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Book Publishing: ebook (easy to pirate) vs soft copy (printed)

April 23rd, 2012

I’m continually asked if I’m going to jump on the ebook bandwagon.  It’s easy to distribute, the author gets more money if you sell through Amazon, and because the Kindle is so prominent (even the Kindle app on the i-devices), it’s so easy to tap into a huge audience of people who can purchase very, very easily (one click?).

I have been on the fence about ebook publishing, for books I want to sell (not give away), for years.

Here’s why: document sharing websites, like scribd, make it super easy for people with questionable ethics, to share your document at no cost.  Here’s an example: you can get my entire book, free, illegally, from scribd (URL here, but I’m not linking to it: scribd.com/doc/90301388/On-Linkedin).

Scribd is not a bad-guy site.  It’s not some offshore, shady torrent site where you can get anything, pirated, for free.

It’s more of a legitimate, trustworthy site, with real stuff.  Like docstoc and many other document sharing sites.

But it was so easy for someone with poor judgement, or no ethics, or who perhaps feels that everything should be free, to post my book in its entirety, to scribd. And I don’t see an easy way for me (or anyone) to say HEY, THIS IS PIRATED!  TAKE IT DOWN! No flag button or link.

A couple of years ago, a FENG (The Financial Executives Network Group) member took my ebook and illegally emailed it to the entire FENG email list.

Nice. Thousands of financial executives just got my book for free.  Did sales increase?  Nope.  You’d think financial execs would have more ethics than to let that happen.  When I asked the FENG leadership I got an apology, but the damage was done.

I only knew about that because one of my JibberJobber users was on that list, and they forwarded it to me.

As an author, and someone who is trying to earn money, I find the lack of integrity when it comes to stuff like this unsettling.

And that’s why I’m not enthusiastically planning on making 101 Alternatives to a Real Job an ebook.

But then, am I missing out on gobs of sales?

The decision hasn’t been made, but it’s hard to get excited about making a move that could completely wipe out any legitimate sales.

I’d love to know what you think.

11 Comments »

11 responses to “Book Publishing: ebook (easy to pirate) vs soft copy (printed)”

  1. Juli Monroe says:

    I’ve been watching e-book and piracy trends for many years now. Study after study shows that pirated books aren’t lost sales. The majority of people who pirate never intended to buy the book. Also, there was a recent analysis of Torrent sites, and only about 10% of the pirated content was books (vs 49% movies). Many authors have found that piracy increases sales. As soon as I have more than one fiction book published, I plan to upload the first one to the Torrents myself.

    So I say go for it and don’t worry overmuch about piracy. Right now you are guaranteeing that people like me who never read paper books won’t buy it. (For what it’s worth, I won’t pirate it either.)

  2. Lance Haun says:

    Depends on who your audience is.

    I can’t remember the last time I read a book in print. When a publisher offers to send me a physical book to review, I almost always say no.

    Reading happens in the margins of my lifestyle so I read with a device that fits with that and am able to read different books at a time. This weekend I finished a book, started another one and purchased another this weekend. Old me would have read that one book and that would have been it. I don’t carry around multiple books, I don’t go to a store to buy new ones.

    I also wonder what you think about people borrowing your books from a person who bought it or from a library? Or how about used book sales? I’m guessing that your revenue per person who has read your book is closer to zero than your list price.

    That’s not a reason to feature your stuff via ebook, of course. That’s up to you and your publisher.

  3. Ari Herzog says:

    Look at the issue from the perspective of your car: If you park it and somebody wants to steal it, it WILL BE STOLEN. You can have the most elaborate security system, a steering wheel club lock, whatever; and the thief with a will is going to find a way.

    Yet you continue to drive cars.

  4. hi, Jason – I feel your pain! As the author of some 20 books, I am frequently alerted to sites where my books can be downloaded for free. My publisher sends cease-and-desist letters but they can’t possibly police them all.

    I’m also an avid reader of both print and e-books. It’s impossible to ignore the trend toward e-books, and it’s certainly easy to publish/sell that way. So it has the advantage of making your book widely available to people who will never see it in a bookstore.

    I’m planning to do an e-book this year as an experiment of the process and results compared to traditional publishing. I have a feeling I’m going to like it! As Juli noted, people who pirate your book would never have bought it anyway, so you’re not really “losing” sales. It’s frustrating to feel cheated and to lose control over your work, though.

    I’ll be interested to see what you decide.

  5. David Drescher says:

    Adobe offers digital rights management. The ebook cannot be transferred. My $200 text books are sold to me this way.

  6. Jason Alba says:

    Good to get some comments on this one, I thought it would be pretty quiet…

    The discussion here basically encourages me to just move forward and do a digital version… as per Juli, won’t affect my sales. And as per Ari, if someone wants to steal my stuff, they will, no matter what…

  7. Jason,
    What about Kindle? Not as easy to pirate.
    Morty

  8. Todd Folstad says:

    You should still consider the ebook route, but serialize your books. Dole them out in smaller pieces with a purchase option link for the entire book. That way you can throw out short teases that will spur interest in your topic and drive sales for the entire book in soft or hard cover, where you control the profit side of the equation. Just a thought.

  9. Jason Alba says:

    Todd – great idea, thank you :)

  10. Marc Miller says:

    Jason,
    In doing research for my next post I came across this post. This all sounds so familiar. Remember when you always bought music on CDs, tape or vinyl. You could make copies but until Napster and file sharing the music industry really was not concerned. Music was over priced and controlled by a few production houses. Steve Jobs solved this with iTunes. You could download a song for $.99. Piracy did not go away but it greatly declined.

    As I get ready to publish my first book I am going to release it on Kindle at $2.99 or $3.99. I find I do not flinch to download a book for such a small price. Sound familiar????

  11. Valeria Bilby says:

    Another way to look at it: you write the book less for actual income, and more as a way to get hired as a consultant, speaker, and trainer.

    A fancy business card.

    And I would definitely go with the Kindle option as opposed to straight PDF. Nearly 100% of the books I now buy are Kindle books. In fact, I bought one today, and the total for the past 30 days is six.

    Most of them are on building my career: translating, requirements engineering, and business analysis.

    And the other poster is correct — it is more difficult to share a Kindle ebook. Not impossible, but likely more work than it would be worth.

    Do you have an email list set up? That’s where you can serialize your book. And that audience would be the one most likely to buy other things from you as you fill your funnel.

    You might have this already — I just joined a little while ago — but I did not see an obvious way to get myself on it, unless signing up for the site automatically enrolls me in your mailing list.

    I would have them separate anyway — site membership and email list — because someone might not want to sign up for the site but might be interested in reading your thoughts.

    By the mailing list I am referring to content that is not available simply by going to your site. They’ve got to give up their email address to read the good stuff.

    Aweber is the company to check out for mailing list management. There are other good ones, of course.

    And — forgive me if I’m making this too long, or if I have made too many assumptions, but I love talking about this stuff.

    Best to you,

    Valeria