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When we think about piracy, movies, TV shows and music come to mind, but there is one market particularly affected by piracy: the publishing industry, and more specifically, the scientific and academic publishing industry.

Ebook piracy around the world

According to data from the Authors Guild presented at Book Expo 2019, in the United States, $300 million in publisher revenue is lost each year to online piracy. But the United States is far from being the only country affected by the phenomenon. 

Italy, for example, has studied the problem in depth thanks to a report in two phases conducted by IPSOS.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, book piracy cost the Italian publishing industry 771 million euros and about 5,400 jobs. In 2021, a new report indicates that Italians performed an average of 322,000 acts of book piracy per day, a major challenge for publishing. “In 2021,” the report’s data tells us, “35% of the population committed at least one act of piracy involving only commercial fiction and nonfiction books”.

Other nations around the world are also experiencing notable losses: the Egyptian Publishers Union declared in 2020 that piracy was costing Egyptian publishers $16.8 million a year, while the U.K. Intellectual Property Office found in 2017 that 17 percent of all ebooks consumed that year,  4 million units in total, were pirated.

Students: poor performers

As the cost of education rises and students increasingly use their tablets and laptops, more and more ebooks are available for download, legal or otherwise. Some academic books even benefit from updates in electronic format more often than in paper format, and various enhancements to books, appendices, statistics or tables are often available only in electronic format.

The cost of textbooks is often very high, and students’ resources do not always cover a complete bibliography for one year. The covid 19 pandemic also caused university libraries to close, and then to reopen with very limited access.

It is therefore tempting to save several hundred or even thousands of euros per academic year through piracy.

Science, engineering, economics and law are the most affected – these are the fields where university books are indeed the most expensive.

The organization EducationData has taken an interest in the issue, and the situation in almost 10 years has become even worse for students.

  • A student spends an average of 20% of his student loan on books
  • The average student spends between $700 and $1500 per year on books
  • A paper book can cost up to $400
  • Each new edition increases the price of the book by an average of 12%
  • Between 1977 and 2015, the cost of textbooks increased by 1,041%.
  • The increase in textbook costs exceeded monetary inflation by 238% between 1977 and 2015.
  • 37% of postsecondary educators do not know the cost of instructional materials when selecting them for their courses.

Furthermore, as books go out of print, professors may allow or encourage students to illegally download copies of the books needed for their class; some students reported that professors have told them where to find them or even sent them the illegal links or files directly.

According to the findings of the Italian survey cited above  

  • 81% of university students have committed acts of piracy
  • 82% of respondents are aware that book piracy is illegal 
  • 64% thought they would not be caught or punished
  • 39% said they did not consider it a “serious or very serious” offense 
  • In Italian universities, an estimated 6 million copies of books go unsold each year 
  • 35% of the Italian population aged 15 and over have downloaded or received a downloaded book from an illegal source

Consequences for authors

Since 2009, when e-books and ebook piracy became popular, authors’ incomes have declined by 42%, according to a 2018 Authors Guild income survey, with the median writing income now so low – just $6,080 a year – that the poverty level for authors keeps rising. Moreover, a 2017 Nielsen survey found that those who admitted to reading a pirated book in the previous six months tend to be middle class, educated, and either men or women between the ages of 30 and 44, with an average income of $60,000 to $90,000 a year. Some, strangely enough, seem to genuinely like and respect the authors they pirate; they even seem to think that putting authors’ work online without paying them is somehow praise for their art. Book series are particularly vulnerable to piracy.

In our next article we’ll learn more about e-book piracy, and try to see if there are viable solutions to decrease it.

In the meantime, if your product is pirated, don’t hesitate to contact one of our account managers; we work with publishing professionals (fiction, non-fiction, scientific and academic publishing) every day, and have more than ten years of experience in this field.