Scorned librarians and the eBook piracy underground

After calling for limits on sharing in library lending systems, librarians are calling on a boycott of publisher HarperCollins. But piracy of eBooks are still a very real concern by large publishers.

Early last year was the first time I found out one of my books was on a torrent site. It knew it was just a matter of time, and I was kind of relieved. Pleased, even. Like many authors, I have Google Alerts on certain things, and some of those things are my books. Really, I expected this.

E-books and the ability to share or not to share them: that is the question every publisher and distributor is agonizing over. But no one seems to be answering it with anything short of clutching their petticoats and jumping up on the nearest chair.

Maybe I shouldn't be so cavalier as an author to regard people stealing my work like this; after all, I hope to exist off of royalties.

As an author who has always had indie publishers, I think there's a strange democratic process going on with all of this. The main thing is that readers want to read things they can't get their hands on for one reason or another. I think it's really that simple.

Before e-books and Kindle, publishers were starting to lose their minds about the state of books. Authors, too. The Internet and blogs had book sales in the toilet for a lot of people, and there was a lot of talk about how we could get people to read books again.

Be careful what you wish for

Last year, a late warning shot was fired in articles like Your time is up, publishers. Book piracy is about to arrive on a massive scale. But just two weeks ago, massively popular author Neil Gaiman teamed up with the Open Rights Group to make a video explaining how he learned that piracy boosted the sales of his novels significantly.

There is much hand-wringing and flag-flying about finding "solutions" to book piracy – or capitalizing on it. Still, an O'Reilly interview with Magellan Media founder Brian O'Leary explains that at this time, no one actually knows what the impact of piracy is on the book publishing industry.

Thou shalt not lend: HarperCollins punishes libraries

One side effect of the e-book revolution in general is that American public libraries now increasingly rely on the electronic versions of books to save money and space. They have less physical books as a result.

A few months ago, Kindle 'quietly' rolled out users' ability to lend out books (and the borrower does not need to own a Kindle).

With these developments, there is less inclination to pirate – both models cost little to nothing for borrowers.

However, publishing relic HarperCollins doesn't see it that way.

Last Friday, HarperCollins announced that new titles licensed from library e-book vendors would be allowed to circulate only 26 times before the license expires. This is bad news for libraries already facing hard times in budget and cuts.

Harper did their very own math around what they think the wear and tear on a lent book ought to be, and they estimated that "If a lending period is two weeks, the 26 circulation limit is likely to equal roughly one year of use for a popular title. For a three-week lending period, that stretches to a year and a half."

Harper also cited a vague need to protect their authors. (Macmillan and Simon & Schuster still do not allow their e-books into libraries.)

Not surprisingly, as of this week librarians are now staging a public call to boycott HarperCollins.

The new "bestseller" list: books pirates want

Another author who has alerts on their own books is cNet's David Carnoy, who after seeing a spike in pirating of his book Knife Music wrote his own tales of the torrents, Kindle e-book piracy accelerates. He wrote,

The most popular e-book download on Pirate Bay is the Kindle Books Collection, which has something like 650 e-books in it (it's just less than 1GB), and is ahead of a 224-page PDF e-book called "Advanced Sex: Explicit Positions for Explosive Lovemaking." At the time of this writing, 668 people were "seeding" the Kindle collection while 153 people were downloading it. A few month ago, the numbers of people downloading e-book collections like this at given moment were in the 50 to 60 range with fewer seeders.

There's no doubt that cost factors into pirating on this scale, but there's no doubt that convenience and accessibility plays a starring role. "Advanced Sex" is the most-pirated book right now: I'll be wiling to wager privacy is a factor that should also not be overlooked.

Meanwhile, it stands to reason that we begin to examine things like the New York Times' e-book bestseller list. Are publishers – such as HarperCollins – in danger? And how transparent are these lists?

Certainly not as transparent as checking desirability and demand on Pirate Bay.

Right now the NYT e-book bestseller list looks like this:


1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

2. Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent

3. Decision Points by George W. Bush

4. _____ My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

5. The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


1. Alone by Lisa Gardner

2. Tick Tock by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

3. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

4. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

5. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

Right now, the Pirate Bay e-book list looks like this (minus "Kindle books collection"):

1. How to Analyze People on Sight by Elsie Lincoln Benedict (free at, $4.97 at Amazon)

2. 1000 Photoshop Tips and Tricks (N/A)

3. Advanced Sex: Explicit Positions for Explosive Lovemaking by Randi Foxx (book is out of print, no Kindle version)

4. What Did We Use Before Toilet Paper?: 200 Curious Questions and Intriguing Answers by Andrew Thompson

5. Photoshop CS5 All-in-One For Dummies by Barbara Obermeier

6. 1001 Math Problems by (Editors)

7. Touch Me There!: A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots by Yvonne K. Fulbright (no Kindle version)

8. How to Blow Her Mind in Bed: The essential guide for any man who wants to satisfy his woman by Siski Green (no Kindle version)

9. 101 Short Cuts in Maths Any One Can Do by Gordon Rockmaker (book is from 1975, no Kindle version)

10. How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less by Nicholas Boothman