Book Pirates in [Pounds Sterling]5bn War of the Internet; Publishers Fear a Profits Disaster from Readers Using Wireless Technology to Escape Curbs on Illegal Downloads
Byline: TONY GLOVER
THE stakes are high. On one side are the internet pirates who are offering digital copies of the latest bestsellers such as Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol for free. On the other are the authors and publishers who are determined to stop the [pounds sterling]5 billion-ayear UK books market going the way of the music industry, which has seen revenues halve as a result of illegal downloads.
As The Mail on Sunday whetted the public's appetite for Brown's new novel by offering an exclusive chance to read key chapters of The Lost Symbol for free ahead of the book's official launch on September 15, websites around the world were gearing up with their free offering of the same book - but this time totally illegally.
The novel has since become widely available on many websites infamous for offering free pirated music and movie downloads, with growing demand stimulated by the launch of a new generation of pocket-sized electronic devices such as Amazon's Kindle and the Apple iPhone that enable consumers to carry and read digital books as easily as paper ones.
And digital books are expected to become massively more popular as the big electronics manufacturers launch glitzy celebrity-endorsed advertising campaigns such as the Sony Reader's use of the model Lily Cole and Jerry Hall, the actress, model and onetime Whitbread book prize judge.
The Lost Symbol's publisher, Random House, reports a growing appetite for digital copies of the book. It claims to be the only publisher in the UK with its own iPhone application and despite a price tag of [pounds sterling]14.50 a copy, Random House Group digital director Fionnuala Duggan said the mobile phone downloads were 'selling extremely well'.
But she added: 'The scale of piracy grows as the market for e-readers grows and the technology used to access digital content changes so fast that trying to legislate against piracy is like taking a photograph of a moving train. We believe the answer lies in tracking consumer habits early on.' The Publishers Association estimates that more than two thirds of reported digital sales in the UK last year were academic and professional titles. These are often hugely expensive text books that can tempt cash-strapped students to try to download illicit digital versions from file-sharing websites.
But according to Simon Juden, chief executive of the Publishers Association, industry margins are already squeezed and it would be 'a disaster' if UK publishers were forced to follow the US example of discounting digital books. …