Book Piracy… Ridiculous pricing?

From a story on

"Upset that students might actually try to learn something without first paying ridiculous sums for textbooks, some textbook publishers are complaining that students are sharing scanned textbooks over file sharing network. Of course, the reporter had trouble finding a single student who was actually doing this -- and most students seemed to think it would be something of a pain to read a textbook that way. Instead, many believe that this is just the textbook publishing industry's way of explaining away the fact that they keep raising prices every year for no clear reason. Next thing you know, the textbook companies will start going after libraries for "sharing" books for free... "

As a book author (okay, I've only written one book but that still makes me an author 🙂 ), I myself have been wondering about the threat of piracy on the industry. This article focuses mostly on schools and textbooks but the problem itself is still widespread. And this is probably even more true today considering many books can be purchased in electronic form (usually PDF files). I haven't found a pirated copy of my book (yet!) but have seen some other books floating around. This leads me to wonder if some form of DRM should be implemented on such documents. Although, i doubt it would prevent pirating, it would at least hinder it.

This brings on another topic, book pricing... The article states that textbook pricing has been going up because of piracy. In my opinion, this is somewhat of an oxymoron. The reason most pirates will cite (whether it is for book or software) is that the price it too high, so do publishers really think that increasing retail prices will help the issue? On the other hand, people might argue that it is because authors want more money. But to face the facts, being a book author works in similar ways to the music industry. As an author, I may only get about 5% of the retail price of a book back in royalties (minus advances, reserves and whatever reason the publisher can find to withhold funds). Sure, a price increase will bring in a little money for the author. But, in the end, when you look at the numbers, it's the publisher that rakes in the dough.

Comments (15)

  1. I must agree, must of the piracy is because of the high prices.

    I mean, I’m just a student. I can’t pay every 2 months 60 – 70€ for a book and not even knowing whether it is good or not. So atm I’m still waiting to buy a book and try to loan it at the library but the books there are almost 2 years old. There are barely any recent books. Probably the next book I’ll buy, will be one of advanced techniques for .NET 2.0

    Maybe the companies should consider lowering the price. Or make a special price for students …

  2. Jeff Parker says:

    I have only seen books pirated that include the book in PDF format on the CD. Never actually seen someone sit there and scan in several hundred pages on thier own. But as far as the high prices go, yeah they are rediculous. As I have said before I do my shopping for tech books at bookpool cheapest place I have found. However, one of the guys I work with is from India, he goes back every year for a religious sebatical. But before he goes he has me write up a list of books I want. Over there he can get real, fully legal, newly printed books in English that cost $60 in the US, for only $5 US there.

    This is the thing I have never understood. Why books are cheaper in different countries. I guess same reason people go to Canada for prescription drugs. But I guess that is another can of worms.

  3. denny says:

    Text books are the worst, they have a kind of "Captive audience" as in college you generaly must get a book that is part of a given class, and your opinion of that book is irrelevent.

    paperback novells seem very costly anymore.

    I seem to recall buying them for around 2-3 bucks us when I was yonger. now it’s 6-8 bucks most of the time. but hardcover books seem the same 20-30 for most novels in hc versions, so in the end the hc is a better buy as its on beter paper and bindings and larger type face.

  4. Sorry, but DRM in documents? How would that work without pissing off everyone in your audience? I can’t think of any form of DRM that wasn’t cracked shortly after it came out anyway.

    On the actual subject of college books, I managed to get by fairly cheaply throughout school. I held off on buying my books for a couple of weeks into the semester to see if they were actually required (except for courses like math where you know a book is required). In the classes where the book was only needed to study for exams, I would just borrow it from a library.

    It is also pretty sad when you try to sell back a $100 and only get $5 for it because a new edition is coming out with the same conent, but different page numbers.

  5. Jim Bolla says:

    This post gave me the article to build a web app that would function as a trading post for college books. It would be deployed as a local installation for each college…

    A student registers on the site, and then builds a list of books:

    A) he is looking for

    B) he has to get rid of.

    Once he builds his list, he is giving results that complement his list:

    A) People with the book he wants

    B) People wanting the book he has

    The student record would basically be ID, Name, Email, Password, Contact Info

    The book record would be ID, StudentID, ISBN, Title, Condition, Desire (Buy/Sell), Condition, Notes (What you’d like in trade… $20 or a case of beer, etc)

    When a student sees a match he likes, he can use a contact form to send an email to the match or use the supplied contact info to intiate a trade. At this point they make the trade offline and then login and remove the book from each of their lists.

    "Cool" enhancement could be web services to allow separate installs of the web app to query each other, useful for when multiple colleges in the same geographic region have their own instance runnning.

  6. Good idea Jim, there are several sites like this setup for students trading Michigan State University books. It works out better than amazon or ebay, but I generally end up buying new books because authors seems to have a habit of releasing new editions with minor changes except page numbers.

  7. Just to reply on a few of the comments so far…

    DRM: I know, it is a hot topic. And i totally agree that it generally hinders legit users and generally has a marginal impact on pirates (besides slowing them a little). But on the other hand, there has to be some way to prevent the simple purchase of a PDF version of a book and then freely distributing it. Maybe watermarking? This way at least the culprit for the leak could be tracked down?

    Book Swap: The book swap website is a great idea. We didn’t have anything like that when i was in college, and I would agree that it is beneficial. The only exception to this are a few college books I actually wanted to keeb because they were good reference manuals.

    Pricing: It is true that the pricing for regular fiction novels has not significantly increased (taking inflation into account) over the last few years. But it seems that most of the technical books (whether for school or books for a perticular trade) have increased in price. Where does this increase come from?

  8. Rowan says:

    Further to Jeff’s comments about the price of books in India: a friend visited Taiwan several times on business about 15 years ago (when Taiwan was really beginning to buzz) and reported that text books were really cheap – about 15% of USA prices.

    When he queried this with local sources he was told that the books were initially pirated – until the original publishers decided that a sale (albeit at a vastly reduced margin) was better than no sale at all. So they cut prices to match the pirate editions.

    Wonder if this would work with the RIAA ? <bg>

  9. Deidre Nair says:

    I am a student and is pissed of at the high prices. But IMHO, its pretty difficult to read e-books and i have no choice, but to buy my core books. i’m spending $150-200/sem for core texts and i’m on student loan. Maybe universities should cut a deal with publishers instead of spending money on "mp3 downlaods for students".

    P.S: A friend pointed out recently that he does it because he can, even though downloading and burning hundreds of books is pointless, cause he can’t read them all.

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