sell these houses. The people who buy these houses can do whatever the hell they want with them, including, if they want, any of the following:

      * sell the house
      * modify the house
      * give the house away for free
      * take measurements of the house and build, sell or give away a duplicate.

      and probably some more...

      All this can be done without any recourse by the design/build team that "created" the house. Once the house is sold to the first buyer, all bets are off.

      Now, I don't suggest that this is necessarily a great analogy (and the plumbing one isn't either, IMO), but I think it shows the problem with IP. The reason this analogy fails is because the cost of "creating" the initial house is fully recouped in the first sale. In the case of IP, generally that is not possible. If it takes an author a year of full-time work to write a novel, it is hardly reasonable to expect the first copy to sell for $30, $50, $75K to compensate that author for a year's labor.

      In the past, this was no big deal because only a few could actually afford to typeset, print, bind, and distribute books in the first place. And in that situation, copyright works, more or less. When the cost to distribute copies falls through the floor, as it has, then there needs to be another way to compensate authors for their labor.

      I certainly don't have a solution to this problem, but I think that since the reality is that most people prefer to read paper books over electronic ones, at the moment, the right solution is something like what Baen has done. DRM just won't cut it. You have to rely on the fact that people really prefer paper, and that people are generally reasonably honest.

      And the cost per copy needs to be commensurate as well. While I think it's great that some authors get stinking rich, it's much more reasonable, and probably better for society, for authors to make a modest, but comfortable living from their continued efforts. That means that they need to earn a decent living for continuing to produce works. With the ease of modern distribution, and the potentially huge audiences now available, it doesn't make sense to sell a few copies at really high prices. That only encourages piracy. Much better, I think, is to sell the copies very inexpensively, gambling that you will sell lots of them and get a reasonable income come it. This could also offset the softening of demand that is inevitable because of dead-tree book pricing these days.

      I think all this has been said before...

  • by cmacb (547347) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @10:28PM (#23677701) Homepage Journal
    are the significant differences between fiction books and technical references. In the threads here someone mentions cheap paperbacks, being dropped at the beach, not worth stealing etc. All true for casual fiction. But much of this does not apply to what is mostly a reference book on some hardware/software.

    For such reference materials there are two sides to this story:

    A particularly good reference work that is about a particularly popular and long lasting subject would of course be worth getting in electronic form for free, especially if the 500-page tomb costs $50 and up retail (as such books often do). But I've bought my share of these and have (or had) bookshelves full of such reference works that I could often get my employer to buy, or claim as a deduction while consulting etc.

    On the other hand, I've bought quite a few of these reference book and ended up not using them a single time. I could just as well wait until I had a question on a particular subject and taken pen and paper into the nearest Barnes and Noble and written down the answer. I bought these books "just in case" as I'm sure many people do when they get a new OS or new kind of gadget that they think they might need some help with. Would Pogue or authors like him be willing to give refund for unused copies of his book? I rather doubt it.

    I think if Pogue as more of a humorist than anything else, his books pretend to be reference works, but like his NYTimes articles are generally more like stand-up routines, long on wit, short on actual information. He is probably a special case, and as such, might not want to be held up to a true usefulness test.

    Light reading, not worth stealing? Sure print it in cheap paperback and let people drop it at the beach.

    Hard info, repeated reference material? Might do better as a paid subscription service online. People would pay to get the info they need and the more that service proved useful the more they would try and us it. Furthermore, in this form, the more likely it would be that you could support the content with ads rather than subscriptions. That's the direction the world is going for technical info, which means that Pogue should milk his job at NYT for all it is worth. More people are using tools on the web now and expecting to find answers on the web as well, either included with the tool, or for free elsewhere. We aren't abandoning books to save the rain forests, we are abandoning them to use something better and more convenient. Just as I'd rather be typing this than writing it out in long-hand with a fountain pen, I'd rather solve my next puzzling OS X conundrum by doing a Google search than thumbing through fifty dusty books on my bookshelf. In the not too distant future, you will sell your "books" online, or not at all.
    • by ColdWetDog (752185) * on Thursday June 05, 2008 @11:29PM (#23678123) Homepage

      Might do better as a paid subscription service online.

      Which is exactly what Pogue does with his books. They're on Safari [oreilly.com]. While not perfect - the site's a bit slow and clunky and it's really too expensive to justify ($40 / month for unlimited access, $20 / month for access limited to, I believe, 10 books) it is a useful reference site for computer related stuff.

      It is more how I use his, and others, reference books. It's pretty rare that I want to read a reference book cover to cover and it's rare that any given computer reference book is really valuable for more than a year or two. If O'Reilly cut their subscription prices down a bit and sped up and cleaned up the site a bit, it would really be a great model for authors like Mr. Pogue, assuming he gets some sort of cut on the subscriptions.

    • That's basically the conclusion I came to. For recreational reading, I don't want the bother of ebook. Paperbacks, or even a hardback is much more convenient.

