Paulo Coelho, the bestselling author and the most translated author in the world (53 languages at the last count), wrote an article recently where he says that he believes in allowing online book sharing and does not mind people pirating his books in this manner.

Coelho made this same point at the Digital Life Design (DLD) Conference in Munich in 2008. His view is that letting people swap digital copies of his book increases sales. He gives this example of his experience in the Russian market where his books sold a mere 1,000 copies. He uploaded the Russian translation of his copy and the sales went up from 1,000 to 10,000 and more.

Once he found this avenue he says he set up his own site called ‘The Pirate Coelho’. He went to BitTorrent and got all his pirated editions and put them on his site. “Since then, my books have sold about 140 million copies worldwide,” he noted in his article.

According to him this gives a reader the possibility of reading your book and choosing whether to buy it or not.

Science fiction author, Walter John Williams, has written about his experience of getting his own out- of- print work online. He also used the route of Torrents to scan his work and offer downloads on his own. According to him, most of the digital works were badly printed and copy-edited. He was in no mood to offer such badly copy-edited versions of his books and sadly some of his other books were too obscure for even Torrents to offer!

There are some who make a case for ignoring pirating (of e-books), and believe that in some cases it even boosts the visibility of certain titles. This is true in cases of intellectual treatises which are written for niche writers and university publications.

The University of Chicago Press recently digitized many of its titles believed to be of interest to its general readers. When they did a check on which were pirated, they found, to their surprise, most came from the more obscure, less lucrative parts of their list. This led Garrett Kiely, director of the University of Chicago Press, to observe, “ Obscurity might be our biggest problem, rather than piracy.

“Allowing more obscure titles to change hands freely on the Web might even result in buzz, which could eventually translate to more sales,” Kiely added.

To Decide What is Free and What is Fair is a Little Difficult at This Stage

According to Attributor, a site that tracks e-book piracy and copyrights infringement, there are 5-3 million daily Google queries for pirated e-books (according to a research published in 2010). They put lost value from book piracy in the U.S. alone at an estimated $2.8 billion.

They also cite a 20 percent increase in demand for pirated downloads since the iPad became widely available in mid-May 2010.

There are people in the publishing industry and writers themselves who are against offering pirated versions. Most often the analogy of pirated songs is used to emphasize that it leads to people buying the album from which the songs come or looking for more work of the same artist/artists. Some authors believe that this is not so, as far as books are concerned.

 An extract of a book on the Internet does not lead to sales. And also why should someone spend money on a book when the same is available for reading on the net, some authors point out.

They further stress the point that it is ok for writers who already have a following but for first-time writers and not so famous ones, it means that many sales less, and this may even jeopardize their career by affecting their future book deals.

Be as it may, pirated versions of printed works are here to stay. It is for the publishers and marketers to come up with a solution to suit the needs of the industry. A revenue sharing model with the advertisers who put ads on such free sites is feasible.

Or maybe offer abridged versions of the books for download, something similar to visiting book stores which offer you ample freedom to sit and leaf through books at your leisure. But a built-in revenue model is necessary.

As an aside: Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer registered the most pirated copy searches on the net for the year 2010.
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