I was discussing the cost of books with a friend over coffee. Being a self confessed voracious reader, I would be reading a modest average of 3.5 books a month, mostly dabbling in Management thought and usually non fiction.
Given the continuous noise made about piracy of books and how they’re a crime against the author and the publisher, I could not but help think about the actual drivers of the same. Presenting my thought process for the same:
Who buys books?
Books are generally procured by two kinds of people, one, who buy books to show others that they read and two, people who actually, genuinely read them.
What is the average investments for these groups?
Group 1, the showoffs, would average two bestsellers a month, that being the general average of popular releases per month. Assuming an average cost of Rs. 500.00 per book, the average bill would be Rs. 1000.00.
Group 2, the readers, would average 3.5 to 4 books a month. At the same average cost per book, the reader looks at an average monthly bill of Rs. 2000.00
Now considering that the book pirates can offer the readers the same books, usually complete in all respects, at an average price of Rs. 100.00 a book, the reader lets pure economics decide upon the route to take.
So who buys pirated books?
The readers. One, because the truly genuinely want to devour the content of the books and two, given their voracious appetite for the written word, its less expensive to take the pirated option.
The showoffs on the other hand, wouldn’t mind investing in originals to add to their shiny unused collections.
Can piracy be combated by cracking down on pirates??
Maybe, but its not a sustainable solution. In the good old days, where a book was only in paper and the pirates were few, catching and punishing the majority of them could have stemmed the piracy business.
However, we’re in the 21st Century, where a book need not be on paper but can just be electronic, mobile or auditory. With the access to communication now with everyone, the myriad of ways that pirated books can now be made available to the audience is staggering. So physically cracking down on the pirates is akin to carrying a sword against a ballistic missile….
So can piracy be stopped in any way?
It would need an innovative solution. The most effective way is to tackle it economically. If it becomes economically unviable for the pirate to create and sell pirated books, the supply source would eventually get killed.
One way to do this is to make books affordable to a larger mass of people. This would entail lower margins to publishers, but eventually they would be able to make it up in terms of volumes. Thus, on an average, if the cost of a book is now reduced to Rs. 150.00, the showoffs will scramble to buy the books anyway, but a larger mass of real readers will now prefer to buy the original than a pirated copy. As the demand for pirated books drops, the piracy of books will fall drastically.
I find a lot of new publishers doing this. However, its a call the bigwigs need to take, and in the eternal spirit of “Penny wise pound foolish”, I don’t see that happening too soon.