Every time a new technology reaches the consumer marketplace, a new way to use it illegally springs to life. With the advent of the MP3 player came the websites that fostered illegal music downloads and widespread file sharing. Now, the e-reader has met its foe: websites that offer illegal e-book downloads.
In an age in which Amazon.com has reported that it sells more e-books than print books, and where 13% of all book sales in the U.S. are downloaded, e-book piracy becomes an epidemic. A simple Google search for “bootleg book downloads” turned up over 664,000 sites for the lawless reader to choose from.
The problem starts at the agency or publishing house. In an honorable effort to maintain a green workspace, many in the publishing industry are no longer accepting queries and manuscripts in print, forgoing the age-old model for electronic submissions. There are no shipping costs for the author or agency, no rubber-banded piles of manuscripts lying around, and zero environmental impact. And in a field where a book leaving an author’s hands and finding its way to the bookstore shelf can take as long as two years, electronic submissions greatly speed up the process. Many offices even download authors’ submissions directly to e-readers to make their workload more portable, meaning the unpublished manuscript of the next New York Times bestseller just made its way on to the internet in an e-reader compatible format.
Hackers, malicious former employees, even accidental file sharing have cost authors, agencies, and publishing houses their livelihoods as these e-books find their way onto websites that allow consumers with an e-reader device to obtain the material illegally.
One of the most noteworthy cases of illegal book downloading involved the currently unpublished and unfinished manuscript to a fifth novel in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga, a manuscript the author believed to have been leaked online before it was even finished. Meyer claims that she was so outraged with the violation of her copyright and her potential livelihood that she would not finish the manuscript at this time.
It is hard to believe that tighter controls on uploaded material cannot be put into place, but with the sheer volume of books being published in e-reader format, often by the authors themselves who have opted to break away from the traditional publishing model in order to have more control over their work, e-book piracy may only get worse. This begs the question: at what point will authors stop writing because there is nothing to be gained?