Pub Rants

Pirating Made Easy

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STATUS: Very chaotic and busy today. Logged a lot of phone hours for a negotiation, a revision phone conference, and a possible Hollywood deal.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? EVERYBODY HURTS by R.E.M

Today, one of my authors sent me a very interesting link. Basically you can Google to find a tutorial on Scribd that gives you instructions on how to easily download a Google Books “Limited Preview” book in its entirety into PDF.

You know the “partial” preview that is sometimes enabled on Google Books? Well, these instructions tell you how to get around the partial views to download the file. All of it.

Yep, pirating made easy.

Needless to say, I’m not including the link to the instructions on this blog (although if you’re curious, I imagine it’s not hard to find the link.)

One of the issues in this digital age is how authors will get paid for their intellectual property. And no, I’m not going into the whole DRM debate in this entry.

What I want to say is this. If you are a published author with the preview enabled on Google Books, tell your publisher about this quaint little feature on Scribd and the issue with Google Books preview.

35 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Okay, I’m human–I understand wanting to get something for free. But if these people are fans, and enjoying the product, don’t they understand that every stolen copy is one less sale for the author? Whose writing they supposedly like? One less book going toward earning out=one $ less likely the writer will get the chance to do another one, right?

  2. MeganRebekah said:

    I am very interested to see how a lot of this plays out in the end.

    As for the preview option — I’ve never used Google books, but I know I love the preview feature available on the Amazon website and through my Kindle. Maybe there’s another way Google Books can offer previews without them being attached to the actual book or download.

  3. MeganRebekah said:

    Anon — readers don’t think of it as taking money from the author. They see it as saving themselves money. And most likely they view all authors as being millionaires who can afford to miss a dollar or two.

  4. BuffySquirrel said:

    Doesn’t surprise me. In fact, it was almost the first thing I thought of when I learnt of Google’s books venture. But then I always figured that was a form of piracy, too.

  5. jjmcgaffey said:

    Are these previewed books available as ebooks for sale? From what I see, despite them having been digitized for the previews, to buy one you’re looking at a paper copy.

    Personally, I own a lot of ebooks and their paper counterparts. Baen Books puts out (just about) all its books in both formats, and I get them that way (though I often buy the paper ones used…oooh, piracy! No royalties to the author!). If Google was allowed to sell the ebooks, there’d be less reason for someone to ‘steal’ them.

    Not an author myself, but an avid reader and book-buyer, in both paper and e-copies. I like Eric Flint’s view on the subject – he _is_ an author, and has done some actual studies on ‘what happens if the ebook is easily available? What happens if it’s available free?’ Interesting results, too. and the Prime Palaver link on the left side. #6 has the data on sales before and after the free ebooks went up.

  6. DebraLSchubert said:

    As a musician as well as a writer, I’m wondering how this is different from copying a CD? The artist doesn’t receive a dime from the copied CD. It’s impossible to guard from all piracy. It’s part of the game.

  7. Aimee K. Maher said:

    Books nerds will be looking to strike just as much as the music nerds did (Hey, I’m a book nerd, but an honest one). It’s all so scary in out there when things are loosed on the innernets of the webiverse. Maybe that’s why the publishers are so reluctant for this to catch on?

    I learn little and lots each day…

  8. Anonymous said:


    At least with the CD, they bought one copy. This is Google Books providing a preview snippet of the book, but someone has figured out how to pull the whole book down. No need to even buy that first copy. In the case of copying a CD, if you bought it and then wanted a version for your ipod and your car, that’s one thing. It’s another to copy it and make it available for thousands to also copy. As others have said here, that’s just ripping off the artist or writer — twice. The first time, the artist doesn’t get paid. The second time, they don’t get another book deal because the sales were low. It took me a year to write a book. I’d like to get something out of the ‘game,’ even if I can’t get all that I’m due.

  9. Adrian Lopez said:

    The document I found describes a means of obtaining approximately 65% of a book offered in a limited preview, and then only 50 pages at a time before you have to renew your IP address. That’s hardly a way “to easily download a Google Books ‘Limited Preview’ book in its entirety into PDF”.

  10. Anonymous said:

    It’s impossible to get 100% of the book from Google via these types of hacks. (I’ve tried) There is a certain percentage of the book that they *never* serve to any user, so there is no way for one of these hacks to piece together the whole book. Seriously. Try the app that you found on the internet and report back to us if you *actually* are able to download the whole book. My hunch is that you never actually tried the downloader app that you’ve blogged about. If you’d rather that nobody find your book when they search on Google, I’m pretty sure that you can tell Google to remove your book and they will. All the new books on that site are put there by the publishers because they realize that the exposure to Google searchers and the partial preview leads to *more* book sales.

  11. Emma O W said:

    I guess this gives all the more reason for publishers afraid of the internet not to use GoogleBooks. Pity!

    Unfortunately, I think that a lot of people are unaware that they are actually breaking the law. My husband is a musician and you wouldn’t believe the fan mail he gets: “I love your music. I have everything you ever put out. Oh, by the way what are the lyrics for […]” — the lyrics are all printed in full in the booklets. If you’re going to pirate something, don’t tell the copyright-holder.

