The latest Jim Baen's Universe is up and, as always, I go to read Eric Flint's ebook/anti-DRM column first. This one is entitled "Adventures with a Search Engine" and is where he explains, as he has done before, why non-DRM ebooks at reasonable price don't get pirated. As always with Mr Flint I recommend reading the whole thing (I'll wait), however if your time is too valuable to click on the link (and if so why are you reading blogs?) I'll summarise the bit I want to discuss.
One of the strawman arguments made by the enemies of progress is that without DRM if all books are available electronically the entire industry will collapse:
The answer universally advanced by advocates of DRM is that doom would be upon us—unless the most stringent and harsh measures were put in place to protect copyright from the inevitable horde of slavering online pirates who would soon plunder all the works of legitimate authors, drive publishing houses into bankruptcy, and inaugurate a literary Dark Age.
How could it be otherwise? they argue. If books are readily available for free due to the ease of pirating unencrypted electronic text, why would anyone continue to pay for them? Adieu, the livelihood of legitimate authors! Adieu, the profits—nay, the very wherewithal—of honest publishers!
And then he suggests that we could perhaps run an experiment. Since all of Mr Flint's own works are available electronically right now then obviously it will be simple for someone to pirate them and put the free copies up on the web for everyone to download. So he does a google search for "Eric Flint" and finds that apart from places where his books are available for sale (or legitimate free download) there are no outlets his books can be obtained electronically that are within the top 50 or so results.
He also goes into a bit about the cost of an individuals time to show that cheap goods are rarely stolen because it simply isn't worth it. Hence the conclusion should be that if ebooks are made available at a reasonable price without DRM then they won't be stolen.
Intuitively all this made sense but I was curious so I went and repeated the search and yes he's quite right, indeed since I get 100 results back at once by default I confirm that even in items 51-100 it holds almost true - a link to "torrent reactor" showed up around item 70 with the following relevant content:
When I narrowed it down a bit with words like ebook and free and download pretty much the same applied. Oh and the listing above? You have to register at the sites the links go to to be allowed to actually get the content. Maybe it works but it's quite a lot of effort and I didn't bother trying.
I also went to yahoo and did similarsearches and then to the new cuil engine to search for Eric Flint. In all cases the search engine showed only approved vendors until you got way down (if at all). I went to the Pirate Bay and found one hit for a 1000 book SF compendium that includes some Flint books (I suspect the free ones because that would be easiest).
And just for the heck of it while at the pirate bay I also looked for various other Baen authors and found that most if not all hits were for stuff from the various Baen CDs and the free library, although David Weber's "Armageddon Reef" from Tor did also show up - the sequel to that did not (though given time I expect it will). So I broadened my search. How about someone like Charles Stross? Mr Stross is not a Baen author but has quite a lot of his work available in DRM crippleware at prices ranging from acceptable to are you kidding? Many of his older works were available but his latest couple "Halting State" and "Saturn's Children" were not. I should note that I didn't attempt to download the torrent and see if what it claimed to have was actually what was there in a decent format or even whether the torrent had sufficient seeds to download. Recalling all the fun with scribdlastyear I searched there - result: no Flint, 2 Stross at least one of which (Accelerando) is publicly available anyway.
So then I tried an author whose work is not legally available as an ebook: J K Rowling. Google shows many hits for Harry Potter ebook. Scribd showed up various Harry Potter books and HP2, at least, seemed to be a decent copy in the quick skim I gave it. Over at the pirate bay there are also many versions including the Harry Potter 1-7 Reference Quality eBook Collection
This is a Reference Quality Electronic Book Version of the American Scholastic Hard Cover books.
Harry Potter Series 1-7 Boxed Set ISBN-10: 0545044251 ISBN-13: 978-0545044257
Completely NEW OCR scans. Completely NEW Graphic scans. EXACT layout and page sizes. EVERY font, all fonts embedded. EVERY word on EVERY line. PROOFED 3 times. UPDATED with the latest corrections from The Harry Potter Lexicon. ULTIMATE reference for any Potter fan.
This release celebrates the 1st Anniversary of the publishing of The Deathly Hallows 21/07/2007 - 21/07/2008
Assuming the description is accurate (I didn't download to verify) then this is the sort of high quality electronic version that Amazon should be selling for the kindle, but which is in fact available for free and which has at writing 116 seeders implying that it is pretty popular. It is worth noting one of the comments below this torrent:
wow. this is absolutely amazing. Now I can really enjoy my books even when they are at home!
Drawing all this together and what have we learned? Well mostly what we seem to have learned is that there is a demand for ebooks and that if the publisher doesn't meet that demand then others will do so. Furthermore there is probably a continuum. If no ebooks exist then many high quality free versions of popular books will show up, if the publisher sells the ebooks with DRM at high prices then some bootleg copies will occur and if the publisher makes the books available for low cost (and without DRM though it is hard to control for that) then very few if any bootleg copies will be made available. We also note that it is easy to find ebooks the only question is whether what we find is legal or not.
All this is, of course, diametrically opposite to the claims of the "ebook bad" crowd. Contrary to the claims of DRM proponants, not to mention the paper only folks, and agreeing 100% with Eric Flint's hypothesis: the best way to avoid having bootleg ebooks available appears to be to offer them for a reasonable price in an easy to find location.