The study, presented Tuesday, surveyed 10,000 people and found that of the 23 million e-books downloaded in Germany last year, around 14 million came from illegal sources – usually file-sharing networks, private websites or forums. Industry insiders estimate that most of these are specialist literature used by students, such as medical textbooks from large publishers like Springer or Thieme.
Some might quibble with the GVU's definition of “illegal.” The Society for Consumer Research (GfK), which carried out the survey for the GVU, does not use the word in its own final assessment. “We never make a judgement on that,” a spokesman told the website of news magazine Der Spiegel.
But the GVU is not so coy. It counted all downloads as illegal if the user said they came from “file-sharing networks, hosting services, private websites, blogs, forums, ftp-servers, or newsgroups."
Many books are legally available as PDF or ePub downloads. The German-language “Project Guttenberg,” for example, contains over 5,500 books by 1,200 authors that can be downloaded and shared for free.
But Birgit Reuß, director of the Berlin branch of the German publishers and booksellers association, defends the GVU's interpretation of the survey. “One click in the appropriate file-sharing networks shows that normally these are commercial publisher's products,” she told Der Spiegel.
That's why one can assume that “e-books are generally being distributed illegally through these channels,” she argued.
Reports suggest illegal downloads can do relatively limited damage in the publishing industry. The GfK found that e-books made up 0.5 percent of the entire book market – though that figure does not include academic textbooks.
The survey also found that 64 percent of e-book buyers are men, and that an average of €10.40 is spent on each book. The publishers and booksellers association says the “love for printed books” and the “pleasure of bookshelves” is still very strong in Germany.