Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Will piracy of print publishing begin to increase as more publishers adopt paywalls and digital publishing solutions?

A year ago the New York Times pusblished an article on the rise of book piracy -- a form of digital piracy all too familiar to music and film producers. Now, a year later, and with the iPad joining the Kindle as the world's favorite reading devices, electronic piracy of print products is becoming an even greater concern.

Book publishers are easy targets for e-pirates as most books convert easily into PDFs. These PDFs can then be read on the user's computer, or now on tablets. A PDF of a book is essentially a Kindle edition -- exact replicas that offer the ease of electronic reading (font control, zooming, and the like).

→ The unique layouts, animation and video content of Mac|Life's new iPad app makes the product less susceptible to electronic piracy.

But now that the iPad is well established, and more tablets are about to be released, the issue is of print piracy is spreading. NPR's All Things Considered recently ran a piece on the issue as it relates to sheet music.

But as newspaper and magazine publishers begin to construct paywalls, and as they begin to launch replica editions of their publications for tablets and smartphones, they, too, could become targets for the pirates.

Most music and print pirates, unlike DVD pirates, are not sharing content for financial gain. But the effect on publishers is still the same. Nonetheless, there are a couple things a publisher can do to lessen the effects of print piracy.

First, one can continue to pursue an advertising model online, rather than build a paywall. The Times (UK), for instance, would be a natural target of any print pirate now that they have put their website behind a paywall.

But many want to pursue a paid model online so the next logical thing one could do is to not pursue a replica edition strategy for mobile and tablets. By simple producing an exact edition, one would be creating a product that will not differentiate itself from a shared PDF version.

The New York Times received a lot of flak for its first iPad app as it severely limited content; quite a number of iPad owners expressed disappointment in the app. But one thing the app did do was to re-imagine layouts for the new tablet. Because of this, it created an unique product less easily copied.

The problem with most replica editions is that the publisher pursuing this strategy is not thinking through the user experience of the reader. A PDF based copy of their newspaper or magazine is produced to be read on a device with a three inch screen, seven inch screen, or nine inch screen -- are all these experiences the same? Just visualize your own magazine or newspaper if the print edition came in three different sizes.

Because of this, designing native solutions seems desirable if trying to optimize the reader experience. But the side benefit to this approach is that this new product is less easily pirated. Who would want to read a replica copy of a print product on an iPad if a product specifically designed for that device were available instead?