My views on ebook piracy are explained in detail in Free illegal knowledge and how (not) to deal with it, where I argue that it is essential for people to have easy access to books. Furthermore, once books are digitized it is impossible to "remove" them from the web, therefore conventional ways of fighting piracy by closing down illegal websites are terribly ineffective.
An alternative way to reconciliate the two opposing forces is making its first successful steps under the name The 99 cents movement. Many authors are currently selling their ebooks for $0.99 and many more remain consistently in the zone $1-$10 which is a good start, but the lack of academic textbooks in this range is disheartening. In this article I will argue that by having an easy way to donate money to authors, more people will be convinced to lower their prices.
Imagine for a second that there is a legitimate and user friendly website where people can with a few clicks search for the name of an author and donate $1 (or any other amount) to him/her. At first you might think that nobody would be using such a service but I would like to argue that such an initiative will increase the income of authors as well as help fight piracy.
First of all, we should consider who might be donating. To begin with, there is a big class of people in many different countries who cannot afford the current prices of books. Even though they end up pirating the books they need, they would gladly compensate the writer with a more reasonable amount. Other potential donators would be people who read a pirate copy of a book and like the book so much that would like to offer something in return. However, in my opinion only a small portion among them would be willing to pay the full price (for a textbook this might be around $100) even though most of them would like to give something.
In any case, this money would be an extra income for the author so there is no reason why we should not try it. Some might argue that such a move might actually help piracy by tempting people to prefer the small donation over the regular price. Such fears are unfounded. People who consciously buy books do so because they believe in it and because they consider it to be the right thing. They will not be swayed to piracy because it is easy to give donations to the authors. If they wanted an excuse to start pirating books they would have found one a long time ago.
On the other hand such a service might actually help reduce piracy. If the income from the donations is considerable some authors might realize the 99 cents movement is not bad at all, for the simple reason that having 1000 people giving you $1 is better than having 10 people giving you $10. Once this is understood we can expect more authors to lower the prices of their books to these levels and in the same time see their profits increase.
Next time I will give some ideas on what can be done so that such a website starts operating. In the meantime I would love to hear any comments you might have about donations and ebook piracy.