Two e-books, priced $9.99 and $0.99, start two completely different purchase processes. The price level is affecting how eager we are to get a pirated copy. In case of e-books it’s combined with, in my opinion, the biggest solution to piracy – convenience.

Digital goods (especially the ones under a magical level of 1 dollar) – music, e-books, applications – join a group of impulse purchase products. It’s not only because of a price. It’s because of possibility of immediate consumption. You can use a smartphone to download an e-book or a song. It usually takes a couple of seconds and your effort can be described as a couple of taps. Instant reward is crucial – $0.99 e-book wouldn’t be an impulse purchase if you had to wait for delivery 24 hours.

In the age of instant access to content of any kind, willingness to piracy can be described as “how much will I save for the effort I make”. Let’s analyze it on an example of a $0.99 book from Kindle Store.

No Good Deed - by M.P. McDonald

“No Good Deed” by M.P. McDonald – #3 in Kindle Store on June 5, 2011


A perception of price and savings is different if you are an experienced user of piracy sites and different if you started to embrace e-books (or digital goods in general).

For a piracy site users all what’s there is free (or for a price of a premium account/features – which is another case). In fact they don’t really know how much they save, because they don’t know the price of the original copy.

The economics of downloading pirated content is that you download items in bulk. You download a folder with e-books, convert files to your primary format and upload to your device.

Managing pirated content in bulk is saving a lot of time. You’ll also save time on reading those books, because they’re just files and titles for you. You don’t know most of them, and authors of $.99 books are surely not on top of your mind.

Now, let’s move to a second example.



You’ve just bought a Kindle e-reader. You have to learn how to use the device and download e-books legally – enough for a start. You probably keep in mind that there is always a possibility to use illegal sources. The only thing is that it’s a whole new world to learn. Some people, including me, don’t want to bother with it. I want to read books, not waste my time on file conversion and adding e-books to my virtual bookshelf in a way which is not most convenient.

Kindle owner is aware of the price. It’s $0.99, full stop. She or he has a choice: to get the book in less than 60 seconds and start reading it or look for the pirated copy somewhere else. How long would it take to grab it, download, deal with DRM and upload to Kindle? 5 minutes, 15 minutes? 15 minutes every time you’ve found a book you want to read immediately.

At such a low price what usually turns on is an evaluation how much money would one earn by doing his daily job instead. How much do I earn for an hour? How much time do I waste to save $0.99 on one book?


Let’s go the pirate way first. You download, let’s say 1,000 e-books in bulk. No effort at all, you’re doing this anyway, you’re fixed on getting as much free content as possible, even if you know you’re not going to swallow it till the end of the world.

If you are a Kindle owner with no “torrent skills”, you face a simple choice: a couple of clicks versus a conversion nightmare.

You have to learn how to and where from get a pirated content. You’ll probably have to download some apps, learn some tricks, read some forum threads, fix some problems – all instead of reading a book you want.

Books are different from music. You always had to have a device if you wanted to listen to music. Managing music files and discs is natural. But books… you bought them, you opened them and your read them. Why can’t this be done with e-books? In fact it can, if you are willing to spend a couple of clicks, less than a dollar and a bit of courage to read a book from an unknown author.

* * *

Saving time and money is one thing, but there is also one thing piracy is about. Somebody wants to drain your wallet by setting up a price which is too high. You are the hand of justice and get a pirated copy instead.

In case of $.99 it doesn’t work this way any more. This is a very fair price, set up by the author itself. You are not penalizing all the middlemen, you’re penalizing the man who wants to be honest with you.

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  1. While I ‘get’ what Piotr is trying to ‘get’ at … I don’t buy into his wider theories.

    Impulse buying is not about consumption, but acquisition. Many people purchase items such as books, food, music, etc etc. on an impulse because of a special price or because they just happen to come across the item at a convenient time.

    They won’t necessarily want to consume the item, listen to the music or read the book that moment or that day or that week. I am sure there a few seriously intense and dedicated people who are desperate to start reading that second, but in my own experience the vast majority of people buy a book and don’t read it for at least a few days, often many weeks.

    In addition, I don’t get this bulk description of pirating/downloading. There is no need to necessarily download items in bulk from pirate sites. Very confusing.

    I have a lot of varied contacts in my life, like most people, from teens to adults to older people and I have a lot of experience of illegal downloading situations. The barrier between buying and having to learn how to download illegal copies and strip the DRM and side load etc. is not as Piotr describes imho. The real barrier for a significant number of people is between one click purchase and a one off call to a son/nephew/niece/brother/sister/grandchild … to ask them to get it for them.

    So while I agree, Piotr, the impulse purchasing trigger is important in people’s decision to acquire an eBook legitimately or illegitimately … I would suggest that the decision is mostly to do with price, legitimate-purchase-availability and others like DRM etc.

  2. As usual, Piotr, an excellent post. Although I do not pirate ebooks, on occasion I do think about it and the driving factor is for thinking about it is either price (the ebook is available but priced at greater than $2.99) or availability (the book simply is not available, e.g., The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon). In the end, however, I do not bother pirating because there are so many other books available for 99 cents or less — and finding a usable and obtainable pirate version is just more effort than I want to expend for an author or publisher who doesn’t particularly want me.

  3. It’s worth reminding people that if you go under 2.99, Apple and Amazon reduce author’s percentages from 70 to 35%. And that is a big difference. So the middleman is exerting substantial influence here. I once sat on the plane next to someone who had downloaded a 40 gig torrent of free ebooks. He was bragging about that, and I had to wonder: when is he going to find the time to read these things?

  4. Interesting .. so in the period that that guy did his downloading, in their campaign against Piracy, the Publishing industry would have interpreted those stats as somewhere between 20,000 – 80,000 lost sales … or almost a million dollars in lost sales. Demonstrating the nonsense of the anti piracy claims.

  5. But is it even worth reading most $0.99 books? As an example, I grabbed one of Amanda Hocking’s books (first book in the Trylle series) a while back, since she has a rather decent reputation as far as self-published authors go. And I thought it was an incredibly bad book – bad plot (it has one?), stupid characters and horrible writing. I wanted not only the $0.99 back I spent on the book, but also the time I wasted reading it. I should have stopped half-way through, but wanted to give her a fair shot, and I’d paid for the book. Next time I try a new author, particularly ones with $0.99 books, I’ll probably look for a pirated copy first to sample it instead of helping to inflate sales figures of authors who don’t deserve it.

  6. @Frode — The answer to your question is yes and no. Everyone I have recommended Shayne Parkinson’s free Sentence of Marriage to has raved about it just as I have and all went on to buy her other 3 books. How many $14.99 books have you bought that haven’t been worth the air they take up? In my case I have found a lot of high-priced books to be unreadable. I don’t think talent and price are equivalents when it comes to books. Stephen King’s novels are widely read and enjoyed, yet I think they are garbage and not even worth reading for free. To each his/her own.

  7. The biggest problem then: What about books that aren’t available for sale as ebooks? The choice then is to learn how to obtain/convert pirated copies, or not get the book. (Or accept that it’s not available legally for a reason, and be patient until such time as it might be, no matter how long it may be). There’s effort yes in initially learning how to obtain a pirated copy of a book, but that effort falls off really quickly. Would it be more reasonable to purchase the book at $.99? Certainly. After the first time you’re not able to purchase a digital copy, or you find one and they want more then the cost of a hardcover, it become worthwhile to learn to find the pirated copy, at which point you may never know about the availability of the (occasional) $.99 book.

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