LONDON — A new study finds that online piracy of ebooks costs publishers an eye-popping $315 million a year, but perhaps even more astonishing is the profile of the person most likely to be illegally downloading the content onto their devices.

Piracy of entertainment content is certainly nothing new. Recording artists and movie production companies have long fought against material being wrongly acquired online, but book publishers certainly share the frustration.

“When it comes to book piracy, you can’t prevent what you can’t predict. This is the challenge for publishers as they grapple with preventing illegal piracy,” says Devon Weston, director of market development with Digimarc Guardian, in a news release.

e-book, kindle
People who download books online illegally are most likely to be college graduates who earn at least $60,000 a year, a shocking new study finds.

The study, commissioned by Digimarc and conducted via Nielsen consumer survey, found that nearly 31.5 million books were downloaded illegally in the past year by 16.5 million people — or 22% of e-book purchasers. With the average price of an e-book calculated at $9.98, that means $315 million was lost in sales.

One could infer the average book pirate might be a teen or young adults with little income or few educational achievements; but in fact, the survey revealed that more than 70% of illegal downloaders hold college degrees — and 32% earned post-college degrees.

And though 41% of illegal downloads occurred by young adults aged 18 and 29 — that segment still wasn’t the majority. In fact, 47% of ebook pirates are between the ages of 30 and 44. As for whether income plays into the act — most pirates are well-to-do, with 36% earning between $60,000 and $99,000 per year.

Incredibly, 29% of downloaders earn more than $100,000 per year — while those who earn the least in the survey (under $30,000) were actually the least likely to download a book illegally. That segment represented just 13% of the culprits.

“Our new Nielsen data makes it clear these pirates don’t fit a typical criminal profile. They access digital content from a vast universe of web pages, social platforms and file sharing portals. Our aim is to break down the problem for publishers and help them develop an effective prevention strategy,” says Weston.

It may be especially frustrating for publishers because a third of those who downloaded ebooks via piracy methods claimed they would have purchased the book legally if they couldn’t swipe a free version.

The methods for the downloads were fairly typical, with most occurring on torrent sites like Pirate Bay, cyberlockers like 4shared.com, or simply by being sent along from a friend. Surveyed participants noted that the convenience of downloading the material and not having to pay for them ranked as the top two reasons for taking part in the illegal act.

The study also detailed the reasons that would make a pirate less likely to download ebooks, the sites where they most frequently obtain the books, and an even larger breakdown of the types of people who download books illegally.

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