News broke yesterday that a UK man was arrested for selling illegal copies of Harry Potter and other audiobooks. £85,000 worth of illegal copies, to put a finer point on things. In perhaps his only smart move, he plead guilty. And he still got 21 months in the pokey.
So that their is no confusion: this guy broke the law and deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law. He profited off of the work of another. Blatantly. He was not a “file sharer”. He was selling fakes on eBay. He was stupid and dishonest. Enjoy prison.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, the article as posted by the BBC gets me a little out of joint right here:
It is estimated his fake audiobooks resulted in a retail loss to the publishing industry of over £1m.
I highly doubt that. Full versions of Harry Potter are going for (according to the article) £300. He was selling them for £6.49. That’s a 98% reduction in price. Quite the bargain. Enough of a bargain, perhaps, to entice people to purchase the set who would not have considered spending £300 for the legit version.
I say this not to defend his actions. I think I was pretty clear on that earlier. Nor am I suggesting the court should reduce the length of his incarceration based on a reduced value. Nope. Not at all.
But I am suggesting that had Mr. Sloper not engaged in his scam, the publishers would not be £1m the richer. And rather then speculate on how much they would have made without Mr. Sloper undermining their hard work, I think it’s a better expenditure of our time to toy with this concept: how could they sell more?
To start, we have to assume that Mr. Sloper turned a profit on his six-and-a-half pound sale. He certainly didn’t do that by selling multiple-disc copies of the book. I’ll assume he was selling a DVD version, and likely in a highly compressed .mp3 format. Creating those en masse would have cost him under a pound or two — plenty of room for profit.
How much does the publisher sell a DVD, MP3 format version of these books for? Well… they don’t. A quick search of Amazon.co.uk turns up a single entry for the complete Harry Potter set — and it’s available in CD format only, selling for £227.50 currently. That’s well over 100 CDs, as each only holds 70 minutes of audio and the books total 125 hours of listening. Yikes! Even in mass publishing, I’ve got to assume that’s costing them at least $100 with packaging. Probably more. And if it’s less, I’ll bet it’s not much less.
I’m going to further assume that the bootlegger was using a ridiculously low bit rate, enabling him to fit it on a single 4.4 GB DVD. Now that’s going to sound like crap, but to save 98%… That, and this wasn’t a “try it before you buy it” method. Not like he had to worry about returns!
But the publisher would. If they stuck with a 96 (I prefer 128) kbps bit rate1, they’d have a great sounding (better than the popular download sites) audiobook on less than 10 discs. Now that saves a TON of cash. This would allow them to sell a seriously reduced price audiobook collection. How about £50? That’s a deal for all of the books. At that price point, consumers get to make a choice: do I drop the cash for the convenient CD version 2 or do I save money to get essentially the same product, though I may have to do a bit of work to get it playing on my audio playing device?
I think Mr. Sloper proved that many customers are OK with the last one. £85,000 worth of customers, actually. And without the promotional power of a publisher, mind you. The question is this: will the publishers see the opportunity and react? Or will they stick with their misguided assumptions and continue on their current path?
And hey, if you have access to BookScan numbers, I’d be interested to know how many copies of that audioboook collection are actually selling.
1 – Apologies for the number-puking here and above. This way anyone who wants to check my math can.
2 – If you consider lugging around some 100+ CDs convenient. Not me. Fewer, please.