My original title for this post was: Ebooks – Free or not be… free. OK, I’ve been reading a bit too much Shakespeare lately.

This post was instigated by an innocent comment from a friend who recently acquired a Kobo. Surprised at the price of ebooks, her husband told her not to worry: he could find any book she wanted and download it for free.

Free! I cried. But how will the author get paid? You see, we’re not talking about ebooks whose authors have made them available on Kindle or Smashwords for free, as part of a publicity or marketing campaign. We’re talking about brand new, bestselling titles being offered by certain websites – illegally – for free download.

Flag of pirate Edward England Polski: Flaga pi...
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Of course, this is nothing new. It’s been happening in the music and gaming industries for years. This does not make it OK. When I was drafting this post, I found all sorts of facts and figures about how ebook piracy takes money directly from author’s pockets, and perpetrates the myth that producing a book is ‘just writing’. Everybody can write, you learn it at school, so it’s not a big deal. Right?

Wrong. And it’s not just about writing, it’s about an author being paid for the time – often a year or more – it’s taken to write the book, and the production: editing, proofreading, typesetting, promotion and publicity. Yes, you can take out the cost of printing, storage and distribution, but these are not the only overheads incurred by someone, somewhere. If you download a book for free – without the originator’s consent – you are, in effect, stealing it.

However, there are two other viewpoints that need to be mentioned here, in the interests of a balanced argument. One, found on an ebook forum, is the valid claim that many of the people downloading an ebook for free would not read it otherwise – i.e. they would never pay for this item, so they are not really taking money out of the author/publisher’s pocket. While this doesn’t make it OK, it’s probably true to a certain extent. The other point, made by my brother-in-law, is that for new technology to ever get off the ground there needs to be some ‘free’ content out there to encourage people to be early adopters. In other words, people would, initially at least, only buy an ereader if there was a readily-available supply of free ebooks for them to try.

I couldn’t help but see the logic in this, but then there is a lot of free content legitimately available, on Kindle for instance, and not all of it is unreadable nonsense. And the majority of paid-for ebooks cost 99 pence or less. Anyway, I doubt my humble little blog will do much to stop ebook piracy – but I do hope to reach the odd person and make them think before downloading.

Oh, and just one other thing. Bestsellers where the ebook version is priced the same as the hardback? Now that is taking the p***!