There are quite a few blogs and articles discussing the free ebook site ebooksplus, focusing on different aspects of and problems with their idea. In February of this year, Good E Reader blog author Mercy Pilkington posted an article briefly summarising the online ebook platform and discussing its potential for the reduction of book piracy online; if books are legally available for free, why would anyone resort to illegal downloads to get the content they want?
I see a couple of problems with this idea. First is the issue of what content ebooksplus will be able to make available. Pilkington’s article explains that the site pays its authors and publishers from the money given to them by advertisers. There will certainly be authors and publishers who are wary of the way this new platform works. Publishers might question how traditional ideas of rights territories and distribution are dealt with when anyone in the world can have access to these books. Authors may think that readers will be unwilling to deal with ads in their books, or they may want to have control over what kind of ads their books are associated with. There isn’t much point to a free ebook platform that doesn’t have access to a good amount of current and popular content; people will resort to piracy if they feel it is the only means available to get the content they want.
Another problem is the fact that readers simply might not want ads in their books, however much the price is reduced. If both the pirated and the legal versions are free, people might choose to illegally obtain the book to avoid the ads. Everything on the internet, from flash games and Youtube videos to our own social media profiles, are riddled with ads; people looking for free ebooks might not immediately make the connection between the presence of ads and the fact that they mean authors and publishers have been appropriately compensated. Even if they do, they might choose to pay money for a copy of the book to avoid the ads, and ebookplus would ultimately fail.
ebooksplus.com, until very recently, had nothing on it but a call to sign up for their newsletter, so I haven’t had a lot of time to see how user friendly their platform is, or what measure they have taken to deter piracy themselves. Introducing a free online book platform might even increase piracy, because it provides an opportunity to easily get a hold of a lot of text that could potentially be disseminated as pirated content. If ebooksplus.com is appealing and easy to use, if the ads are as unobtrusive as they are made out to be, and If there have been precautions taken to make books more difficult to be pirated from the site, this platform could have interesting implications for the future of digital distribution and the availability of free books.