Written by: Sales and other figures that make you happy

Ebook piracy

Ah, hacking! One would think these days are gone… What with all the subscription tools at our disposal, and at a low price at that, users should have stopped using illegal downloading sites ages ago. Well, they haven’t! Do you want a creepy statistic? According to estimates, only one in ten eBooks is legally downloaded, in Germany… which means nine out of ten eBooks are illegally downloaded, via hacking platforms.

Thrilling, isn’t it? What a dream! The virtual world behind the scenes. There are indeed several reasons that explain why the hacking of eBooks is still such a popular trend: the first one is due to the multiplicity of eBook formats. Platforms like FNAC, for instance, use the EPUB format, while others like Amazon use a specific KINDLE format. Without a matching Kindle reader, reading eBooks you’ve downloaded on Amazon can get quite tricky. You’ll need a specific software to adapt them to your own reader, but before you even reach this stage, you will first need to get them on your own reader… When it’s so easy to just download them, in the right format, on a hacking site! It’s almost simpler; who cares if it’s illegal? Too bad for the author, the illustrator and all the people who’ve worked on the book. We live in a time where everything is free: YouTube content is free, music feels free because paying your Spotify or Deezer subscription has become a habit (and you can always choose not to pay any subscription, if you agree to listen to the ads) just like paying your Netflix subscription, and for those who have subscribed to Amazon Prime, Prime Video is included! We get the impression that so much is available for free. And while the Kindle subscription does exist, because the content is not entirely available on this protected specific format, some continue to download their eBooks illegally…

Statistics on illegal downloading are poorly documented in Europe, firstly because people are questioned on the basis of good faith. And of course not everyone will agree to admit, even anonymously, that they usually download eBooks illegally rather than purchase them legally or subscribe to a digital platform. Furthermore there isn’t much data on eBook sales in Europe; without a very clear and accurate figure as to how many legal digital readers there actually are, it’s even more difficult to detect the illegal readers. According to the latest statistics from a 2019 OpinionWay survey for SOFIA/SNE/SGDL, 22% of readers in France are digital readers, heavy consumers, meaning readers who consume far more books than the average French reader. If these readers tend to read more books per year than they used to, they also tend to spend much less and reach more easily to free books, promotional offers and… what a surprise: illegal downloading! 22% of digital readers have used illegal downloading, according to estimates, that is over one-fifth of digital readers. No reason to panic though, compared with the alarming statistics in Germany (little reminder: 9 eBooks out of 10 are downloaded illegally in Germany, and yes I do intend to state this again later in this post, because I just can’t get over that scary figure).

How did I become interested in illegal piracy? A friend of mine once told me she had discovered her books were all available on a well-known illegal download site and I thought to myself “umm, mine probably are too“. And of course I was right. So I began to wonder how I could fight these hacks, all the while believing they only represented “one-fifth of my business, nothing too alarming“. If only the statistics were right, that is!

As I took a closer look at the subject, I discovered my books were ten times more illegally downloaded than they were legally. Let me state this quite plainly: we are talking about 550,000 illegal downloads in 2019, compared to just over 60,000 legal sales for all my novels. There you go. Food for thought, isn’t it? With the Kindle subscription and the sale amounting roughly to 3 euros per eBook, that’s 1,650,000 euros of benefit disappearing, to put it bluntly. Because obviously lots of people wouldn’t have read the book in the first place, if it hadn’t been available for download. But then if only 10% of them had actually bought the books… It would have made for 165,000 euros, which is basically my 2019 income. It would double my income, plain and simple. Not that I need it. But just so you get the idea.

Should illegal piracy be tackled? There are two schools of thought on that subject. You can either choose to say, “Yes, I want to fight illegal piracy”: whatever your reason, you’re in the right anyway, it’s your work and your copyright. You can, for instance, choose to subscribe to a company that will identify all the links on which your work is illegally available. And then it’s up to you to have your books removed from these sites. For my part, I have used briefly (for two months) the services of a company that saw the whole thing to the end and actually removed my works from these sites by digital signature. I have found this solution to be quite effective! In the course of one week, and at very little cost, my sales have increased by 30% without any new eBook releases or promotions going on. Unfortunately, for various reasons, this company had to be shut down. As the other market players do not see the entire process to the end, one of my assistants is currently in charge of identifying the websites on which my books are available for free and taking the necessary steps to have them removed. I will measure the effect it might have on my sales for another three months and then decide whether I choose to carry on this way. Because of course, you can look at the whole thing in another way.

One strategy would be to say, ok my books are available for illegal download, but most of the downloaders don’t actually purchase the book if it’s not available for download. But then these people still talk about your work on social networks, with friends and family … They wouldn’t normally have bought your book, but being available for free, they have chosen it and read it and guess what? They’ve become your ambassadors. It’s actually very difficult to measure the effect of social networks, bookstagramers and booktubers on sales, but the effect is nonetheless real. One strategy, widely used in the United States, is to leave the first volumes of a series available for illegal download and remove the following volumes. If people have liked the series, they will purchase the following books… It’s easier to make someone purchase the sequel of a series he has already read than to get the same result when the person has never actually read any of your books.

I have tested this second strategy, despite myself, for many months, not realizing the huge amount of downloads. I am currently testing the first, that is I’m actually fighting, but I am not sure whether I will carry on with this any longer. I like to see numbers before making decisions. I’ve decided to measure the effect of removing my books from download platforms and see if it’s worth the energy, time and money I’ve invested in the fight. Because my assistant’s time is money! I’ll make an assessment in a few months time, but for now, let me share again with you the only two statistics I have at hand: in Germany, nine out of ten eBooks are downloaded illegally (because the Germans consider they should be free). Whenever one of my books is downloaded legally, ten other copies are possibly illegally downloaded in the same time.

According to the 2019 OpinionWay poll for SOFIA/SNE/SGDL, nearly 7 out of 10 readers have never turned to an illegal offer… I harbor strong doubts about that! Either people don’t easily admit the truth, even in anonymous studies (because let’s be honest here, would you admit to downloading illegally, even if you were told it’s anonymous? Especially when the conversation turns to copyright afterwards… you’d most certainly feel a bit guilty, wouldn’t you?), or the statistics I’ve gathered from various illegal download sites are completely wrong (which is also quite possible! But then, how can I explain this sudden 30% increase in my sales after the temporary removal of my novels from downloading platforms?). In all openness, it’s actually quite difficult to say who is right. And yet, illegal downloading of eBooks is real and has consequences. The negative side of it is quite clear: loss of income for the author. But there might also be a positive side: your book is spreading like wildfire…

If you want a little more information on how to fight eBook piracy, you can write to me via the contact page of my blog. I am always available to answer your questions.

I, for one, have decided to consider the illegal downloads of my books as a sign of success. There are so many of them, it’s just amazing! I thought I had a certain number of readers (according to my sales figures), but now I have discovered this whole other side I knew nothing about! In the end, it’s nice to realize one has so many readers. I have at least twice as many readers as I had imagined (despite the statistics of the study I’ve been sharing with you and according to what I’ve gathered from fellow authors, I can assure you there is at least one illegal download for every legal purchase), possibly even ten times more. Crazy, isn’t it?

Illustrations by the wonderful @blandine.pouchoulin

Last modified: 15 August 2020
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