circumventing book piracy: e-readers for children*

Publishing books without paying copyright fees to authors who have not been dead for longer than 70 years is defined as a crime in most societies today (with some very notable exceptions). This has not always been so, and in all probability will not continue to be so forever. Nonetheless, like most crimes, one reason it has not been wiped out has to do with insufficient enforcement by the state, but that doesn’t explain why it exists in the first place. A “zero tolerance” policy or a “crackdown” on piracy would actually benefit none of the actors involved: the state won’t be better or worse off, because it still will not be able to collect taxes the pirates successfully evade; the publishers of original editions will not be better off, because the readers of pirated editions will not start buying their more expensive books (if they could, they would have done so, when there were no “pirates”); and finally, the publishers and readers of pirated editions will naturally be worse off.

The bottom line is, people are eager to reach “content” at a reasonable price, and judging from the poor-to-middling quality of pirated editions, they don’t really care about the format. This ought to be a blaring signal for publishers to start producing what the customers want the way they want it, but let me spell it out: CHEAPER BOOKS! MUCH CHEAPER! One way to go is to print two versions of the same book (and mind you, we are talking about only 20 titles or so per year that really sell like hot cakes) – “quality paperback” and “mass paperback”, charging a premium for the first and selling the second dirt cheap, with variable copyright structures for the two (like 10 % for “quality” and 3% or lump sum for “mass”). Couple this with measures to lower other costs (like using print-on-demand technology for low-demand titles, outsourcing, cutting overhead costs etc).

Another way to go is e-publishing – the industry in Turkey is slowly waking up to it, but the new e-reader technology is something a socially responsible state would also look into very seriously: work with TUBITAK and produce an e-reader at a cost of TL 100, give it to 200,000 kids for free by spending TL 20,000,0000, provide thousands of out of copyright titles for free, and sign on publishers at TL 1 per downloaded copy by guaranteeing a minimum download figure, like 10,000. Keep it up for at least 10 years. Reap the results.

(in response to a question on book piracy by Today's Zaman, 21 March 2010. it seems the last proposal or something like it will be picked up by the government. it will be interesting to see how it will work out in practice.)

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