Inside Europe’s Largest Text Pirate Site

Book Publishers Force Down Piracy Sites (Updated)

the takedown of library.nu and why piracy is the sign of marketplace frustration

All those books mentioned above are still out there. The piracy hasn’t been stopped.

There are people who packrat things just for such an inevitable day.

So the books have gone from one server hosting them to probably several thousand individual people spread out in different countries now doing it, with the books safely parked on their home computers, out of reach of everyone.

And they will be eager to give them to other people on a one-to-one basis, as you will see.

About a year ago, I was reading an article out of the Netherlands, I think it was, about the pricing of eBooks for that market. It was arguing that eBooks should have price parity with print books.

In the Comments was an objection with a defiant link to what it claimed was the largest text pirate site in Europe.

I was very curious. I’d never heard of this site before.

An account was required to access it.

I wrote to the sysadmin, included a link to The eBook Test, and said I’d like to have one-day access to it for a post. In fact, I insisted that he delete my account within twenty-four hours too. I wanted no way to get back in.

He agreed.

What follows are screensnaps from that site for a post I had intended to do at the time. But things got in the way.

With the news today about publishing and piracy, I thought I should finally get around to doing this. It’s still relevant.

Especially since this site is not one listed in today’s news.

First, don’t bother asking me what the name of this site is. I honestly don’t remember it. I just know it’s not any they have gotten to or we would have heard news of such a seizure.

Second, you’re not bound to find any clues in the screensnaps. I cropped and redacted these some time last year to cleanse all clues.

Third, these are all of the screensnaps. The original unedited ones no longer exist.

My goal was to get in, look around for an hour or even less, grab screensnaps, and get the hell out of there.

And that’s just what I did.

There are two components to this site.

The first is a massive library. Here is just part of the listing for the letter “G.” I recommend clicking on each for enlargement. It will prove a revelation.

If you’ve looked, you’ll have seen that most of these are intellectual texts. These seem to be the kind of things that college students would require in their classes.

Does that mean there’s nothing popular there? Wait and see.

But I want you to study those screensnaps. There’s no fancy graphics, no fancy scripting, nothing to bog down the browsing experience. This is the anti-Amazon, the anti-Kobo, the anti-Barnes & Noble, the anti-iBookstore for books. They have a better grasp of how their clientele operate than any of those professional stores! You can go through a ton of listings at once without any distraction or hassle.

Like any good store, they also have announcements of new additions:

Again, notice there are no blaring horns. This is all no-frills for people who value their time. They might not value intellectual property or respect the law, but if you don’t understand what’s at work here, then you don’t understand the word friction and you need to look at how your store is set up. Do you think it’s going to woo people who are used to this speed of access? It takes longer to build a single page of a pro bookstore just to do a simple fast search than it does to build a complete screen of book listings at this site.

Don’t dismiss that point. You want these people to become your paying customers some day. They’ve been getting better, faster service from a pirate site than most current stores offer. So why would they want to downgrade to the speed of an American Soccer Mom?

The second large component of this site is based on trust. This is the area where people request books and all those people who are packrats get to strut a bit as they fulfill these needs.

In that snap above, you will see two titles I’ve highlighted. That’s the only broader-interest material I encountered at this site.

But I wouldn’t count on it staying that way. I did not, then, think to search for Stieg Larsson’s books. They might have very well been there. Harry Potter too, although I have doubts about that.

These are what requests looks like:

Here you can see someone helped with a technical point. And then someone else uploaded the book!

Trust comes into this in that you’re expecting to get the actual book, not a decoy or other scam — and for it not to be infected with malware.

Remember that JSTOR piracy news last year that led to this — Swartz supporter dumps 18,592 JSTOR docs on the Pirate Bay?

Well, here’s a JSTOR request well before that action:

Notice how someone also chimed in to point out it was available in a book already in the pirate library!

Now this next request is going to make some people laugh — the less intelligent among you — and scare the shit out of others:

Balzac? He’s asking for Balzac? Isn’t just about all of Balzac in the public domain? So wouldn’t this request be freely available too?

Yes:

There it is, totally free from Gutenberg!

Those of you laughing at that, thinking the kid is just stupid, are missing the point: All this kid understands for getting books is this site.

That should scare the living hell out of all of you.

He never stopped to wonder if Balzac was free. He didn’t bother to go elsewhere. He went to the one place he knows and trusts.

Think about that.

