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Old 06-06-2008, 01:34 AM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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Engst to Pogue: E-Book piracy not a given

We know that the New York Times' widely read technology columnist David Pogue has had some bad experience with e-book piracy, but was it unavoidable? No, says TidBITS publisher Adam Engst, citing heartening sales numbers of his Take Control series of e-books (which were "reasonably priced" and free of DRM technologies). Mr. Engst concludes:

Quote:
I normally appreciate what Pogue has to say in his print and email columns due to the way his technology sensibilities have been honed by years of being a Mac user. But in this situation, and I say this with all respect due to a fellow author with whom I've written a book, I disagree with him pretty much completely. ... I've proved over four years that ebook piracy is not a fact of Internet nature, and I'd argue that it's something that all authors could both control and profit from. The trick, as always, is to watch how the recording industry behaves and do the opposite. Bring on the iTunes Store for ebooks, Apple, and make the Kindle better, Amazon!
Read his full response to Mr. Pogue, it's highly recommended!

Thanks to lee1234 for the tip!
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Old 06-06-2008, 07:10 AM   #2
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this guy is the dream publisher for ebooks. i wish ALL publishers and authors thought like him. i love the attitude he takes towards discouraging illicit copying (emphasis mine) :

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Because it's easy to buy our ebooks legitimately, there's not much incentive to share purchased copies or to download copies rather than buying them.

(...)

Other techniques we employ [to discourage copying] include free samples of all of our ebooks, a discount offer that readers can share with interested friends or colleagues, a plainly written request that readers treat the ebooks as they would print books (occasional lending of books is a time-honored tradition), and an up-front statement that we don't use any copy prevention or DRM technologies. We also take small pains to make sure our Check for Updates links work only for purchasers, and utilize basic security measures to prevent copies from being downloaded illegitimately from our Web site.
this guy has everything right, down to acknowledging that people like to share their books with friends, and allowing that on a small scale this is perfectly acceptable, and the fact that he doesn't use any DRM. i'm a bit disappointed that he seems only to publish computer and tech manuals (which i have no need to buy) because i would love to support him and encourage him to keep setting the example.

now if only the others would follow his lead....

very interesting article, Alex.
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Old 06-06-2008, 09:02 AM   #3
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Too bad all his books are only published in PDF. Other than that I love his attitude.

Last edited by TallMomof2; 06-06-2008 at 09:03 AM. Reason: Fix typo
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Old 06-06-2008, 09:08 AM   #4
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Too bad all his books are only published in PDF.
ah. yes, then he has ALMOST everything right. didn't notice that detail...
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Old 06-06-2008, 10:03 AM   #5
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"I normally appreciate what Pogue has to say in his print and email columns due to the way his technology sensibilities have been honed by years of being a Mac user."
Ah, irony... thy name is Engst.

That being said...

Quote:
"...So clearly, although plenty of Missing Manuals are available illegally, those copies stem from Safari Books Online or from O'Reilly, not from anything Pogue may have done, or from someone buying the print book and scanning it."
It's a fair point: Before you accuse someone of robbing you, make sure your finger is pointed at the right person. Of course, it can still be pointed out that his books are available illegally, so Pogue isn't just whining for no good reason...

Quote:
"We've been publishing ebooks for more than four years, and as I said, we've sold over 150,000 copies in that time, with virtually no wide scale copying. We try hard to price our ebooks reasonably, and we've put a lot of effort into making the purchase process simple. Because it's easy to buy our ebooks legitimately, there's not much incentive to share purchased copies or to download copies rather than buying them."
With the exception of his sales numbers (don't I wish...) I can say the same, right down to the last sentence. And, of course, both of us have copies of our books on the darknet anyway. My only point here is that "making legal purchases easy" doesn't stop the stealing, it only minimizes the damage done.

