Friday 13 May 2011

Bestselling author and ex-SAS soldier Andy McNab co-founded Mobcast Services Ltd in 2007. An early player in the eBook market, Mobcast is an award-winning digital book service, enabling software & platform solutions for major publishing houses, telcos, retailers & device manufacturers around the world. Andy has written an open letter to address the contentious issue of ebook piracy.

We founded Mobcast three years ago, in the firm belief that if people read emails on their mobile phones, then reading books via mobiles would not be far behind, and since then have been recognised as one of the leading digital book players. As the ebook market has flourished, we have brought in the best possible Chief Technical Officer to work with us: Francois Plancke from Musiwave, the guy who pioneered the creation of digital music stores for mobile operators with great success.

Piracy has always been a serious issue for music and it is increasingly becoming a big issue in the publishing world. Having spent time talking to Francois about what he has learnt from music piracy, I believe there are some key steps that need to be taken in order to minimise the impact of piracy on digital books and, as an author, protect my work – whilst making it as simple and easy as possible for customers to get the books they want.

Certainly, book piracy is nothing new. In a lot of cases, piracy stems from the digital theft of a physical book. For example, early proof copies of books that are sent out in advance for review or for sales purposes, have been scanned to PDF and then posted on File Share sites. Another more sophisticated theft, is to intercept the compositor of the digital copy when typesetting and create a PDF from that. At least for now, a lot of the pirated books are of poor quality. They are often only available in Acrobat format which offers a poor experience in terms of the ability to browse, sample and read on this basis. There is also the practical issue of what devices can be used for reading these low quality versions.

Taking down illegal books from file sharing sites is only a short term fix and both a time-consuming and expensive business as we have already seen from the music industry. Maybe it is better for us to invest these resources in other ways, to stop consumers from migrating to pirate sites that are always going to exist anyway.

Holding back on releasing a digital version of a book won’t stop it from being pirated. With so many of the illegal copies out there originating from printed proof copies that are then put up on sites, if consumers are going to read a digital copy, it’s better that they purchase them legitimately. Likewise, if you surround a digital book with too many security obstacles which makes it difficult to find, purchase and read, it will only force consumers to look elsewhere to get their book.

It is also important to realise that digital books have a quality of content that can not be pirated. These include: immediacy, personalisation, accessibility, discoverability and authenticity. As an industry, we need to understand and use these distinct properties in the fight against piracy.

In order to be successful, legal ebooks need to bring more value to the consumer than pirated ones and we can already see great progress in making this happen. The majority of legitimate ebooks are good quality because they are published by passionate people, who spend a lot of time and resource in making sure they publish worthwhile content. There are also opportunities to profit from additional content (merchandising, games etc) for blockbuster books, and we are seeing more and more examples of this being done very well.

Although not all books can be big blockbusters with additional merchandising sales, there is much to be done that applies to all ebook sales. Mobcast is continually developing and improving the all-round user experience; making it simple and quick for customers to purchase the books they want. We can offer more value for money by experimenting with new business models such as subscription, ad-funded and serialised books.

Subscription services for music (although arguably slightly late to market) have been very successful if they are combined with a good user experience. Spotify combines both subscription and ad funded models together with a great user experience and now boasts 1m paying subscribers. Vodafone are one of the largest music subscription services in the UK with over 450,000 users (January 2010) costing from as little as £3 per month when bundled with data tariffs.

At Mobcast we are committed to continually investing in these areas and ensuring our customers can access their content from any device and be assured a good reading experience. The steps we are taking won’t eliminate eBook pirates, but we hope will minimise the number of people of who get their books from illegal sources.

Andy McNab
Source: Booktrade