If publishers really do want to learn from the music industry’s mistakes, they should learn to stop trying to charge the same amount for e-books as for their physical equivalent. iTunes and Amazon started out selling most MP3 albums for $9.99 no matter how many songs they had on them, as opposed to $14.99 physical CD price.
They should also do something about the regional availability policies that have recently begun to be enforced on Fictionwise and eReader. It would be one thing if each region had its own e-book seller able to offer titles restricted from external vendors, but this is sadly not the case for much of the world.
Authors who are holding out against publishing e-books due to piracy concerns, such as J.K. Rowling, need to get over themselves. They are doing far more to promote piracy by not offering legitimate versions of their books than they are to prevent it.
It also does not help that the e-book market is currently a confusing morass of different e-book formats so that a reader can easily buy a book in a format he does not learn he cannot use until he tries to load it onto his reader. (Whatever its other faults, at least Amazon gets this part right.)
When the only seller of an e-book will not sell it to the people who want it, or it is not offered in a format they can use, or not offered at all, then of course those people will feel justified in pirating it. Likewise when the price at which it is offered appears out of all proportion to its value.
Being just text, or text with a few graphics at most, e-book files are absolutely tiny compared to music or movies. Bundles of hundreds of the most popular books can be downloaded within seconds via BitTorrent, Usenet, or foreign websites. It is flatly impossible to stamp out.
“It’s a game of Whac-a-Mole,” said Russell Davis, an author and president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a trade association that helps authors pursue digital pirates. “You knock one down and five more spring up.”
Publishers need to stop attacking the symptom of piracy, and focus their attention on the disease of the anti-consumer practices that are making legitimate e-books difficult or impossible to obtain. Until they can pay more than lip service to the idea of rational pricing and availability, disgruntled would-be customers will get what they want however they can.