Overall, I agree with his points, though the article points out the flaw in many book profit arguments: The fact that publishers keep coming back to paper, to wit: "I don't care if they discover an illicit copy of my book, because the next day they bought the printed edition." This is obviously not helpful to anyone if there IS no printed edition... or if the purchaser is perfectly satisfied with an electronic edition, and doesn't want print. How will you profit from those who get their illicit copies... and are done with you?
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Old 06-06-2008, 11:22 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Steve Jordan View Post
This is obviously not helpful to anyone if there IS no printed edition... or if the purchaser is perfectly satisfied with an electronic edition, and doesn't want print. How will you profit from those who get their illicit copies... and are done with you?
Steve,

I think the bottom line is that there is nothing you can do about theft. It happens to brick and mortar stores, it happens to digital assest... no matter how much you do whether it is bars on the doors and windows or DRM... stuff still gets stolen. I think you have to maximize the amount of people that pay for your book and accept that theft will happen, it is a fact of life.

Clearly you can't do what Doctorow suggests in the introduction to Little Brother. Since you ONLY publish electronically you have no source of revenue other than sales of ebooks. So, I think his ideas are a little nieve and also short sited. Certainly today the majority of books are still bought as paper books (see Amazon only selling 6% as ebook which means 94% were still bought as paper books.)

However, there will come a time, I don't know when, 20-30 years or more, that paper books will stop being printed. It happens with VHS tapes, 8-track tapes, vinyl records, etc. Once the medium is obsolete people stop using it. In that case, giving away ebooks so people know about you as an author and will by pbooks will not be a viable model, just as it isn't viable for an ebook only author today.

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Old 06-06-2008, 11:47 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Jordan View Post
Overall, I agree with his points, though the article points out the flaw in many book profit arguments: The fact that publishers keep coming back to paper, to wit: "I don't care if they discover an illicit copy of my book, because the next day they bought the printed edition." This is obviously not helpful to anyone if there IS no printed edition... or if the purchaser is perfectly satisfied with an electronic edition, and doesn't want print. How will you profit from those who get their illicit copies... and are done with you?
Publishers keep coming back to paper because there's money in paper. Among conventional print publishers and the vast majority of the reading public, ebooks are still a bleeding edge technology, and this is a bleeding-edge online community. We need to keep that in mind, and I would remind ebook publishers here that it's easy to distribute print editions of your works using sites like Lulu. There's no up-front charges, and you only pay when a copy is actually sold. And since that's the case, hey, print is free money. Why not grab it? And why not budget a couple of pages at the end of each printed book to promote not only your other books (both p/e) but the very idea of ereading? Among the nontechies in my acquaintance, the Kindle and Reader are still big surprises. Until you actually see e-ink displays, it's hard to get a sense for them. They're nothing like LCDs, and most people still don't even know that they exist.

As for piracy, well, publishing is actually a complicated vector sum of several forces: Price, availability, operating costs, and attention being the most important. Piracy is one of the minor ones, along with luck, abundant time, and personal charisma. A certain amount of piracy is a given, and the most effective remedy (as explained in the article) is to make sure that people who want the goods can find them and buy them inexpensively. I recommend that authors and publishers comfort themselves by keeping in mind that piracy at least keeps your name out there, and then put it out of your heads and concentrate on optimizing the other vectors that bear on publishing success. As I see it, a day spent focusing on promoting your titles yields far greater results than a day spent trying to stamp out piracy.
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Old 06-06-2008, 12:09 PM   #8
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excellent points.
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Old 06-06-2008, 12:15 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TallMomof2 View Post
Too bad all his books are only published in PDF. Other than that I love his attitude.
From the article:
Quote:
For those who might be wondering, we are looking closely at the Kindle, but we're hoping Amazon will add more formatting options soon, because converting the Take Control series to Kindle format would require a lot of work to pare down our rich formatting to the Kindle's feeble display capabilities.
I assume "Kindle" means MOBI, and I take away two points a) the Kindle has drawn publlshers attention to ebooks and b) old formats like MOBI are holding back wider adoption in genres that require more than text. I think ePub would meet the needs of these publishers if widely adopted, although a 6" screen and a lack of color may also be impediments (e.g. to magazine publishing). I don't know if it is actually the format or how it is used, for example I don't know how good a job MobiPocket could do translating ePub into MOBI if they really tried.
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Old 06-06-2008, 12:19 PM   #10
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This is a great article that dismantles many myths about e-books, copyright...


The one big issue though, which to me is crucial and unanswered for now is about pricing/revenue.

