E-book piracy? Tsk, students

E-book piracy? Tsk, students

Summary: Why is e-book piracy so prevalent in the student world? I'm sure we could all think of a few reasons.

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TOPICS: Education, Piracy
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Piracy is illegal -- but just as easy to do online as the old way, where you could buy bootleg copies of films from market stalls.

A quick search online to find a torrent search engine -- perhaps adding the word "proxy" if your favorite site is blocked by your Internet service provider -- and you're there. Type the name of the book, film, television show or album you want, and files are there for the taking.

Rampant piracy and the theft of intellectual copyrighted works causes a headache not just for groups like the MPAA, but can also affect publishers and shops selling hard copies of books. When piracy boils down to e-books -- a problem no more than a fly on the windscreen in comparison to film and music theft -- students are the worst offenders, according to online data monitoring company NetNames.

As reported by the BBC, the agency says that after looking at the availability of 50 popular books across five separate disciplines -- medicine, math, science, engineering and business -- 76 percent of the titles were available to download for free.

Science and engineering were the most pirated textbooks, the agency says.

While popular titles may be available to download online, it is worth noting that in the fields mentioned, it is often the case that new editions are released annually -- which makes downloading older copies redundant. As studying costs rise and students more often rely on their tablets and laptops, it is no surprise that more ebooks are available for download -- a tempting prospect for a broke student -- but that does not mean every student will take advantage of book availability, especially if no new versions are available.

However, in fields were textbook costs are astronomical, jobs are scarce and tuition fees have rocketed, saving money in any way would be a temptation for many, no matter if the process is illegal. 

On the other side of the coin, as books go out of print, some lecturers who work from these titles also encourage students to download illegally. One seminar leader, frustrated that a book was no longer in circulation, gave my class a tutorial on how to use torrent software to download the title -- as well as handing over the exact link we needed.

Others emailed us .pdf copies of full texts. 

Cost and availability are problems. A lessening reliance and tolerance for hard-cover copies is another, as well as the free, open nature of using torrent search websites to find files. However, if publishers offered more digital versions of the academic texts students need -- and for a lower price -- this could be avoided.

Nineteen-year-old student Jubel Amin, who is studying pharmacology and physiology, told the BBC that textbooks are extremely expensive, and when purchasing two, cost him over £180 ($287). Armin said:

"The thing is these books will last us for three years, so it is worth it in the long run. But it's quite expensive. It took about a fifth of my student finance loan, but it's one of those things you have to do I guess."

NetNames says that publishers are trying to provide a legal outlet for students by getting content out as quickly as possible, but the cost of purchasing hard copies is likely to be the underlying problem.

As an experiment, I went through an old book list for three of my third-year science-based modules, and found that the overall cost of purchasing these books used via Amazon was £389 ($621). None of the books, many published between 1993 - 2002, had digital versions available.

Perhaps the increase in piracy is symptomatic of an industry which is yet to catch up to modern times, consumer demands and reading methods. It isn't just about the very high prices and the ease of finding free substitutes -- whether via torrents, Google searching file types or checking out forums -- but an expectation that books can be obtained digitally, and frustration when they are not.

We have children in primary school who have access to tablets to learn, but university students are still dependent on hard copies, that unless bought, require a mad scrabble to try and reserve a library's few copies.

The agency's director of piracy analysis, David Price, said:

"It's something we've been talking to publishers about. We talk to all content owners about this sort of thing. The best way to beat piracy is to get your content out there, to give it to people in some way or make them buy it in some simple, cheap, easy way."

Topics: Education, Piracy

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8 comments
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  • The model's broken.

    In a classic market, price is availability/demand. However, almost by definition, demand is low (the number of students using a book relative to say - the entire population - is very small), yet publishers can't (wait...) publish in small numbers to keep availability equal to demand.

    Moreover, cost per unit is inversely related to volume. It costs more to make one than to make a million. You may think ebooks changes this equation - and it does - but not as much as you may think because books don't work like other products.

    Technically, a book is a container for content. The content is the part you pay for. It can be paper or electronic, but the cost of the content is the minimal price and typically it's one of the larger parts of the price. Books also have to be marketed (especially textbooks given the fragmented and procedurally complex system schools use to choose textbooks) which also costs money.

    The actual printing, storing and shipping parts collectively is one of the smallest parts of the cost... so replacing that with an ebook doesn't really reduce the price much.

    The only way to significantly reduce the cost of a book is to reduce the cost of marketing - and that means getting schools to normalize their requirements so that the choice of textbooks becomes simpler and can be distributed across more schools... but that's very unlikely to happen.
    The Werewolf!
    • E-books pricing

      It's hard for me to understand the scenario you put forth. Your saying that printing and distribution is cheap compared to everything else? Putting a finished copy on a server for a million folks to download has got to be a lot cheaper. Often I have found that buying a book on Barnes & Noble would cost the same or almost as much as the hard copy. This must be a great source of increased income for them.
      hypotinuse
  • Textbooks are a racket in the US

    A few large publishers collude with educators and selection committees, bilking students and taxpayers of billions of dollars every year. Professors get freebies like paid vacations and outright kickbacks, state BoE officials get "consulting" gigs, and everybody looks the other way. It's no wonder that students feel no remorse, they are simply stealing from thieves.
    terry flores
  • mah

    Books are horrible ways to dispose of trees. Ebooks should be the standard: revisable, environmental friendly and cheaper to distribute, transport and storage. It's incredible that in an ipad 16 gb I can store more than 1000 kg of equivalent-paper-books....Wish I had it 20 years ago when I was a student forced to a 5km bicicle riding for going to university/biblioteque with at least 10kg of books on me under rain, snow and sun....
    Asimov1973
  • Collete Textbook Availability

    Every college library will have multiple copies of all course textbooks. They will probably be on reserve, but the library is hardly the worst place to study.

    Also, every professor will have several copies of the textbook s/he uses. A polite request will get access.

    And of course there's the simple possibility of forming a study group, buying one copy of the book and sharing it.
    krsmav
  • Libraries

    There are a number of things wrong with this short opinion piece - but perhaps the most striking is the fact that it completely ignores the role of the library. Increasingly, academic libraries are able to - and do - provide access to textbooks as well as monographs and reference works electronically. But piracy is not just about cost. My own research (now several years old) revealed that quite often students would pirate because they preferred the flexibility and ease of access of plain PDF to the complex interfaces of publishers or aggregators. Additionally many students we spoke to had not been made aware that they could access the book they needed through the library as an e-book.
    Libraries may not always be the answer but it IS helpful to remember them as a source.
    chrisinwales
  • Brilliant post

    Brilliant post! I certainly like the way you’ve succinctly presented the information. Keep posting great reviews like this! Absolutely fantabulous!
    WilsonSmith
  • Book

    The privacy that you have talked of about the E-book privacy is simply illuminating and explanatory for me.

    Book printing
    http://www.thebookpatch.com/
    WilsonSmith