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As e-book sales soar, so does piracy

“Hardcover sales of my last book were down 20 percent, while e-book sales were up 300 percent.” That’s what thriller writer John Lescroart told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently, although he also referred to himself as “a hold-a-book-in-your-hands kind of guy.” The Post-Gazette article also quotes Cinthia Portugal, a spokesperson for Amazon.ca, as saying that the company now sells 48 Kindle books for every 100 physical books, which is up from 35 for every 100 in May. Moreover, a representative of Forrester, a business consulting firm, predicted sales of e-readers would reach three million this year, compared to one million last year.

Though certain market segments have predictably rushed to embrace the new technology, others are just as predictably suspicious of it. Guess which of the following, also quoted by the Post-Gazette, is a retired computer trainer and which is a retired librarian:

I bought a Kindle e-reader last year and really love it…. I can adjust the text size, [the screen] causes no eye strain. It’s lightweight and very portable. And it’s almost too easy to buy a new book. I will never go back to paper books.

vs.

I cannot bear the thought of technology to read a book…. I love bookstores and libraries too much. Ingesting the words off the pages and enjoying even the smell of books are wonderful sensations. Truly, books rule!

The group that remains resistant to electronic books may have one legitimate area of concern: according to a recent article in The Times, U.S. publishers estimate they lost $600 million to digital piracy last year. The article states that even before Dan Brown’s new novel, The Lost Symbol, was published, there were pirated versions available for download. Within days of its official publication, the novel had been illegally downloaded more than 100,000 times. The Times article continues:

George Walkley, digital strategy director for Hachette Livre U.K., the biggest publisher in Britain, said that while the e-book business was booming, with a 300 per cent increase in titles available in the last year, so was piracy.

Some books, such as the Harry Potter series, were being pirated because they were not available in digital format and there was frustrated demand, he said. But all popular authors faced the prospect of illegal copies of their works being circulated on the internet.

Digital evangelists would likely say this is just the cost of doing business online, but publishers can be forgiven for worrying, particularly given the experiences of the music and movie industries. But if e-books aren’t going away, neither are the digital pirates. Russell Davis, president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America was quoted in The New York Times last May as saying, “It’s a game of Whac-a-Mole…. You knock one down and five more spring up.”