      However, a tech manual is a different matter. A good search function would be an improvement over the usual index. And if you were, say, an appliance repairman, who needed dozens of tech manuals available, then a Kindle-type gadget starts to make a lot of sense. A touch screen reader would be a bad idea though. Just leave regular buttons on it with a
  • What just happened? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fishthegeek (943099) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @10:40PM (#23677813) Journal
    I followed the links after RTFA and ended up on Doctorows website, Started reading the blurb on his book "Little Brother", downloaded the palm ebook and purchased the audio book. I can't tell if I'm really interested in the book or if I just fell for the most frakin clever slashvertisement of all time.
  • by Auldclootie (1131129) on Thursday June 05, 2008 @11:02PM (#23677959)
    A quick scan through the popular torrent sites will enable you to download up to 50,000 books in a dozen or so torrents. Even allowing for the quick scan through to delete the rubbish - that is still a decent sized library. SCRIBD/Baen/Gutenberg et al prove there is a market for ebooks. My own uploads to SCRIBD have had more tha 80,000 views in the last few weeks and they are nothing special... All these - 'smell and feel of a book' people are just Luddites. I love my dead tree library too - but its not portable. My Hanlin book reader holds several thousand books on a 2gb SD card - it is DRM free, lightweight, comfortable to read anywhere - including in direct sunlight, reads a multitude of formats and has adjustable font sizes. It turns 9,000 pages before a charge is needed and can be left on indefinitely - it uses no power to leave the display on for weeks as the screen is e-ink/paper. It runs on Wolf Linux and is the only practical way for someone like me who like reading (but is always traveling) to get a print fix... E-books are the future - like it or not - and sooner the better - especially for the text book industry which is well overdue for euthanasia...
  • by Orion Blastar (457579) <orionblastarNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday June 05, 2008 @11:06PM (#23677985) Homepage Journal
    because it is cheaper to create a PDF and sell that, than print out a lot of paperback or hardcopy books.

    The #1 reason why people pirate a book is cost, but a PDF book is relatively cheap next to a paper book, and Lulu.com [lulu.com] knows that and helps people self publish ebooks in PDF format for really cheap, cheaper than a paper publisher would charge.

    I am a big Traveller fan, and Far Future [farfuture.net] and Marc Miller are putting Traveller V5 in PDF format and selling the CD. Actually they have T5 in PDF format on the Citizens of the Imperium forums only available to people like me who paid for T5 in advance and let us become beta testers for the new gaming system and allow us to give feedback on the new T5 changes. Oddly enough, the T5 PDF files, while not copy protected or even watermarked, never found their way to file sharing networks unlike a lot of old RPG and Gaming materials already have. Most Traveller fans don't want Traveller to die out, so they refuse to pirate the PDF files for T5 and Mongoose Traveller, despite a lot of the Classic Traveller, etc stuff already been scanned and put on file sharing networks already.

    In some cases, piracy of the Classic Traveller materials got enough people interested in the new T5 materials to buy them, and some even buy the Classic Traveller CD set from Far Future to support Traveller and make sure that it survives to the new settings and new T5 system.

    Besides Google has Google Books [google.com] that has a lot of books available online for free and while you cannot read a whole book you can search through it enough to find what you need so that you don't have to buy the book. Even if their are partial previews, they allow enough info to learn what you need and you can search through the book, chapter by chapter, and in theory read the whole book for free. I don't really see a difference between reading a book for free in Google Books or downloading it from a file sharing network for free before actually buying the book later to have a hard copy and see if you like the book enough to buy it. In a library or book store you can read the whole book for free anyway. Then decide to buy it or not, based on how you like it.

    In that way Piracy actually helps people decide what they want to buy, provided they like it enough to buy it after previewing it. I myself have bought books for $20 to $55 or more, then finding out later that the book was useless or I didn't like it, but I was stuck with it and out of money and had to buy a different book that was better. Reviews really don't help, as people are paid to shill for a book and write a good review even if the book is horrible. Besides the person who liked the book and wrote a review, might not like the same things that I or anyone else likes to see in a book.
  • I seem to be missing any PDF's by this guy?
  • My own book (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BigBadBus (653823) on Friday June 06, 2008 @03:15AM (#23679205) Homepage
    I have written my own book, and I too worry about piracy. There is no guarantee that once the ebook is emailed or sent out on CD, it won't be distributed illegally, cutting down on the profits. How can you stop a pdf file from being distributed illegally? You can't. Of course, if you were to go the "traditional" route, and have a book bound, that would eat into your profits, but would deter pirates; who would want to spend ages at a scanner or a photocopier copying a whole bound book? Or, you could go even more traditional, and do what I didn't do, which is get your book published by a publishing house. But the money you get out of them unless you are an established author is pitiful; based on what another author receives, its about 6%. The publishing house takes most of the money. No, the odds are stacked against ebook authors, and even more highly stacked against self-publishers. The fact that magazines, google books etc. won't even look at your book unless you have an ISBN (which are sold at extortionate prices and in blocks of 10!) doesn't help.

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