Will E-Books Become the Next Napster?

reading on kindle

reading on kindleThe book industry has been hit hard by the recession — very hard. (You know publishers are desperate when they start embracing online content curation.) And now there’s even more news to raise the industry’s blood pressure: One in every three people who download e-books on their digital readers do so illegally, according to a survey of 1,959 consumers conducted by a British law firm.

As the Guardian notes, publishers must be quaking in their boots — that’s a ton of lost revenue, plus a quarter of users who admitted to e-book piracy said they would keep on downloading illegally. Record labels notoriously lost millions thanks to Napster (which was eventually ruled illegal), and now publishers are staring down the same tunnel.

Unlike the Napster fall-out, though, no one has attempted a lawsuit yet (and no specific illegal e-book sites had been named in the Guardian article), but there’s little doubt that authors and publishers will be forced to sue if people keep downloading books without paying.

In a way, it’s easier to make the “this is clearly illegal” argument with books – in Napster’s case, the argument was “oh well it’s just 1 song, not an entire album.” But with a book — a large body of work that’s either downloaded in its entirety or not — this justification is much harder. The numbers who admit to illegal downloading indicate that people simply don’t care that they’re essentially stealing books — they aren’t lifting physical objects from stores, so the distinction of taking something illegally isn’t made. (Also an open question: just where are all these people getting their illegal book downloads? Is there a central site that could be shut down?)

16 Responses to “Will E-Books Become the Next Napster?”

  1. Troy Johnson

    Interesting piece. There are a few differences between pirating music and books.

    (1) Pirating music was easy. Napster was a household name, while the average person has no clue where do go to download a pirated book.

    (2) Unlike iTunes which make it easy to import a music file from an unknown source. The popular eBook readers don’t provide the same ease of importing nor do they provide the same features for books that were not purchased.

    (3) In the Napster days there were digial music players with limited legally available content to download. When good, inexpensive eBook readers were made available, legally downloadable books were also available — there was less of an incentive to pirate books relative to music

    (4) Finally we are talking about books. The demographics are different. Some suburban teenager was more likely to use Napster with it’s cool factor than a middle aged housewife is likely to steal and eBook today.

  2. Kindle Guy

    I think that, as e-readers continue to grow in popularity, this will become a more widespread problem. However, I don’t think it will get to the point that MP3s did (and there still is a huge pirating problem with music even post-Napster) at least not for a long time.

    And I think they will find a way to regulate it more before it gets close to that point.

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