Sure iTunes is the biggest music store, but the music pie is shrinking in total $$ because of the much lower prices necessary to make iTunes work. The margins are squeezed and you need a very high in total volume increase to make up for that. Unlikely iTunes and the rest of digital stores will do that.

I am 99% sure that any move to pure digital will lead to similar revenue shrinking in books. People will buy and not pirate IF the price is right. And that will mean vastly lower prices that print equivalent, and the corresponding decrease in margins.

And books are not mass market items produced in a factory...
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Old 06-06-2008, 12:46 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by wallcraft View Post
From the article: I assume "Kindle" means MOBI, and I take away two points a) the Kindle has drawn publlshers attention to ebooks and b) old formats like MOBI are holding back wider adoption in genres that require more than text. I think ePub would meet the needs of these publishers if widely adopted, although a 6" screen and a lack of color may also be impediments (e.g. to magazine publishing). I don't know if it is actually the format or how it is used, for example I don't know how good a job MobiPocket could do translating ePub into MOBI if they really tried.
You know, everyone raves about ePub... but to me, ePub seems to be a content container rather than a screen layout standard. So, isn't it possible two readers could render the same ePub file differently (a la HTML before there were specific standards)?

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Old 06-06-2008, 01:15 PM   #12
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The trick, as always, is to watch how the recording industry behaves and do the opposite. Bring on the iTunes Store for ebooks, Apple, and make the Kindle better, Amazon!
Well said. And New York Times Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman notes in "Bits, Bands and Books" today:

Quote:
In 1994, one of those gurus, Esther Dyson, made a striking prediction: that the ease with which digital content can be copied and disseminated would eventually force businesses to sell the results of creative activity cheaply, or even give it away. Whatever the product — software, books, music, movies — the cost of creation would have to be recouped indirectly: businesses would have to “distribute intellectual property free in order to sell services and relationships.” ... Now, the strategy of giving intellectual property away so that people will buy your paraphernalia won’t work equally well for everything. To take the obvious, painful example: news organizations, very much including this one, have spent years trying to turn large online readership into an adequately paying proposition, with limited success.
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Old 06-06-2008, 01:15 PM   #13
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You know, everyone raves about ePub... but to me, ePub seems to be a content container rather than a screen layout standard. So, isn't it possible two readers could render the same ePub file differently (a la HTML before there were specific standards)?
Yes, it's possible... in fact, that's kind of what we're all hoping for! You see, if I can use my own conversion sw to convert an ePub file to an iPaq, you can convert it to a Sony reader, and Harry can convert it to an Iliad, etc, we can all buy, sell and exchange the one file format, and convert it as desired. Then the consumer's only choice is which reader they prefer, not which format they require to fit the reader they prefer.
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Old 06-06-2008, 01:19 PM   #14
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Dyson and Krugman are alluding to the advertising/sponsorship model, which obviously still needs work for online media, but which has great promise I think. The other ideas he suggests, making money off of other paraphernalia, or becoming a traveling troubadour for your own work, won't be as successful as it has been for a few old rockers.

Last edited by Steven Lyle Jordan; 06-06-2008 at 01:23 PM.
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Old 06-06-2008, 01:33 PM   #15
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So, isn't it possible two readers could render the same ePub file differently (a la HTML before there were specific standards)?
Since ePub is for reflowable content, it can clearly be rendered differently on different screen sizes. I always thought that stuff like CSS was optional, but apparently in ePub it is mandatory. In other words if you ignore the CSS (e.g. FBReader and to some extent ePub converted to MOBI) then it isn't ePub any more. In any case, there are two levels to the problem: a) can the format support the needed features and b) can the implementations on real devices support the needed features (either natively, or via conversion to, say, MOBI). It is a genuine advance that ePub, the format, can support many things that were not possible before. The jury is still out on whether ePub is "practical" on real devices smaller than a laptop/desktop. See Mobipocket announcements at IDPF conference for screenshots of the (poor) state of the ePub rendering art today. By the way, the ePub from D. Appleton and Co. of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland shows some of what ePub can do - see the text in the form of a mouse tail in the middle of Chapter 3 for example.

One way of looking at this is that the odds of going from PDF to a multi-device reflowable format are slim, but the odds of going from an ePub version (that displays very similarly to the PDF on a large screen) to smaller devices is much better - for one thing, it is already reflowable by design.
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