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eBook piracy about access, price, portability

March 19, 2010

Digging into the Dear Author Reader Survey results I posted yesterday a little more, I wanted to compare responses to a few questions by readers who indicated they have illegally downloaded an eBook to those who indicated they have not.

Of the 2724 responses to the survey,  681 indicated they have illegally downloaded an eBook (25%).  It is difficult to judge from the audience whether this is a greater or smaller proportion than the general population of readers (even defining that is difficult 1+ books per year?).  But the comparison of the two groups within the population that took the survey is interesting.

Here is how the “Illegal Downloaders” compared to the only legal downloaders (I call them “Non-Downloaders” in the charts below.)

Piracy skews young.  The crossover seems to be mid-30s somewhere. More on this point later.

Age distribution of illegal downloaders vs only legal downloade

Age distribution of Illegal Downloaders vs. users who do not engage in illegal downloads (Non Downloaders)

Looking at complaints about eBooks, Illegal Downloaders are proportionally less satisfied in every category except the requirements for technical proficiency and “Other.”  Illegal Downloaders are significantly less satisfied with Selection (access to books), eBook Quality and the Ability to share eBooks.  The last is a little surprising since Illegal Downloaders have access to DRM-free versions of the books they downloaded and can share more easily than others–does this indicate they would rather be sharing legally?

Compare eBook complaints Illegal Downloaders vs. Non Downloaders

Compare eBook complaints Illegal Downloaders vs. only Legal Downloaders (Non Downloaders)

When answering the question about the maximum price for an eBook they would be willing to pay, Illegal Downloaders have nearly the same distribution as Non Downloaders with a slightly higher fraction expressing they would be willing to pay on $5.99 for an eBook.

Compare max price distribution for Illegal Downloaders vs. Non-Downloaders

Compare max price distribution for Illegal Downloaders vs. those who do not engage in illegal downloading of eBooks (Non-Downloaders).

When asked what changes would stop or curtail illegal downloading, Illegal Downloaders expressed that both removal of DRM and a decrease in price would have an effect, while sharing would have less influence. Non Downloaders who answered this question showed that they had the same perceptions based on their imagined downloading influences–I like that they went out on a limb to predict their feelings about their hypothetical behavior.

Compare responses to influences on downloading behavior for Illegal Downloaders and Non Downloaders

Compare responses to influences on downloading behavior for Illegal Downloaders and Non Downloaders

Summary

The age distribution poses challenges for the future. There is no reason to think that illegal downloading of eBooks is static generational problem for publishers.  As the population ages, older people will be downloading as much as younger people.  eBook piracy will become a feature of the business landscape for all age groups.

Piracy seems to be about access and content portability.  These complaints mirror the complaints about music.  The quality and portability issues with music are clearing up slowly (e.g. iTunes now sells DRM-free, near CD quality tracks).

Piracy also seems to be about price.  This survey doesn’t seem to indicate a solid floor. While one may be able to price non-DRM or portable eBooks higher than the alternatives, the pressure on naked price seems unrelentingly down. Most readers indicated they believe $9.99 to be a fair eBook price while a higher proportion of Illegal Downloaders  than Non-Downloaders indicated that $5.99 is a fair eBook price.  This survey doesn’t explore readers perceptions of eBook pricing over the life of the book (and there is no “used” eBook market in which to explore that question).

It isn’t clear that the current structure of authors, publishers and book sellers can make it all work well at $9.99 so this seems a real problem of perceived value.  Readers seem to intuitively know that copying eBooks is free (you can get people to volunteer their time and resources to do it) and assume that means that eBooks should be very nearly free as well. But the same might be said for music where track prices seem to be finding some equilibrium between $.89 and $1.29.  eBook pricing seems much more up in the air. We’ll see…

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