Another request:

Hayek? Isn’t he available in e? Let’s go look at Amazon:

And looking it up at Amazon was a mistake. Why? Because I am looking it up here in America. That request is taking place in Europe. I don’t even know what country that request is from — so it would do me no damn good to look it up in Amazon over there, country-by-country. So before thinking this guy is a dirty filthy crook, start wondering if Hayek as an eBook is even available in that country. And don’t go smug and say he could just buy it in print — how do you know if it’s even available in print? Although we’ve seen requests that I’ve framed as possibly being from college students, I doubt that all of them are. For all I know, he (or she!) could be a budding Libertarian or some kind of political activist who has had that book given as a recommendation.

Another request:

Again, like with JSTOR, we get to a fundamental question: Who has access?

Is the person making this request a crook? Then you’ll be calling me a crook too because there have been times when I’ve asked a friend who has a subscription to the electronic version of The Wall Street Journal to email me an article. How is this request at this site any different from that? Just because person A doesn’t personally know person B it’s theft? Pull the other leg! Then come live in the real world of human beings. And when you do that, maybe you’ll start thinking about who has access to what.

Another request that’s been fulfilled:

That’s a book I wanted to read myself at one time. You have no idea how hard it was to get that legally in print from the New York Public Library at the time I wanted it. There were no copies available. They had been stolen or lost! And back then, there wasn’t the Sony Reader or Kindle. Did I buy or steal a copy in print? No, I shrugged and moved on. But not everyone is going to do that.

Here’s another scare-inducing request and fulfillment:

Again, legally or not, the text was widely available elsewhere for free. But the person making the request only knows and trusts and thinks of this site. That’s the kind of stickiness all sites aspire to have.

Another request:

And again I made the mistake of peeking at Amazon in America:

That’s just irrelevant, really.

Here’s the detail listing of that Heidegger that was mentioned in the Recent snap, back near the start of this post:

I wanted to see what the quality of this PDF was, so I downloaded it (and it has been deleted since last year):

I didn’t have the interest in PDFs then that I do now, so I didn’t even bother to look at the metadata of that for any details. What I had expected before getting it was a PDF of a crummy scans from a printed book. I was surprised that it was a professionally-produced PDF.

And although it’s irrelevant, I also went to look for this title at Amazon:

That’s doubly irrelevant. First, it’s here in America. Second, it’s in Kindle format. How do I know the people using this site can even get the Kindle reading software? PDF is their universal format at this site.

Here is a book that was posted — or shared:

And again I downloaded (which has been deleted for months) to investigate the quality of this:

Again, it was not a bunch of crummy scans (as might be found sometimes on, say, Scribd). It’s a pro-quality PDF.

Despite it being irrelevant, I still looked this up at Amazon:

And this one was interesting because it wasn’t available in e for Kindle. And look at those prices. Given the argument in Europe about print and eBook price parity, doesn’t it maker you wonder if whoever was publishing that PDF was charging the same price as print?

And here is another book that was posted — or shared:

I didn’t download that one. I figured a sample of two was enough.

But I was still curious, so I went to look up this one at Amazon too:

And look at that price — for a Kindle book!

So, to conclude:

1) Piracy cannot be wiped out. The best that can be done is to mitigate it with better pricing and wide availability (no regional rights).

2) Those who have become accustomed to the speed of access at pirate sites have to be accommodated likewise at legit bookstores. When people know what they want, let them get to it as fast as possible.

3) Don’t bother looking in America on Amazon to see if something is available in e. That only speaks to America, not the rest of the world.

4) People will fulfill their needs and it’s your job to try to get them to pay for that in a reasonable and compelling manner. Calling them crooks is not going to work. Look at those text titles. Every single one of those people are going to vote. Do you want them voting for the Pirate Party — or creating such a party in their own country? Let’s get something straight here: Your job is in their hands. You have zero grip on them. Absolutely none.

5) Pirate sites have a stickiness that must be counter-acted. Their users must be wooed, not cajoled. Again: Your job is in their hands.

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2 Comments

Filed under Digital Overthrow, eBooks: General

2 responses to “Inside Europe’s Largest Text Pirate Site

  1. This is a phenomenal post, Mike. Thanks.

    Imagine this site when:
    1) Everyone everywhere has their own quality book scanner at home;
    2) Instead of posting books online for download, the site is just a meeting place where you an request a book and have it sent to you directly by someone who already has it. On what grounds will anyone be able to shut down THAT?

  2. Pingback: Digital Graft And The Citizen’s Library | The well-prepared mind

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