Guest blog: Book piracy – as much as 10 percent of US book sales?

A study suggests that textbooks are the works most likely to be pirated.

As digital books enter the mainstream the way digital music did years ago, I suppose it’s inevitable that online book piracy is also on the rise. There’s no single Napster-type site for downloads, but a new study suggests that pirated books from a variety of sites represent roughly 10 percent of all US book sales.

The study of 913 books downloaded from 25 sites was done by The company specializes in online copyright protection and would, of course, have a stake in the results, but the raw data is intriguing regardless.

The average number of copies downloaded per title was highest for business and investment books (including 1,132 copies of Steven Levitt’s “Freakonomics” downloaded from just one of the 25 sites), according to the survey. Fiction was near the bottom of that list, with reference books ranking rock-bottom. Are fiction readers, then, more likely to buy or borrow books?

I wasn’t entirely surprised to read that popular biology and math textbooks had been downloaded some 3,000 times apiece from one site – textbooks are expensive, and students are notorious for both their comfort with technology and their frustration at investing so much in books they may only use for weeks or months.

But I was more than surprised to see that “Architect’s Drawings” a $67.95 book by Kendra Schank Smith, drew more than 10,000 downloads. Are so many more people online looking for free architecture books than math or science? Or was that book somehow easier to access, or available for a longer period? Even the Dan Brown book on the list, "Angels and Demons," didn’t reach those numbers (it had 8,177 copies downloaded at the site, according to the report).

It all reads like fodder for a follow-up study – one in sociology.

Rebekah Denn blogs at

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