How To Fight eBook Piracy

In a remarkable piece of investigative journalism the New York Times has discovered evidence of widespread ebook piracy. Again.

The surprise here is not that the paper has rediscovered piracy for the umpteenth time, but rather that, despite the paper’s many discoveries, it has failed to gain a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding piracy. Instead, the paper chooses to play to the worst fears of the publishing industry, while demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of what motivates consumers of digital media.

NYT columnist Randall Stross theorizes that the widespread availability of pirated ebooks combined with growing consumer adoption of digital reading devices like the Kindle, may ultimately lead to massive piracy of the sort that the music business experienced during the Napster era. Apparently it’s just a matter of time before Kindle owning consumers pirates wake up the fact that they can save 10 bucks by downloading bootlegged ebooks from RapidShare instead of buying direct from Amazon.

The scenario might actually seem plausible if you had no knowledge of either RapidShare or the Kindle. Let’s pause for a moment to compare the ebook acquisition process from both sources:


  1. Find the book you want by searching the store that’s conveniently integrated into your Kindle device.
  2. Press the buy button. Yes, you just spent $9.99. Painless, wasn’t it?
  3. Start reading.


  1. Find the book you want by searching the… Wait a minute. It turns out that RapidShare has no on-site search engine.
  2. Turn to Google or some other search engine to find the exact URL for the book you want to download. This might take a while, but fortunately pirates have loads of free time.
  3. Once you’ve found the exact URL you’ll discover that you can’t download the file immediately. Instead, you’ll be told that all of the free download slots are in use. You’ll have to try again in two minutes. Repeat this step until a slot opens up (it might be hours, it could be days).
  4. Alternately, consider paying for immediate access. For a mere 6.99€ you can download from RapidShare without waiting. That’s only 20 cents more than the price of the book you’re about to steal. A small price to pay for sticking it to The Man.
  5. Once you’ve downloaded your book you’ll need to find a way to move the file to your Kindle (Whispersync might be convenient, but it’s not the pirate way).
  6. Prepare for the likelihood of some slight formatting problems with your new book. In most cases you’ll be able to figure out the intended meaning of the poorly OCR’d text. And you’ll just have to get used to the page numbers that are embedded in the middle of each page.

If publishers can learn one thing from other forms of digital media, it is the importance of a quality consumer experience. Consumers place a premium on convenience and ease of use. As a result, free is not always the clear choice.

The best way to prevent piracy is by making it easier to buy a product than it is to steal the same product. Despite my many reservations about Kindle’s proprietary DRM, Amazon has made the Kindle book buying experience frictionless. Publishers who fear piracy should work to emulate the Kindle discovery and purchasing process.

Right now the number one tool against ebook piracy isn’t DRM, it’s Whispersync.

6 Responses to “How To Fight eBook Piracy”

  1. Nobilis says:


  2. Mac Slocum says:

    Well put. I’d add only one thing: “free is not always the clear choice … unless it’s as easy / easier / as good / better / as fast / faster than the paid option.”

    For the non-piratey pirates — the ones who don’t vote in pirate primaries or wave swords — it’s not so much about the price tag. It’s time. If a paid digital option is *worse* than free in any way, content publishers are doing the wrong thing.

  3. Thanks Mac, that’s it exactly. I think it helps to view piracy as a form of competition. If your product is inferior to a competitors in any way, consumers will choose the superior alternative.


  1. […] Articol tradus ?i adaptat de Oana Dragu C?r?iDigitale/ebooks — Etichete: Amazon, Kindle, Napster, Randall Stross, RapidShare, The New York Times, Whispersync — petre @ 12:28, 28-12-2009 comenteaz? ? […]

  2. […] to go on, perhaps we should treat a pirated copy as a competitor’s product. Just do better: deliver more conveniently and efficiently, experiment constantly, and draw customers to legitimate retail by adding social value, building […]