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The iPad and eBook piracy

Sang Tang

In the week following the launch of the iPad, six of the top ten selling business-related paperbacks saw a significant spike in unauthorized downloads on BitTorrent, according to BitTorrent news blog TorrentFreak. This cohort saw average increases of 78 percent over the week prior to the iPad launch. While this data may suggest the onset of an eBook piracy revolution, such a coup is still a long ways away.

The study initially sought to track pre- and post-iPad unauthorized downloads of the top ten selling books on However, that proved a difficult task, as none of them were available on public BitTorrent trackers, other P2P services, and Usenet.

The next logical step for TorrentFreak, then, was to track unauthorized downloads of the top ten business-related paperbacks from Such books, according to TorrentFreak, "fit well with the demographics of iPad buyers." And of these ten, only six could be found. If this was the case with piracy of music and movies, the record companies and movie studios would be partying as if their business models were more like they were in 1999; it's relatively easy to find the current top ten songs or movies on P2P networks.

These observations speak to the significantly different dynamics between digital piracy of music, videos and books. The lack of availability of unauthorized eBook titles is due in large part to the more complex workflow involved in "digitizing" a traditional book.

In their purest traditional retail form, music and movies start off as physical media -- CDs for music, and DVDs/Blu-ray for movies. Converting, or ripping, them entails inserting a disc into a drive and using software to rip the content. Very little babysitting is required. The end-product usually comes out to an MP3 that usually weighs in at less than 10 MB, and aDivX/XviD file that usually weighs in at less than 1 GB.

While books in the EPUB format (the eBook standard the iPad uses) occupy a very small file size footprint (smaller than an MP3, most of the time), 'ripping' a physical book is much more complex and involves more legwork. Not only does the book pirate need to scan a book page by page, they also need to ensure that it's formatted in a way that's EPUB ready. If not, the end product could end up looking like a mishmash of words with a bunch of empty pages between text.

When I unboxed my first iPod, I noticed the words "Don't steal music" affixed to the clear plastic wrapping on its screen. Despite the iPad's potential to change the way we read books, I don't anticipate a "Don't steal books" disclaimer on the iPad anytime soon.

[via TorrentFreak]

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