Who’s stealing ebooks?

This infographic makes the case that the cost of ebook piracy is far less than the benefits of DRM-free distribution. It’s not a question of whether copyright ought to exist (which is where this sort of discussion often seems to go); it’s a question of how, in the current technological world, copyright holders are best served.

I knew about TOR Books removing DRM from all of its ebooks a couple of years ago, and by all accounts the experiment was a success. Most e-publishers (e.g. Kobo, Amazon KDP) allow for non-DRM distribution as well, although it’s rightly the author’s choice.

I think we’re going to see that, like the iTunes model, making content easily available for a reasonable price is what will win the copyright battle for the rightsholder. I know I’d much rather buy an e-book from Kobo or Amazon than find it, download it, and sideload it. There’s a real convenience in the current system and I’m willing to pay for it. I’m even put off when people offer free epubs, because I don’t really want to go through the hassle of getting it on whatever device I happen to be using.

I also had a recent issue where I bought an ebook from Kobo and discovered that I was allowed to read it only on their desktop reader, not on any device. I’m not one to stare at my desktop computer monitor for 200 pages’ worth of reading; the question is why that limitation would exist at all. I argued until I got a refund, which is something Kobo doesn’t normally offer. They ended up with hassle, a lost sale, and an annoyed consumer; I ended up without the book I wanted; the author ended up with nothing. We would all have been better off if the content were automatically available for multiple platforms.*

Am I wrong here? Is there any real benefit to keeping ebooks under DRM’s lock and key? I think it’s more likely that we should be working on streamlining distribution, ensuring that when readers want to pay for a book they can, and that everyone else in the chain – retailer, distributor, author, publisher – is paid in the process.


* It’s quite possible that this book was published a long time ago, and the necessary rights couldn’t be obtained from the publisher for some reason. Still, it was on the Kobo store, so it was reasonable to assume it would be readable on the Kobo app.

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