  12. Anna said:

    Thanks for the heads-up, Kristin. I’m constantly saddened by how easy it is to steal artists’ intellectual property nowadays, and how many people fail to see anything wrong with it. I hope there’s a way to fix this!

  13. Anonymous said:

    @ Emma O W: When you buy songs online, they don’t come with the lyrics. You know, iTunes, Amazon?

    @ Ms. Nelson: I found the same tutorial as Adrian Lopez, so I’m not quite sure where your “All of it” came from (unless there are other tutorials). I once found a page in a Google Books preview that had a chart I liked. I wanted to have it on hand, and I can say from trying to figure out if it were possible to make a copy of that page that figuring Google out causes headaches.

  14. Liana Brooks said:

    Anon- Unless the reader has a better-than-average understanding of the publishing industry they don’t understand the pay structure. So, no, they won’t understand that a free PDF means lost sales, lost profits, or authors not getting another contract. The reader sees a free book. And who doesn’t like free?

    As annoying as this is to hear, I’m really not surprised. Everything digital can be hacked. It was just a matter of time before someone tried pirating books.

    It’s something the publishing industry will have to address and deal with before to long. The sooner the better, really. I the meantime, I suppose we can hope for the best.

  15. carla said:

    I suppose this is one of the
    “kinks” in a new system. This will have to be addressed as a technical problem. Otherwise, too many people fail to make any profit.

  16. Sha-Sha said:

    This is just the book world catching up to the music world. Musicians and songwriters have been losing money on pirate copies for years. Copying CDs for friends – one friend pays for it and makes copies for everyone else. Also, it happened on sites that allowed file sharing for music. Finally they got sued, but how much money did songwriters lose before that happened?

    Google isn’t the only way to get free copies of books, however. There are sites out there that scan books and allow you to donwload the files for free.

  17. Marie Devers said:

    I think a writer’s only recourse is to load these digital copies with pop-up ads and viruses.

    I don’t download music for free anymore because I grew sick of the viruses and of constantly having to run ad-aware. Now, I pay a dollar per download. I get a nice, clean copy of a song and the peace of mind that comes from not trying to get something for free in a dishonest way.

  18. ryan field said:

    Authors are fighting this daily. It’s always mentioned in the yahoo groups and it’s very frustrating. And trying to keep track of it is like holding down another part time job.

  19. Pär said:

    I’d heard that Google books was just another way for an author to get noticed. No downside.

    Thanks for the reality check.

  20. MeganRebekah said:

    Marie, I think you might be onto something.
    Why can’t publishers have two versions of the ebook available on their own website.
    (1) Have a book that people can buy for less than $10 (Ebooks shouldn’t cost more than that!)
    (2) The second version is free to the consumer, but comes with ads. If the publisher had 25 ads that appeared once every 10-15 pages, and charged only $.30 per ad, they make almost $10 per book from the advertisers.

    Personally, I would pay for the book myself because I despise ads, but having the free version paid for by advertisers is brilliant.

    If the publishing business jumps on these opporunities, they’d be set.

    Advertisers pay $.25-$1 for a single click through Google Ads. Why wouldn’t they pay that much for a chance to advertise in specific books or genres?

  21. Evangeline said:

    Hm, had to school some True Blood fans on illegally downloading Charlaine Harris’s books, but you know what? They didn’t care, especially those who didn’t live in the US and considered the prices unfair(one person said a paperback version cost $23 in their country). I can understand that sentiment, but it’s the US people who do see themselves as saving some money that irritate me. The rise of illegally downloading music has made everyone feel entitled to have free access to their entertainment. So you know what? I second Megan’s suggestion of putting ads in free copies of e-books, and I also wish international e-versions of a book (translated, natch) were released if foreign rights aren’t sold (after all, a lot of pirated books [or movies for that matter] are translated works b/c other countries don’t have access to them. But anyways, I foresee a HUGE mess if publishers don’t step in and figure out how to satisfy their consumers beyond the print-US market.

  22. Torsten Adair said:

    Once again, I will recommend Cory Doctorow’s “Content”. It’s free online (available in just about any format you wish to download, including MP3!).

    In case you missed it, earlier this week, Amazon filed a patent (not yet granted) for displaying advertising on electronic books.

    I remember, back in the early 1970s, paperback publishers would include advertising inserts in the middle of books. (Harlan Ellison argued with his publisher about cigarette ads in his paperback editions.) Did this reduce the cost of the paperback?

    My blog uses Adsense. I think I’ve earned $0.02 since I started. If Amazon or the publisher inserts ads, does the author get a share of revenue generated? Can the author limit who advertises? (Methinks this is one more concern for agents.)

    I suspect Google is already working on this bug. A similar bug existed when Marvel Comics initiated their digital subscription service…someone was able to hack the URL and download everything available. It was quickly fixed. (Of course, almost every DC and Marvel comicbook is already available illegally. That snowball is already rolling down the ski slope.) offers previews from Zenio, and I suspect there is a way to hack that as well.

