After Riding the Bullet
After Riding the Bullet
Simon & Schuster Online's high-profile e-book trial proved that e-books can be popular. This was good, but the Stephen King novella was popular enough to attract hackers. Now what?
by Rose Blessing
"We certainly don't fold up our tent here," says Adam Rothberg, director of corporate communications, the lucky one at Simon & Schuster Online assigned to answer reporters' calls on the issue of the hacking of the Stephen King e-book Riding the Bullet. "We believe in the e-book just as strongly as we did before."
But S&S Online also acknowledges that the event highlighted the importance of good security: "It's unfortunate, but some people are going to look at this (hacking) as a fun challenge," says Rothberg. "So we are going to continue to work with the e-book distributors to find ways to protect our authors."
Simon & Schuster Online made the 66-page Stephen King novella Riding the Bullet available for posting by various e-book distributors in mid-March, sparking a flurry of articles in the national press about e-book vs. print.
The book's suggested retail price was a low $2.50; Amazon.com promptly dropped the price to zero from March 14 through 28; some other Web sites followed suit. The book was amazon.com's first foray into e-book distribution.
(Simon & Schuster and King were paid even for the books that were given away free, comments Rothberg; retailers were free to set their own price.)
Simon & Schuster counted 500,000 downloads across all sites where it was posted within the first few days.
But even though the book was available free, within days the text of the book had been hacked and posted illegally on the Internet.
Industry players and ISP systems providers moved cooperatively and quickly to remove the pirated files, and in the end the piracy "was limited to a few sites which were shut down pretty quickly," says Rothberg.
The event sparked intense discussion about the merits of different types of security for e-books.
The NuvoMedia Web site http://www.ebooknet.com has given the issue significant attention. In an article so detailed it describes how the book might have been hacked, at http://www.ebooknet.com/story.jsp?id=1671, authors Glenn Sanders and Wade Roush outline the events surrounding the heist.
Two companies, they explained, Glassbook and Softlock, had distributed King's e-book in PDF file format.
Because the hacked file was a PDF file that contained four-color cover art that was distributed only by Glassbook, Sanders and Roush noted, it is likely that file attacked by hackers originated from Glassbook.
Glassbook concedes this likelihood, says Mary Ellen Heinen, vice president of sales and marketing for the company. Glassbook, she adds, is coming out with a new version of its software with features that would both enhance the user experience and offer improved security and tamper-resistance, including 64-bit encryption keys.
Nothing is 100 percent secure, but the e-book industry--like other industries selling digital content--is going to make money anyway, says Heinen. Heinen compares piracy in the e-book industry to "shrinkage" in the retail industry--the term applied to loss of product due to theft. It may simply be a necessary evil that all companies selling digital content simply have to be vigilant about.