Friday, February 24, 2012

Open letter to authors and publishers

keywords: gigapedia, vs publishers, intellectual property, copyright, books, ebooks, piracy 

Dear author/publisher,

you are most likely aware that the biggest site facilitating the illegal distribution of electronic books known as (and previously as gigapedia) closed its doors earlier this month. This presents the ideal opportunity for new competitors to take its place. In this letter I would like to argue that it is in everyone's best interest that you are the one who steps in and I would also like to explain how that will make the world a better place as well as make you a profit.

The suggestion is a simple one: Crush piracy by making it extremely easy for people to do the right thing. Have all your ebooks available at your own website and major bookstores like amazon for $0.50-$1. Also, have people know you do that. Make it clear in the first page of an electronic version that this content is legally available for such a ridiculous price and feel free to boast about how you support knowledge and education as well.  Now before you stop reading in dismay please give me a chance to explain why it may work.

First of all, ebooks are a relatively new field and e-readers are only now getting popular so let us begin this discussion by being open to new ideas. All these decades of writing and publishing that you have under your belt might not provide appropriate intuition on how to make profit when the product is so different. And it is different indeed. The ability to create millions of copies at the click of a button without any extra resources or cost does not resemble very much physical books. So it could be just as profitable to sell many more copies at such a low price.

Without being an economist myself, I am familiar with the basic law of economics: When the price drops, demand increases. Assuming a linear model we could argue that a drop in the price of an ebook from $10 to $1 will increase the number of people who actually buy it from (say) 10 to 100. That sounds perfectly reasonable and I can completely imagine it happening in the real world. In both cases, the total income is the same ($100) so the author/publisher does not lose anything from this.

Of course, it could be argued that if only 50 people end up buying the book then there would be a loss. On the same grounds, if 150 buy it there will be profit. Can we take the risk? At this point I will urge you to make your own estimates. If all the people who are illegally downloading your books would pay you $1 would you be making more or less than you are now? I do not personally have access to that kind of information but I did find one author (call her Saundra) who openly gives some numbers and I have no reason to believe that these numbers are not true.

 Saundra claims that it took her two years to earn $12,000 from her book Shadowed Summer. At the same time, people were illegally downloading her book at a rate of 800 copies per week. That means 41,600 downloads per year and 83,200 downloads over two years. If she was paid just $1 for every download she would have made $83,000 instead of $12,000 !!! Of course these expectations are somewhat unrealistic. Probably, some people will be scared away by any price, so let's say that only half of the people downloading illegally would be willing to pay this ridiculously small amount. Let's also assume that Saundra believes in making books as available as humanly possible while she can still feed her family, so that she decides to charge $0.50 per download instead of $1. In this case, she would make  $20,800 over two years which is once again more that what she was making before! Saundra should definitely convince her publisher to follow this strategy.

I understand that one example does not prove anything but the ball is now at the authors' and publishers' court. Do your estimates! You could be making a lot of money following this idea! Even if you just see this as an experiment, it is worth the risk. Try it for a few books just for a year. Try it with some popular as well as some unknown books and authors. I am certain that the people WILL embrace this effort and they will support you. So please consider these ideas, help yourself make a bigger profit and help the world become a better place by providing accessible books to everyone.

Best Regards,

(some further ideas that would make the letter above too long)

There are more factors that play some role than the ones I have mentioned above but they do not change the essence of my arguments or the conclusion:
  • Out of the $83,200 (or $20,800 if you wish) that would be generated, only a portion of it will go to Saundra. Another portion will go to the publisher and some money will go to amazon (or any other bookstore) as well. The details depend on Saundra's deal with her publisher but I am inclined to believe she will still be making more than $12,000.
  • In the example above, I have examined a "worst case scenario" by completely ignoring the income from selling physical copies of the book. Even if the ebook is available almost for free many people will keep buying the physical copy of a book and as a proof consider that people have been buying books even when was still operational. Physical books can be taken to places were there is no electricity, are much more convenient to read and look great in your home's bookshelf so there is little doubt that people will keep buying them anyway. The income generated from these sales should be added to the estimates above and I see no reason why the publisher should not be completely free to set his/her price for the physical copy of a book.
  • If authors and publishers do not step in to cover the loss in the services that offered, other illegal sites will do that for them. Then the war will begin once more bringing us back to our starting point. Closing sites one after the other can hardly be the answer. On the other hand, the method I outline above might be in the right direction.
  • In the letter, I didn't go into any details why the world would be a better place if all books were accessible to everyone partly because it is self-evident and partly because I have covered the basic ideas in my previous post.

Honest request
My intention is to spread the ideas above as widely as possible. If you are an author or a publisher reading this, please please please leave a comment. I would like to hear what you think. For the rest of the people, if you know people who are authors or publishers please copy paste the above letter in an email or ask them to visit this blog and read this or if you are wearing your activist's pants today feel free to search the internet for the email of you favorite author/publisher and email them about this. Let's all spread the word and make a change!



  1. The problem with your theory is you're assuming that high prices are the reasons people are pirating. There are books that sale at 2.99 that get pirated at the same rates at books that are 7.99. I have a book priced just 1.49, 49 cents more than your suggestion yet it still gets pirated, why because 1.49 is still more expensive than free. If people can afford ebook readers, iPads, computer than they can afford 1.49. The problem is some people make a concious effort to search out books for free because they see nothing wrong with what they are doing no matter what the price.

  2. @ Lena: You are right, people pirate cheap books as well. But there is a reason and the theory suggested above addresses that. I have been looking for few classic books. Second hand copies of these books are available at really cheap price (often less than $1) on amazon.COM. I do not mind second hand copies! But the problem is the cost of shipping for these cheap book, which is $12.99 for me as I am based in India. As a early carrier researcher in India, my income do not permit me to buy books at $12.99. So I "make a concious effort to search out books for free ". As suggested in the theory above if the books are legally available at $1 (or even at $2-3 and fresh books at $5), I would buy a copy. SO would many others.

    I support the theory!

  3. @ Lena: Think about time for shipping, too. I guess, it will take around 2 or 3 weeks for a book to be delivered from the US to India.

  4. "If people can afford ebook readers, iPads, computer than they can afford 1.49."

    Well that is quite an assumption. Personally, I have a Kindle only because I got it as a gift a couple of years ago. My computer took me a long time to build, saving up and buying the parts piece by piece - and because I spent that money on a computer, I could not spend it on books. Just because I had money THEN does not mean I have money NOW - and what I have to spend my money on now has changed. My kids have ipods and tablets that they got as gifts for past Christmases, but they were not also given money, and they are too young to get jobs.

    Personally I see the internet as a worldwide library. It is fine if I go to the library and borrow a book for free, or if I go to the library's website and download a book for free. But if I do it from another site, that is somehow wrong? I see it as no different. Yes, the library originally paid for that book - the first uploader paid for the book too.

    When I DO have the money to do so I support authors I feel are worth supporting - many of which I first read for free in one way or another. In fact, all the books I have purchased this year, I read for free first, and I have purchased more books this year than I have in a long time. The reason I pirate is because I'm not going to spend my money without knowing the book is worth it first, so if the book is not available at the library, I instead turn to the worldwide library. And if you make your book cost more than $1, you're going to have to wait quite awhile for me to save up the money; I already have quite a backlog of books I feel are worth buying but cost more than I have at the moment.


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