Ok - I'm a little late off the blocks with this one, and this story broke over a week ago. Amazon has launched what it calls AutoRip
- which allows anyone who has bought CDs or Vinyl from Amazon since 1999, the opportunity to download nearly all of them from Amazon's Cloud Player (I assume there must be some rights exceptions).
There have been many opinion pieces written about this - mostly focusing on the reappearance of music tastes some of us would rather forget. There has also been a little commentary on what this could mean for publishing however - and that is where most of this will focus.
In music, you must remember that there is a more open ecosystem than books. Pretty much anywhere you download an MP3 from, you can move that around your computer, and are more likely to put it on any number of different devices. Amazon is clearly using this as a way to advance their market share in Music where there are a lot of competitors, but primarily iTunes. Amazon has access to vast amounts of consumer data from over the years - and they have very wisely decided to capitalise on it. Whether this has come about as a result of a condition which has been buried in Amazon's deals with labels for years, or is a new arrangement - it says a lot about how far the music business has come. From Amazon's perspective, I'm surprised it has taken them this long to be honest - but that may be indicative of the rights negotiations involve.
The publishing industry is at a very different stage at the moment, however. DRM and propriety formats, namely Kindle, still exist, and Amazon has a huge market share. You must also remember that since it launched, Amazon has also had a bigger market share in bookselling. Bookselling is where the business started, and I would bet that Amazon have probably sold a lot more books than they have music, as iTunes and high street stores dominated until the last few years. Therefore the implications of this, or a similar scheme, coming to Kindle could be huge.
In terms of market share, Amazon would become even stronger. Your personal library for roughly the last 15 years - even in cases where you may have resold the book - now available again to you. As far as ecosystems, and a proposition to the customer (particularly past heavy users), it is impossible to beat. Nobody else holds this much data on the publishing industry. Waterstones, the biggest retailer in the UK, has had several failed attempts at online bookselling, I doubt they hold useful data going back very far. In fact, for those of you that remember, Amazon used to have an online partnership with Waterstones between 2001 and 2006, so it's likely that Amazon own their early data too...
Now, I'm all for choice of whether to read my books on an eReader or in print, it is after all a major cornerstone of our business model. But the use of all of this historical data could only serve to increase the hold Amazon has over the publishing industry. A hold they are building upon with a closed ecosystem. One that means if you want to change to another device, you have to lose EVERYTHING you have bought before. Buying an eBook from Amazon is essentially renting it from them, and I don't know about you - but I like to own the things I pay money for! It is no secret that Amazon has been squeezing publishing margins very tightly - and for an industry that is already very hit or miss, and operating on tight margins - this is very dangerous territory indeed.
It is also worth noting that Amazon could expand this further. DVDs and Video could be another potentially huge opportunity for them with films and TV shows. The three combined would make a very powerful proposition - one that already includes Amazon Prime and its tie-ins to LoveFilm and free Kindle downloads. Two out of three could give them the power to force the third - could the publishing or movie industry afford to refuse these negotiations, and potentially be barred from sale? Android couldn't touch them and Apple would probably struggle too, neither of them have anywhere near that amount of sales data or clout. This could be how Amazon becomes the winner of the content game.
Would you use a publishing equivalent of Amazon's Autorip? Would it be a deal breaker over any other platform for you? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.
One of the biggest complaints from publishers (and indeed the wider media) when it comes to digitisation of the media, is how their industry is being ruined by piracy. The general attitude within the media is that piracy is always a negative, must be shut down, and must be slowed down by archaic Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems. But there are many ways of looking at this, and I would argue (as would an increasing number), that although bad in principle – piracy is not completely terrible.
Neil Gaiman has been one of the most high profile authors to take this approach. In the video below, which was recorded in 2011, Gaiman discusses how he was initially fearful of his work becoming available online, that his copyright was being stolen from him. But then he started to realise that places around the world where he was being pirated the most, he also began to see an increase in sales. Intrigued, Gaiman persuaded his publisher to make one of his books available online for free for a month – which resulted in sales going up by 300% the following month through independent bookshops.
