Piracy is one of those things that seems to generate an awful lot of heat and I can understand why.
On the one hand, the notion that someone can take the product of our hard work and creative genius for free. It feels like theft because it is theft.
On the other hand, we have a boatload of data that suggests that those who pirate are unlikely to buy. You have folks who just like to collect things and be cool and have eyepatches and parrots on their shoulder and the whole bit. And we find that there are people who do pirate because they want the content but are short of money and a pretty sizable percentage of them end up buying the content when they have money available. I’m experiencing this currently. Neither my wife nor I have had a regular job in over a year and the business we started this fall has a natural lull in the winter–even in South Carolina. I’ve spent the past few days listening to Nathan Lowell’s Trader’s Tales from Podiobooks.com and if I were a bit more flush I’d be dropping donations in the box. Ditto with the information on blogs like Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s where there has been a veritable treasure trove of information and inspiration. If I were more flush, I’d be dropping some dollars in the box.
And now we have this study which suggests that people would rather get it honestly at a fair price than get it illegally for free. It’s not everyone, of course. I rather suspect that there will always be pirates. And yet, it seems that people are fundamentally honest.
Of course, there is an issue here with surveys and bias. There is a tendency on surveys for people to report being more honest than they are. It also shows up in surveys about religiosity. People see going to church as a good thing so when surveyed they tend to overstate the frequency at which they attend. It takes some careful questioning to ferret out the difference.
And yet when surveyed about uploading, which is clearly viewed as the most dishonorable portion of the piracy chain the numbers are extreme. Four percent admitted doing it. A much larger percentage admitted sharing with friends and family and the difference there is striking. There is no real difference between illegally giving something to your sister and illegally giving something to a complete stranger. The difference in the minds of folks must be that there is a difference in giving to people on a small scale and simply putting it out there for everyone and their brother to access on a large scale. I can’t really argue with that.
But where does that leave us in the e-book world?
I think it leaves us in a pretty good place, actually. A lot of the piracy seems justified by price. Or rather, the level at which the legal alternative becomes preferable is determined by price. Older folks as a general rule pirate less and they were willing to pay more for legal alternatives for movies. Some of that is purely economic. There are a fair amount of 19-27 year olds who are just starting out in life as they say and have limited funds to work with. Some of it is culturally determined by age. It frightens me to suggest it but there are people alive now who never lived in a world where music, video, and books weren’t available digitally. I know, I’m old.
And a lot of it is determined by price. It’s pretty easy to justify to yourself that piracy is the lesser of two evils when you’re paying outrageous prices for something.
That, of course, brings up the whole issue of pricing books. JA Konrath has data that suggests the optimal pricing for an e-book is 3.99. I think that makes sense. Everyone is living in a world where paperbacks cost more than that so even if you’re expecting an e-book to be cheaper you’re at a good price point. Of course, the same can be said for higher prices.
So what the hell is my point?
Ultimately, I think we can price e-books at prices low enough that the vast majority of people would rather pay the price than pirate them. And we can do it without going down to under a dollar. The one caveat I have about this is age related. As the digital only generation gets older are they still going to be willing to pay four or five dollars for a book? I dunno, you dunno, only time will tell.