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Martin Varsavsky

Martin Varsavsky

Posted May 3, 2009 | 07:40 PM (EST)

How Amazon, as Apple, Can Succeed in a World of Piracy


So far I have had 3 Kindles. Two came as a gift (one from Jeff Bezos). They did not last much in my hands. Alexa my eldest daughter got the first one and Isabella, my second daughter, the second one. They read more books than I do, they deserved them. But when I was going to get my own Kindle I learned that the Kindle 2 was coming out and I waited. I finally bought one last week. And I love it! I see the Kindle as a great single purpose device, right up there with the iPod or the Nikon D90 (my favorite digital camera). It does what it says it does: it makes you read books in digital format. It also has some other advantages like instant search for unusual words, or the ability to write notes with out destroying the original document (i.e. the book).

Now here's a comment about piracy and the Kindle.

If you go from simplicity to complexity and organize books, songs and movie content; as you go along the scale, you jump orders of magnitude in file size. A book like, The Age of the Unthinkable by Joshua Ramo, which I just ordered for my Kindle, only has 368KB in file size. A song tends to occupy around 10 times more than that. And if they ever made The Age of the Unthinkable the Movie, the file size, even compressed, will be 200 times bigger. In other words you can fit 200 books in the file size of a very compressed movie. And the world is loaded with movie torrents or movie files circulating the internet. Still it is surprising to see that there are very few torrents made of books in general. A torrent of the New York Times Best Seller list would take minutes to download and would give you a year of reading material. But so far the only books that I see torrents for are computer books.

Personally I think it is a matter of time until book torrents or book file exchange become common. But it is surprising that right now there are perfectly legal ways of downloading books and they are so rarely used. At ManyBooks.net you can download thousands of books. And these are books that Amazon actually sells. For example you can click here and get Rashomon for free. Or you can click here and get it for $3.99, your choice. And ManyBooks.net is not a "pirate site" but rather it gives books for free whose rights have expired. But it is surprising that even though these books are free only 6000 were downloaded this week.

Now one reason why torrents, and P2P may be less common in the world of reading is that there aren't so many people who actually read books compared to people who listen to songs or watch movies. Or as you can see from this eBook torrent list in the infamous Pirate Bay, the content that is available is ultra geeky.

But if I were in Amazon's shoes I would prepare for a world of book piracy and do what Apple does. As we know most iPods are not loaded with content whose rights are owned by the iPod owner. But Apple tells you "do not steal music" and the rest is up to you. They make a lot of money with the gadgets themselves (disclosure, I am an Apple shareholder). In my view Amazon should do the same thing. While books themselves are not pirated mainly because the cost of printing in bulk beats the cost of printing at home, digital books are incredibly easy to pirate. If so far book piracy was low was precisely because the Kindle and other eBook readers were not popular and reading books in the computer is painful. Also because people like books as objects when they are on paper but books quickly lose their love appeal when they go digital. Especially on the Kindle as that battery saving sun reflecting B&W is so repetitive. So if Amazon does things right, soon the only object people will love in the digital book worls will be the Kindle. And Amazon will design an eBook gadget collection in Seattle, have it made in China for $50 and sell it in USA for $359. And yes others will make book readers for much less but if Amazon accomplishes what Apple did and the object of love is the Kindle, then there will be a lot of money to be made.

In Spain, the country that I am a citizen of and blog from, downloading books, songs and movies for personal use is not punishable by law.