Publishers’ Online Headache

With tablets come opportunity, but also online piracy

With mobile devices, magazines have more ways than ever to distribute their content—and more ways of getting ripped off.

Like the music and movie businesses before them, magazines are getting their own taste of piracy with the spread of tablets and handheld mobile devices. It’s easy for thieves to digitally swipe magazine issues and post to BitTorrent sites.

Publishers say piracy is concentrated overseas where no sooner do they get a site shut down than another one pops up in its place. And with all the focus on distributing their content as widely as possible, they don’t really know the scope of the problem or what it’s costing them in lost sales.

“[It’s] a real problem for the future as we get a lot more of these devices out there and it becomes harder to police it,” said Declan Moore, president of publishing and digital media for the National Geographic Society. “There is a general concern that, among the younger generation, there is a disregard for intellectual property.”

With just a few keystrokes, he found an online search engine offering a full year’s worth of interactive Nat Geos (as well as what appeared to be a liberal selection of soft porn). “That’s not authorized, I’m pretty sure,” he said.

Dan Lagani, president of Reader’s Digest North America, said the pirated editions of Reader’s Digest that he sees tend to be lower-resolution and lack the interactivity that the magazine has built into its iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook versions. “It’s not the same consumer experience.”

Publishers said it’s their static digital editions, often those sold on digital magazine marketplace Zinio, that are easiest to copy, suggesting that as they add more enhancements to their digital magazines, the problem will subside. Zinio is no bit player in the space, with more than 5,000 titles around the world.

“Theoretically, if you got rid of your Zinio version, you’d eliminate the piracy problem,” said Gregg Hano, CEO of Mag+, Bonnier AB’s digital publishing platform.

Zinio said it’s aware of the problem. The company said it has a team tasked with eliminating piracy and is working with the publishing industry and law enforcement to go after large-scale pirates.

At least, in one publisher’s view, people are taking an interest. “The glass half-full way of looking at it is that they’re looking at your content,” Lagani said.

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