Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life isn’t for me.
Just been reading an interesting article over at The Register on e-readers and how most British users are prepared to pay for legit copies of e-books.
Eight per cent of UK adults have paid money for an electronic book since Christmas, with the average reader getting through 5.75 titles by the end of January.
[It was also] found that 7 per cent of UK adults got some form of e-reader as a Christmas gift, and the majority of those people had managed to download a book or two since then.
So about the same proportion of people who got an ebook reader in their stocking paid for an ebook, suggesting that legit downloads are in the overwhelming majority.
Those who got an e-reader for Christmas top the figures, buying (on average) 5.9 books each, while downloaders who had to make do with an iPad or smartphone only bought 5.3 books – though that’s still a lot of reading to get though in the 35 days following Christmas.
Those with a dedicated e-reader unsurprisingly downloaded the most, with 84 per cent of them sourcing additional reading material (we assume the remaining 16 per cent are still getting through the pre-loaded content, or can’t work out how to get the covers open), but almost 60 per cent of those who received any kind of e-book-compatible device had also downloaded something by way of reading material.
The Reg go on to note that this is probably good news for publishers, but that it’s probably got a lot to do with ease of use. Getting an ebook from a legit source, they say, has been made pretty straightforward by most of the online sellers, and going from my personal experience I’d say they’re right. Not only that but here in Oz paper books are inexplicably expensive (actually it is explicable: stupid, protectionist parallel import laws – what’s inexplicable is why we still have them), and while ebooks are also a bit dear compared to sources in Europe and North America there’s no reason you can’t buy from them instead. Well, except for when they manage to run out of stock of a PDF.
What I buy from Australia based sellers is what tends not to be available from those in the US or Britain – you know, very Australia specific and written in upside down text – and I imagine it’s hard to find pirated versions anyway. Otherwise I’m happy to pay to download it from the UK or the US, ignoring their funny spelling in the latter case. Either way, the point is that as the article suggests, legit downloading of books is the path of least resistance, and that’s a big part of why people are prepared to pay. I suspect another part is the pricing and the fact that there’s an absolute shit-ton of free ebooks, mostly out of copyright classics, legally available for bookworms who want something to read but are feeling a bit cheap – if I wanted to replace my Penguin Popular Classic version of Dracula with an electronic copy why would I pay $10-12 from Amazon.com or Borders.com.au when I can get a free and legal download from Project Gutenberg or Planet eBook?* But ease of use is a biggie and a contrast to other digital content.
… it seems more likely the reliance on legitimate sources of material has more to do with ease of use than willingness to pay – the electronic book stores have made buying an electronic book really easy, even for obscure titles, while buying a film in electronic form is often harder than BitTorrenting the same title.
I’m not sure I wholly buy that since I tend to use torrents for the same thing as I’m beginning to use TV: checking out a recommended or well regarded series before committing the dosh to buy the whole thing on DVD. Movies I tend not to download because I like DVD extras and what’s on our shelf is largely stuff we saw on TV or at the cinema or from borrowing the disc off someone, and enjoyed enough to want it on disc ourselves so we can watch it whenever we like. But I might not be typical, and I can certainly see that people who just want to watch a film or a TV show without a it being an effort might look at the alternatives – advert heavy TV that doesn’t start on time, unnecessarily complicated legal downloading, or simple torrenting – might say fuck it and take the illegal but simple and free option.** The lesson, as the Reg suggest, is that the KISS principle makes good business sense.
Booksellers have made it easier to spend money than steal, which is enough to push most users down the legit route.***
Hollywood take note.
* And with Dracula freely available why would I download Twiglet or whatever it’s called at all?
** I have a similar situation, though without the legal issue. Say I want to buy Iron Man 2 (which I do) but don’t want to spend over forty fucking dollars?! on it from an Aussie retailer. I’d consider a legal download from a big name like Blockbuster or Foxtel except Blockbuster is for US based customers only and Foxtel haven’t got it. That’s aside from all the registration bullshit that I’d rather not do. What I want is here’s my card number now send me a download link. Even if I use a VPN or something to make the download site think I’m somewhere else, and even if I accept the registration crap, I still don’t know if I’d get all the content the DVD would have. But I’m still not paying 42 bucks when I can order it online from the US or UK for about half that. I’m far from being the only one and Australian retailers are having what’s known here as a bit of a sook about it, demanding that the government lower the threshold for applying GST at 10% to imports from A$1,000. I think they’d rather it was about ten bucks so that everyone ordering books and movies and other low value goods will be caught by it. They’re wrong, of course, but if it happens it happens – it still won’t get me to pay fucking $42 for Iron Man 2 when it’s ten quid in the UK. Even after shipping and GST it’s still a lot cheaper than buying it here. And if that’s what someone who actually wants the DVD is thinking then someone who simply wants to see the movie is certainly going to choose a free and illegal download over a cheap and legal one if you make things too much like hard work.
*** British booksellers, anyway. Australian ones seem to think charging $20 for an ebook version of a $13 paperback makes sense (yes, really – well spotted, Mrs Exile).