This is a screencast of the DRM presentations I gave last week at O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference.
Book Piracy Is on the Decline
Finally, some good news for publishers.
All year we’ve been hearing predictions that the book business is on its death bed — about to be completely transformed by ebooks, then eaten alive by pirates. Yet, despite recent reports to the contrary it turns out that book piracy is on the decline.
Based on piracy loss estimates published by the International Intellectual Property Alliance and generated by the Association of American Publishers, book piracy dropped over 13% between 2005 and 2007 (the most recent year that data is available).
The numbers look like this:
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Is Book Sharing Really a Threat to Publishing?
Last week bookseller Barnes and Noble unveiled the Nook, its long-awaited eReading device. Although ill-named, the Nook is a worthy competitor to the Kindle, offering a number of features not found on the Amazon device, including LendMe, a feature that allows for controlled sharing of ebooks. While the sharing feature comes with a number of limitations, it would appear to be a small but important step towards making DRM-restricted content slightly more flexible for consumers. There’s just one problem — publishers want no part of the Nook’s LendMe feature.
Publishers Lunch reported last week (registration required) that many large publishing houses have indicated that they won’t participate in the LendMe program.
To be clear, the LendMe feature is extremely limited. Books are lent for a maximum of 14 days. And unlike the library, there are no extensions. When a book is lent, the lender loses access, and once the book is returned to the lender it can never be lent again.
So, why are publishers opposed to the Nook’s crippled ebook sharing scheme? As one Unnamed Publishing Executive told Publishers Lunch:
“if publishers agree to lending then every ebook offer now and in the future will come with this consumer feature. Over time, I’m concerned that lending won’t grow the market and in fact could hurt it.”
What Unnamed Publishing Executive seems to fear most is a sense of consumer entitlement. If consumers have the right to share ebooks now, they’ll expect to have that right until the end of time. Never mind the fact that consumers share print books all the time. Since the sharing of books is apparently a bad thing, we can only assume that the ease with which consumers share printed books is a flaw inherent in the print format. Fortunately publishers can correct that flaw in the digital realm through the liberal use of oppressive DRM.
I suppose this worldview shouldn’t come as a surprise. If the history of digital media has taught us one thing it’s that media companies see the digital future as an opportunity to exert extreme control over how consumers use and interact with content.
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TOC Frankfurt Wrap-Up
In some ways, TOC Frankfurt was like every other TOC conference. The event brought together the usual assortment of publishing professionals, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders to discuss the future of an industry in the midst of a massive transformation. Over the past three years TOC has emerged as the go to source for publishers looking to expose themselves to innovative ideas and the cutting edge technology that is shaping the future of the book business.
TOC Frankfurt differed from previous TOC conferences in a few notable ways, however. First, the event lasted just a single day, rather than the usual three. As a result, attendees got what might best be described as a concentrated dose of the TOC vision. Then there was the fact that the conference was being held in Europe for the first time. The Frankfurt conference had a distinctly more international feel to it than previous TOCs. And finally, there was the post-conference media coverage, some of which was less than flattering.
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:
- Find the book you want by searching the store that’s conveniently integrated into your Kindle device.
- Press the buy button. Yes, you just spent $9.99. Painless, wasn’t it?
- Start reading.
- Find the book you want by searching the… Wait a minute. It turns out that RapidShare has no on-site search engine.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
Podcast: Assessing the Impact of Piracy and Free Content on Book Sales
It’s nearly impossible to have a meaningful discussion on the issue of media piracy. Strong opinions and anecdotal evidence dominate every conversation. There is seldom any hard data to back up the various claims of damage or lack thereof.
The recent New York Times piece on book piracy is typical of the kind of coverage we’ve come to expect from major news source. The story is long on speculation and short on deep thinking or meaningful data.
Meanwhile, O’Reilly Media has just published a new research report on the Impact of P2P and Free Distribution on Book Sales. Written and researched by Brian O’Leary, the report is an all too rare attempt to quantify the impact that various types of freely available content have on sales.