    People will always steal. People will also pay a modest fee if the product delivered is guaranteed, even if it is available for free somewhere else.

    (And I’m so aware of royalties, if an author signs a book I got for free, I’ll give them a dollar.)

  23. M. Caliban said:

    Limited Previews on Google books are safe. You CANNOT download the entire book.

    I can’t believe you’re giving authors advice based on a random e-mail you obviously didn’t verify.

  24. Taymalin said:

    I tried it out, to see if it would work, and it didn’t. I couldn’t download any of the pages that weren’t available in the original preview. I think people worry too much about it.

  25. AstonWest said:

    And much like torrent sites, people who are going to go out of their way to steal your books to read them likely weren’t the type of people who were going to buy a copy anyway…as many have said before me, we should worry more about obscurity than piracy. :-\

  26. caro said:

    FYI, it’s not 100% of limited preview books, but 65%, which is already visible through Google Books anyway.

  27. John Mellor said:

    Every download a lost sale? What nonsense – this is a scam peddled by record companies frantically trying to shore up their collapsing, greed-raddled business model. AstonWest is right; huge numbers of downloaders would not buy the product anyway. However, as the more intelligent artists are beginning to realise, they will tell thousands, perhaps millions of others about it. The potential free publicity is simply mind-boggling. I believe the singer Prince distributed free copies of a CD through an English newspaper, resulting in publicity that earned him millions from a series of concerts. The lining in this cloud is not mere silver – it positively glistens with gold. All the artists have to do is learn how to use it. As Canute wryly observed, even the greatest cannot stop the rising tide of change; the enterprising, however, can float their boats on it.

  28. booklover said:

    I am against piracy, however recently I have had a couple of experiences that baffles me. Last week, I stumbled upon a non-fiction book that I really, really wanted. Curious I went to the publishers webpage, and discovered that the book costs 300 dollar. I cannot afford to pay 300 dollar. 100 dollar? Yes. But not 300.
    So, in cases like this, the publishers could do more.

  29. Suzanne Allain said:

    In a lot of these discussions about book piracy, the book industry is compared with the music industry. While there are some similarities there is a major difference: Musicians make hundreds of thousands of dollars performing live; authors don’t have this option. So when people steal our books we have no option for future payment. That “free publicity” doesn’t really work for an author like it does for a musician, who might make a fan who will pay to see him in concert. Is someone going to pay to watch us write our next book? No, and we won’t have any time to write that next book because we’ll all have to go out and get a job where we’re actually paid for our work.

  30. John Mellor said:

    Suzanne Allain is quite right to say that writers are in a different situation from musicians. However, both have to face the fact that the distribution of any digitally reproducible work has to change dramatically. Whatever the perceived injustices and whatever the legal technicalities, the simple fact is that it is no more possible now to charge directly for what can be put on the internet than it is to charge for the air we exhale in the street. The internet is more of a digital atmosphere than a market place, and to get financial reward for artistic endeavours the artists must work out a new business model. As I pointed out earlier this is actually quite easy for musicians, and as long as no-one pines for the days of the controlling middleman, there is potential for huge benefits to both artist and audience.

    Writers have never had the money-spinning potential of live concerts anyway, so that comparison is not entirely valid. They do have the advantage that huge numbers of readers like to hold a paper book in their hands while curled up in bed or by the fire, and this is likely to hold true for many years yet, even with the advent of electronic readers. In the short term this needs to be capitalised upon while a solution is developed for the day when electronic readers become indistinguishable from paper books (apart from being able to hold your complete library in their innards). Those who download PDF files and screenshots are most unlikely to buy the paper books anyway, but the publicity may encourage many others – who previously would never have heard of the books – to do so. I have made my new book free to read on Scribd with precisely that in mind.

  31. carla said:

    I am middle aged. That is not comforting. No matter how much I whine and complain about it, I ain’t gonna get any younger. So, I try to remember that the energetic younger people that I have to deal with everyday are not the cometition. They are me several years ago. The problem is not how young everyone else is, but how I indulge myself in a nice pity party.
    In other words, stop whining.

  32. Anonymous said:

    This isn’t something one can stop. Sure, you could change Google Books security and stop this stream but you can’t stop this sort of thing from getting out there.
    No way.
    The goal needs top be to provide people with two things:

    1- an easy and affordable e-book that is superior in some experiential way to the pirate versions. This may mean more author appearances, associated content and the like.

    2- alternate revenue streams and increased profit fro the streams that will soon compete more aggressively with traditional print. This may mean taking on Harper Collins new model or doing something similar. it may me tying books more directly into larger entertainment products to be released in package of sorts.

    But the industry cannot stop the piracy nor the appearance of an affordable e-reader which will shift the paradigm.

    Things are going to change in every entertainment field. What has happened up to this point is only the beginning. We’re all working in, or looking to work in a 19th century field that is outdated. We all better try and figure out what comes next.

  33. Anonymous said:

    “…the simple fact is that it is no more possible now to charge directly for what can be put on the internet than it is to charge for the air we exhale in the street.”

    Except on Mars when you have Ronny Cox running the show.