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Ebook piracy - is it really a problem?

As you may know, my publisher agreed to release the first Hal Spacejock novel as a free ebook in open, non-protected txt/rtf/html formats. Anyone can download it, read it, share it.

If you listen to some authors (and most publishers), this is akin to handing out blank cheques - a sure-fire way to destroy the book-selling business.

Personally, I'm convinced that ebooks are nothing more than preview trailers for the main feature. Sure, some people will read an ebook all the way through, but they're in the minority. And if they do read your novel from start to finish on a cramped little screen I guess that means they're enjoying the thing, which suggests they might recommend the work to others ... some of whom will prefer paper over pixels.

I don't have any sales figures to back up my 'ebooks damage you not' claim, since the first book recently sold out of its second printing (a third is planned) AND the ebook coincided with the launch of Hal 4. There was a spike in Hal 1 sales, but that hit a wall when the stock ran out.

However, I do have one very interesting fact to share. I recently drew three more winners in my monthly Hal Spacejock competition, and in the email which went out to everyone I explained that they could still download the first book for nothing. So which book did all three winners select, given a choice of Hal 1-4?

A copy of Hal Spacejock book one - the same title they can download for free.

Three people is hardly a big sample, but I was surprised even one winner chose the first Hal book. Why pick that one when the full ebook version is just a click away? Why not pick the second so they get two Hal novels for the price of one?

It does show that an ebook was of very little interest to the lucky winners, and that maybe ebooks aren't paperback-destroyers they're made out to be.

Comments

I read a lot of ebooks. They are easier for me carry around on my PDA, but I love books. When I find a series of ebooks that I really like, I always want it in hard copy.

So, my 2cents is that ebooks encourages purchasing hard copy. The same with mp3s. They are a teaser for the main attraction.
Thanks for this. I think I agree with you. I think a sneak preview helps with sales. I'm buying books I really liked based on borrowed copies from the library.

I don't read Ebooks at all. Reading is an activity I don't do in the office sitting at the computer. Too cumbersome. You can hardly take a computer to the beach.
The current wisdom is that a $400 e-ink device is going to kill off paper books. No chance - but then early mobile phones were a joke too.

I think if they get the e-ink device down to $20, make it the thickness of a credit card, permanently burn one or more novels into it, package it in a nice cardboard sleeve about the size of a paperback (only much, much thinner), seal it with five years of power (maybe the back is a printed solar cell?), sell them through vending machines which apply the chosen content, make them totally sealed & waterproof, then we're getting somewhere.

That's probably 10-15 years away, and I believe we'll see them eventually.
I also think the form a book takes is irrelevant. As long as they're accessible (which is a problem with current Ebooks), who cares if books are paper or electronic?

I, for one, see opportunities for greater diversity and more books being published (for fewer people per title, but who cares if there's no printing cost). I think Ebooks will open opportunities for rogues, writing groups and self-publishers to have a go (and be successful).

I'm not afraid of Ebooks. I just don't think that the current technology is there yet.
Oh gods, total disposable society.
Is that before, or after we've made paper cost prohibitive to make due to deforrestation?
Y'know, that's actually a really scary thought. I don't want my books to be one pane that changes - I want pages! That said, environmentally, your way makes more sense, kinda.
I'm not certain you need the waterproof - it would be nice, but not critical. Water-resistant, definitely!

And do make them so I can add copies I already own.
I'm of the same opinion. Recently, Tor has been giving away ebooks and although I've downloaded a baker's dozen of them, I have not read any of them virtual cover to virtual cover. I will read short stories and even novellas on screen, but not real novels. It's just too hard. But having the ebooks does let me get more than a peek at the author's work. I think soon it will be standard practice to offer works as ebooks, cheap or free, and allow purchasers to upgrade to hard copy as a POD for a further fee. No more distribution worries!
I agree with you, at *this* point in time...

The question is, if technology improves and ebooks become popular and more and more people start reading them over hard copy, are all these free ebooks gonna go away? :-)

I see the argument for them as a kind of teaser, an incentive. But *if* the technology ever does take off, I wonder how attitudes will change....
Paper over pixels anyday.... and besides until they can make ereaders water proof I won't consider it.

yes steam is bad for books, but more so for electronic devices, (I tend to read in the bath! and I would much prefer to have to replace a $25 book than a $400 electronic device!

A book can go anywhere and is a much cheaper option... and I think much easier to lend to people.

I don't think I would get the same feeling out of a friend recommending a book and then be given a file... it doesn't have the same appeal...

A question I guess - Do ebook's still have cover art?
I don't read ebooks on my pda/my dedicated reader (when it eventually arrives) unless I have no choise. Read that - it's over 200 a4 pages - under 40. Under 40, it's a waste to print unless I really need to highlight - over 200, and I'm cheaper buying the books.
I don't believe for one second that ebooks will ever take over the market, and I don't think it's as doom and gloom as MMORPG's have made larping and gaming in general.
I think, to be honest, that we're crediting people with a bit more tech savvy than a lot of them possess. Just because WE know how to use computers doesn't mean that others are even interested in learning. And that's a good thing.
And anyway - ebooks don't smell - or feel - like a crisp new book, or a beloved OLD one.
I don't care much for ebooks. Too much scrolling involved. Can't just sit back and relax, enjoy reading, etc.