New York Times columnist steals ebook, then pays for it

This stunt is already experiencing its blowing-up moment on various ebook and lit blogs, so I’ll keep it brief. And to be honest, I can’t quite decide if this story—by New York Times tech columnist David Pogue—is a truly important one, or if it’s little more than a cute trick. Time will tell, I suppose.

At any rate, here’s the story: In a column published last Thursday, August 2, Pogue freely admits to having downloaded an ebook copy of a Robert Ludlum novel from a torrent site. Pogue writes that neither Amazon nor B&N nor iBooks, Kobo or Sony was offering the ebook for sale. “I felt like I was in a Monty Python skit,” he writes. “‘Hello? Would anyone like some money? Anyone? I’ve got money here—no?'”

Naturally, the punchline comes at the column’s end: Feeling guilty for his anonymous theft, Pogue sends a check to the book’s publisher in the amount of $9.99.

Yes, it’s a stunt. Still, I have applaud Pogue here: He’s fortunate enough to be standing atop a very powerful platform, and he doesn’t seem to be afraid of using it.

I’d love your thought on this: What do the rest of you think?

(Note: Thanks to GalleyCat’s Jason Boog for covering the story.)

UPDATE: Check out Chris Meadows’ take on the situation over at The Digital Reader.

4 Comments on New York Times columnist steals ebook, then pays for it

  1. Hayden Johnstone // August 6, 2012 at 6:40 am //

    For me it is difficult. The publisher has decided not to release a digital version of the book to (I guess) maximise sales of the printed versions. That is their right.

    Pogue only wanted the digital version so that his child did not have to carry too many books with him to his camp. Being a mostly law abiding citizen he may already have a printed version of the book (another guess on my behalf).

    My opinion is that by Pogue not wanting to buy the printed version and the publishers not making a digital version available, then this was not a lost sale. The publisher has already accepted that there will be no revenues for people who only want a digital version as this is their policy on this book.

    I still don’t like any work copied and distributed for free, but if you make it difficult or impossible to buy a book, then people, even mostly honest ones, will look for different options.

    Pogue, in the end, made it a bit of a stunt by sending the cheque to the publisher. A bit of a ‘wake up, there is money to be made out there. The World is changing!’ to the publisher.

  2. Pogue demonstrates how ridiculous the whole eBook marketing model is right now, and has been for the last several years.

    He also demonstrates that the ‘morality’ of ‘illegal downloading’ is far more complex and subtle and nuanced than the usual publishing industry copyright-ranters try to make out then they try to bludgeon us with moralising tales of theft and stealing.

  3. Hayden Johnstone // August 6, 2012 at 8:05 pm //

    I 100% agree with Howard. It is these sort of scenarios that really annoy me when publishers and authors complain about piracy or loss of market share to companies like Amazon.

    I always stand by my argument that if you are not selling the product to a potential customer because of their location or as in this case, the format of the book is not available, then the downloading of a copy is not theft. The publisher does not want this sale from this customer.

    I tried to buy some ebooks through but they only re-directed me to local English bookstores which do not sell to me as I do not live in England. Lost sales for the author! It makes no sense at all.

  4. This happens all the time, publishers fail to release an ebook version, or don’t/can’t make one available to readers in my region. I usually order the print version and download a pirate e-book copy from the web, then chuck the print copy into the paper recycling when it arrives. Wasteful as hell, expensive and stupid beyond description, but this is what idiot publishers and their 19th century business models force us to do.

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