Why sell E-Books to Libraries? Libraries Can Help Fight E-Book Piracy

Katy Guest has published an article in The Guardian, “‘I can get any novel I want in 30 seconds’: can book piracy be stopped?” She reviews the unfortunate prevalence of downloading pirated copies. Stopping the practice is difficult: “whack a mole” sites spring up again elsewhere as soon as they are shut down, providing a constant supply of Grishams, Pattersons, Rowlings and many others without charging.

People who engage in the practice offer many justifications, but the root cause seems to be an ignorance of (or refusal to accept) the cost to authors and publishers: “Generally, pirates tend to be from better-off socioeconomic groups, and aged between 30 and 60. . . those who responded always justified it by claiming they were too poor to buy books – then tell me they read them on their e-readers, smartphones or computer screens - or that their areas lacked libraries, or they found it hard to locate books in the countries where they lived. . . Most regularly downloaded books illegally and while some felt guilty – more than one said they only pirated ‘big names’ and when ‘the author isn’t on the breadline, think Lee Child’ – the majority saw nothing wrong in the practice. ‘Reading an author’s work is a greater compliment than ignoring it,’ said one, while others claimed it was part of a greater ethos of equality, that ‘culture should be free to all’.”

ReadersFirst’s interest in the article is sparked by the mention of libraries. Librarians are not so naive as to think that making digital content available through our channels will stop illegal sharing. But could we play a part in reducing piracy? Perhaps instead of refusing comment on the practice, hoping not to spread word of the practice, as several publishers did for this article, publishers should try a different tack: “‘Education, not regulation, is key’, she [novelist Joanne Harris] told the Guardian: ‘If there is a solution to this, rather than keep trying to shut down these sites, it is to get the reading public to understand why using them is dishonest, wrong and is killing publishing and killing diversity in publishing. When you realise that [authors] are not really unlike you at all, you see that what it boils down to is you’re stealing the product of someone else’s work’.” Libraries can help, but we can be an even more effective partner if we have a broad and deep collection to rival what we offer in print. Current licensing models and pricing make building such collections difficult now, even for large libraries. Can we work together to fight piracy? Yes, and even more effectively if publishers help us have the collections that might make some people consider finding another “free” source for reading.