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Counterfeit books are a growing concern, especially in the educational sector. In fact, the problem is becoming rampant. Counterfeit textbooks cost publishers millions of dollars in unsold authentic books, authors lose royalties on their intellectual property, and students get shortchanged with inferior copies of texts. And if a student tries to resell a fake text, they could unknowingly be guilty of selling counterfeit goods. Here’s what’s going on and what publishers are doing about it.

Counterfeiting schemes

There are several ways unscrupulous people are making fake copies of books and selling them, scamming buyers, and taking royalties from authors. At the manuscript level, scammers solicit manuscripts from authors, make printed copies, and sell them on third-party sites like eBay and Amazon. Authors do not get paid and are usually stuck with pay-to-publish fees.

At the bound book level, copies are basically stolen from the publisher, printer, warehouse, or distributor and sold through other distribution channels. And one of the biggest schemes is when scammers obtain copies of a book, scan or copy the pages, and create a counterfeit copy that they then sell through other distribution channels — often ending up in student backpacks.

How to spot a fake

Knowledge is power. Book buyers can avoid buying counterfeit books by arming themselves with ways to spot a fake. Here are some ways you may be able to determine whether a book is legitimate or counterfeit.

  • Price is too good to be true — People often go to online marketplaces such as eBay looking for a good deal and sometimes end up buying a fake.
  • Poorer quality paper — Fake books will often have lighter-weight paper than the original, and the pages will be plain, rather than the typical glossy paper most often used in textbooks.
  • Book width and thickness — Books will often be smaller, in an effort for the scammers to cut down on paper costs. They may also be thicker or thinner because of inferior paper.
  • Quality — The overall quality of the book looks inferior. The cover art is often poor quality and the interior illustrations may be black and white or fuzzy. The book’s title and/or author’s name might not be centered on the binding, and interior text might appear blurry or pixelated. There may be typos due to the scanning and conversion process.
  • Binding — The book may look poorly made. The glue may be poor quality or a different color than the original and may be unevenly distributed along the binding. Headbands, the strip of colored cloth at the ends of the spine, might be frayed or off-color.

Combating counterfeit books

Book piracy and counterfeiting harms publishers, distributors, authors, and book buyers. Plus, it is illegal. Those whose livelihood is being threatened by book counterfeiting need to come together to protect the book publishing industry from this pervasive threat.

In an effort to halt the growing trend, several publishers and distributors have joined forces to raise awareness about the counterfeit book problem and create a set of best practices for detecting and mitigating it. Publishers, including Cengage, Macmillan Learning, McGraw-Hill Education, Elsevier, and Pearson, along with several distributors such as Barnes & Noble Education, MBS Textbook Exchange, and Follett have formed the Education Publisher Enforcement Group (EPEG). Their aim is to outline steps to verify suppliers, recognize fake books, and take measure to remove counterfeit texts from circulation. Best practices deal mainly with distributors, but publishers should be aware of them as well.

Best practice guidance covers these areas: “reducing the likelihood of distributors purchasing counterfeits by providing guidance on buying from legitimate suppliers; identifying counterfeit books before they’re put into a distributor’s inventory; and turning over counterfeits and evidence of counterfeit sources to publishers so they can focus enforcement efforts.”

One technology that exists to combat the illegal reproduction of books is Pantograph 4000, which embeds hidden warning words or images into a background tint of the file. When someone attempts to reproduce the page, Pantograph 4000 obscures the text with a message of the publisher’s choosing, rendering the copy useless.

In addition, when publishers think a counterfeit version of their book exists, they should take measures such as contacting the seller with a cease and desist letter. If the book is found on Amazon, they should report it by filling out the form on Amazon’s website.

Counterfeit books harm the bottom line and reputations of publishers and distributors, and they infringe on the intellectual property rights of authors. They harm the book publishing industry as a whole, as well as students and consumers. Publishers, authors, and distributors need to be vigilant in slowing the flow of these fake publications. They need to work together to create and improve on methods and technologies to reduce the threat of counterfeit books to the publishing industry.

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