Free content has long been used to promote all forms of media. Is it possible that pirated content might serve a similar role in promoting the purchase of content? O’Leary’s early results seem to indicate that might be the case.
In this podcast I talk with O’Leary about his research. A full transcript of our talk will be available in the next couple of days. [Read more…] about Podcast: Assessing the Impact of Piracy and Free Content on Book Sales
Is Playing Music on the Radio A Form of Piracy?
Does playing someone’s music on the radio hurt them or help them? And is it a “form of piracy”?
I’m a lifelong radio listener. Not like I once was, of course, but I still listen, especially during my morning commute. A couple of weeks ago I happened to hear “The Step and The Walk” by The Duke Spirit on Indie 103.1, and fell instantly in love with it. So, is that a good thing or bad thing for The Duke Spirit?
A logical person would say that it’s a good thing for the artist. Right? I’d never heard of them, and now I have.
Of course, as we’ve seen many times before, the Recording Industry is not made up of logical persons. As a matter of fact, not only do they see no benefit in their artists being played on the radio, they want compensation.
Otherwise, “it’s a form of piracy,” and any argument that playing music is a form of promotion is a “red herring.”
Those aren’t my words, but rather the words of a spokesperson for a recording industry umbrella group with the hilarious name of musicFIRST.
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NBC’s Plan to Make The Zune Even Worse
The NBC programming that went missing from iTunes last December has finally turned up in the Zune marketplace. Fans of The Office, Heroes, and 30 Rock can once again pay to download episodes of their favorite programs — provided they own a Zune and a Windows PC.
Given the Zune’s miniscule market share it’s curious to see any network choosing Microsoft’s media platform over iTunes for paid downloads. When NBC pulled its programming from iTunes, network officials sniffed at the relatively small sales the Apple service had generated. By comparison, sales in the Zune marketplace are bound to redefine the term “nano”.
Clearly this move isn’t about selling digital content online. NBC seems to be more interested in punishing Apple for exercising control over iTunes pricing than it is in actually expanding the market for legal downloads.
Will An Irrational Fear of Piracy Destroy the Publishing Industry Too?
When they write the history of how the recording industry botched its transition to digital content distribution, they’ll probably devote a whole chapter to the Diamond Rio.
Ugly as it was, the Rio was the first widely available portable MP3 player. While the appearance of the device indicated a clear demand from consumers for portable digital music, the recording industry saw it as a threat. Instead of embracing digital music and working to develop a viable business model for digital content distribution, the RIAA took the manufacturer of the Rio to court and tried to have the product taken off the market. The RIAA was at war with the MP3 format, and claimed that any device capable of playing MP3 files would clearly contribute to piracy.
The RIAA ultimately lost its lawsuit, and the rest is history. While the Rio may seem like a footnote now, it was an important milestone. The court ruling on the Rio case cleared the way for Apple’s iPod, and eventually the iTunes music store.
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Debunking the Great DVD Sniffing Dog Hoax
The canine crime fighting duo Flo and Lucky were in the news again this week. The dogs, allegedly trained to sniff out counterfeit DVDs, have just completed an assignment in Malaysia where they are said to have helped uncover over $6 million in bootlegged discs. The pair was so successful that counterfeiters put a bounty on their heads, and the government awarded them medals for “Oustanding Service”.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Flo and Lucky’s story is that media outlets have been quick to regurgitate the MPAA’s claims without actually questioning the dogs’ abilities or the program they’re participating in. Take a closer look at the facts and the two start to look more like publicity hounds than police dogs.
As I noted last year when the dogs made their first appearance in the UK, the pair obviously aren’t trained to smell intellectual property violations. An official press release explained that the dogs “were amazingly successful at identifying packages containing DVDs, which were opened and checked by HM Customs’ representatives.” The press release went on to state, “While all were legitimate shipments on the day, our message to anyone thinking about shipping counterfeit DVDs through the FedEx network is simple: you’re going to get caught.”
The message to people shipping legitimate DVDs is also clear. You can expect that your package may be opened and searched for no good reason.
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