Following on from my previous post on the rise of ebook piracy I thought I’d throw in my two cents on how I think the publishing industry can combat ebook piracy. My solution: the three click rule.
The strategy I’d suggest is similar to the one being adopted by the music industry now. Instead of looking to heavily control distribution with rights management the industry needs to focus on two things: availability and ease.
Firstly, ALL books must be available in ebook format. It is simply unforgiveable for a publisher not to have their entire catalogue available. The old argument that the market isn’t big enough to support a print run just doesn’t exist in the ebook world. The low cost of digitising books now means that even if only 20 people want to read a text then it’s worth making it available. If it isn’t available then people will do exactly what they’ve been doing for centuries now. They will try secondhand bookshops. They will try borrowing from friends. They will try libraries. And now in this digital age they will try the internet. The publishing industry now has a unique opportunity to reclaim the revenue it has historically lost to secondhand buying, borrowing and lending. All they need to do is make the books available.
The next thing the industry needs to do is make it easier to buy books legally than to steal them. No one should ever be more than THREE CLICKS AWAY FROM OWNING ANY PARTICULAR EBOOK. How would this work? Well at the moment if I search for “Atonement ebook” one of the top results is for an illegal BitTorrent site. I’ve just tried it and from the search results on the Google homepage it takes 4 clicks to download the book. Now the publishing industry has an opportunity here to beat the pirates by getting the book to users in less than 4 clicks. This is eminently achievable. After you’ve done the search just click through to the publisher's/retailer's site (1 click), click the Buy Now button (2 clicks), confirm your purchase (3 clicks). They need to eliminate all the signing up, entering credit card details and agreeing to be contacted about future offers. It should just be a raw commercial exchange like going to a market and paying $2 cash for a tatty old paperback. No names, no addresses, no receipt; just cash in return for a book.
Until the publishing industry does these two things, makes ALL books available as ebooks and makes it ridiculously easy to buy them, then they are always going to be fighting a losing battle against piracy.