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Ebook Sales Increase by 366%: Publishers Association Calls For Digital Piracy To Be ‘Tackled’

Ebook Sales Increase by 366%: Publishers Association Calls For Digital Piracy To Be ‘Tackled’

One of the beloved tropes of the copyright industries is that they are being destroyed by online piracy. Superficially, it’s a plausible claim, not least because of the false equation of copyright infringement with “theft”, and the lingering suggestion that every time something is shared online, a sale is lost. Of course, as Techdirt’s report, “The Sky is Rising“, demonstrated from publicly-available figures, the facts are very different: all of the creative industries are thriving.

Here’s news from the UK book publishing industry, where things are indeed looking pretty good given the current financial climate:

Consumer e-book sales increased by 366% to £92m [$150 million] in 2011, with sales across all digital formats accounting for 8% of the value of sales of all books, according to the Publishers Association’s Statistics Yearbook 2011, published today (1st May).

Just as significant is the following comment from the Chief Executive of the UK Publishers Association, Richard Mollet, who is quoted in the above article as saying:

“story of the year is a decline in physical sales almost being compensated for by a strong performance in digital”, with the combined sales of digital and physical books decreasing by 2% in 2011 to £3.2bn [$5.2 billion], according to PA data.

So you’d think the Publishers Association would be celebrating this resilience in the face of economic downturn, and underlining how its members are really getting the hang of this online stuff. But no:

Mollet said: “For many years now publishers have invested in digital products and services and this is being reflected in the increasingly mixed economy for books in the UK.

“However, online copyright infringement is increasingly making its presence felt for authors and publishers and that is why we continue to call on government and other stakeholders in the digital economy to work with us to do more to tackle it, and to ensure that the UK’s e-commerce performance is as strong as it can possibly be.”

Of course, no evidence is presented that the “presence” of online copyright infringement is a problem — it’s simply taken as a given, because that’s what the orthodoxy says. But here’s an alternative hypothesis: it’s becausepeople have started sharing ebooks online and making others aware of their virtues that the market is finally taking off. Now, that may or may not be true, but there is as much evidence for it as there is for the contrary position — that is, not much.

So before the copyright industries start calling for yet more government crackdowns on copyright infringement, with ever-more disproportionate measures and a concomitant erosion of civil liberties, they might like to produce some independent, peer-reviewed research that backs up their claims about the supposed harm of online sharing. After all, if anything, these latest figures from the UK publishing industry confirm that, once again, the Sky is Rising.


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