Gaiman goes on to describe why he is no longer afraid of piracy, by explaining that he used to ask people in talks to raise their hands if they had a favourite author – to which most people responded 'yes'. Then he would ask them if they discovered this author by being lent a book, or by discovering it in a bookshop. He suggests that only around 5-10% discovered it in a bookshop. These are the people that now avidly follow the author, are the biggest fans, buy all his books, look after all of his books. But yet, they never discovered the author by buying one of his books in the first place. They were lent it. That is how they found their favourite author.
The point Gaiman is making is that the pirating of books is simply equivalent to the lending of books. These people would probably not have bought the book in the first place. But they have now discovered a new author, they have been recommended an author, they may even discover their favourite author for the first time. And they are considerably more likely to buy one of your books in the future – something which they probably wouldn't have done otherwise. Therefore, is it really a lost sale? No.
Many in the industry may consider this too simplistic a view. They argue that digital files are different to physical books, in that an infinite number of perfect copies can be created, whereas a physical book will wear down over time. This much is true, and there are some people that will probably always turn to piracy, no matter how much they like your books – but would these people ever really have bought your book? If the files are taken down, the sites shut down, the people sharing the files are brought to justice – will that person really go out and buy the book instead? No.
The main reason I can see that they wouldn't go out and buy it, is that someone else will upload the file not long after. It might be more tricky to get hold of, but they will still find a way of getting it for free, and are unlikely to pay for it. Meanwhile, publishers are spending millions finding people that infringe copyright, rather than taking the time to realise why these people 'steal' their content, and taking the time to work out how to make the most of their 'terrible' situation.
So let's turn this terrible situation around. Let's look at what piracy could actually mean for the industry:
- The mean nasty pirate, Mr Pirate McStealerson, is bored one day. Browsing Twitter, he notices a friend has posted a tweet – "Check out @CaptainHook's book 'Piracy and the Internet' – a little tricky to get into, but really thought provoking stuff!"
- Mr McStealerson normally really trusts his friend and the books he likes. But his Kindle just broke, and he has just received a new Kobo reader. While he has a Kindle Fire for movies and music, he doesn't like reading on it all that much, and because it is made by Amazon he can't get the Kobo app. Besides, the publisher has only made the book available via Amazon for £15, so he couldn't buy it for his Kobo anyway. And £15 is just too much for something he can't read on his eReader.
- Mr McStealerson goes to Google and searches for 'Piracy and the Internet by Captain Hook ePUB'. The first result gives him a link to the torrent of the file, and he has downloaded it in less than a couple of minutes, for free. He opens up Calibre, and converts the file to a MOBI as well – this means he can read it on his tablet too when he is going to work. He has both files, on both devices in less than five minutes.
- Over the next week, Pirate reads the book. His friend was right, it totally transforms his views on the subject matter. He rushes straight out to the shop and buys a physical book for his best friend, Dave, who loves reading this sort of thing – his birthday is coming up anyway. Pirate also decides to start a blog discussing the topic at length, and shares posts with his friends regularly. Five of them go out and buy the book, either in physical or digital form.
- Captain Hook advertises a follow up to his book on Twitter. This time he has persuaded his publisher to make it available in all formats online, and for a bit less. Mr McStealerson buys the book straight away – actually, he had it pre-ordered a month before it came out! He also saw a limited edition print version advertised, and bought that before it came out too. He has also been involved in Twitter discussions with the author, and re-tweeted a lot of stuff about the book.
- During the month following the launch, the book sells twice as many copies as the first book ever did. The first book was heavily pirated, and so is the second one. The authors' third book does even better again though.
In this situation, is piracy really harming the author, the publisher, or anyone at all? Was Mr McStealerson ever going to buy the book? Have there been any lost sales? More people have bought the subsequent books. These people might never discovered the author, had they not discovered that first book through piracy.
The real result of piracy, is that the book has reached a much wider audience. One of the biggest battles in publishing is discoverability – anything that helps improve that situation, cannot surely be bad? Yes, piracy is bad in principle, in the fact that it is theft – and if too widespread would be detrimental to the industry – but piracy is a fact of the digital age. Piracy is pretty much proven to be unstoppable – so why should publishers spend so much time, money and effort trying to fight it. Wouldn't they be better off trying to make the most of it? Shouldn't the industry learn to use piracy to its advantage? I know which I would rather spend my time on.