eBook Piracy ‘Surges’ After iPad Launch

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With 500.000 iPads sold in the first week, Apple's new multi-gadget is already a force to be reckoned with. As book publishers see the iPad as a potential threat to their revenues, we take a look to find out what happened to eBook piracy in the last week. The results are surprising.

jobsThe introduction of Apple’s iPod marked a significant change in the music industry’s business. When it was first released in 2001 there were no digital music stores online. By the end of that decade the number of digital music sales had outgrown physical sales by far.

This year the book industry may see the definite breakthrough for eBooks, and again an Apple device is expected to play a facilitating role. Having watched the changes in the music industry where piracy is often portrayed as a huge threat, some book publishers already fear the worst.

The million dollar question is whether or not these fears are justified. How big of a threat is eBook piracy for the book industry? Is there a noticeable iPad effect? We have some interesting numbers to share.

To determine if Apple’s iPad has had en affect on eBook piracy we looked at the number of downloaded titles before and after its introduction. We decided to focus our research on the 10 best selling eBooks on Amazon which seemed to be a good starting point. The problem, however, is that none of these books are available on public BitTorrent, nor could we find them on file-hosting services or Usenet.

This in itself is quite an interesting observation, and clearly a signal that eBook piracy is not (yet) as widespread as that of music and movies. In order to come up with some comparison material we decided to change our sample to the 10 best selling paperback books in the business category, which should also fit well with the demographics of iPad buyers.

From this list 6 of the 10 books were available on BitTorrent. Although we have to note that BitTorrent may not be the only source of eBook piracy, it should give us a good indication of the iPad effect, if there is any. To do so, we tracked the download numbers from Saturday till Thursday, a week before the iPad launch and the days after.

By comparing the data from these two samples we found that the number of unauthorized eBook downloads on BitTorrent grew by 78% on average, a significant increase. It is worth noting that all of the six eBooks had more downloads after the iPad launch than before.

David Allen’s productivity guide ‘Getting Things Done’ was by far the most downloaded eBook with an average of 435 downloads a day, up from 277 before the introduction of the iPad. However, this 57% increase is relatively small compared to some of the other titles we tracked.

‘Freakonomics’, another classic in the business section, saw a 104% increase in downloads, going from 187 to 381. ‘How We Decide’ saw an even bigger surge in downloads – 140% – as downloads went from 56 to 134.

The three remaining books from the list that we tracked on BitTorrent are ‘The Tipping Point’, ‘How Women Decide’ and ‘The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People’. These three titles all saw an increase in downloads, 21%, 47% and 71% respectively, with absolute download numbers after the iPad launch of 192, 52 and 82.

Interesting data, but what can we conclude from the statistics?

First of all, there seems to be a significant iPad effect if we assume that the increase in downloads is in part related to the iPad introduction. On the other hand it is clear that the absolute download numbers are relatively small compared to those of music and films, where popular releases can have more than a million downloads in one week.

This low piracy figure can in part be explained by the fact that the number of people with an iPad or other eBook reader is still relatively low. Another key factor is that most books are simply not available in a pirated version, so buying a book through an online store is far more convenient and faster than trying to find an unauthorized copy.

The convenience factor and the overall user experience are going to be the key advantages for the book industry. When the iPod was launched there were no digital download stores, making file-sharing networks the only option to get music easily.

As a final note we have to stress that piracy does not equal lost sales. In the academic publications that looked into the link between piracy and (music) sales, there is still no consensus on this topic. For now, the book industry is best off putting all their efforts into making a great product for consumers and we’re sure that the iPad can be of assistance there.

In the months to come we will keep en eye on how eBook piracy evolves.


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