Book Counterfeiting: The Publishing Industry’s Quiet War

Fraud exists everywhere.  In our financial systems, our insurance markets, our entertainment industry, and even in baseball.  Anywhere there is a thriving economic ecosystem there are people trying to cash in on cutting corners.

The printing and publishing industry is no different.  Publishers are quietly fighting a war against a ubiquitous torrent of counterfeit books.  Faux literature that is displacing publishing revenues and undermining the hard work of those in the book printing industry.

What is Book Counterfeiting?

Book counterfeiting is a phenomenon impacting the print market for books.  In the simplest terms, counterfeiting involves printing content that a person does not have the rights to.  These are books produced illegally but often sold in mainstream channels like Amazon.

For the most part it’s popular or profitable titles of books that are often counterfeited.  Text books are a popular target because of their high demand and cost.  While there are ways to spot counterfeit books, some can be very sophisticated and almost indistinguishable from the real thing without direct comparison.

Who Does Counterfeiting Impact?

Those most directly affected by counterfeit books are the publishers themselves.  When individuals manufacture and sell counterfeit books, they are stealing sales opportunities from legitimate publishers who have rights to the content.

Counterfeiting has indirect victims as well.  When counterfeit books are made, it cuts a whole segment of businesses out of a book’s life cycle.  Printers, book sellers, distributors, and fulfillment houses all miss out on chunks of business when counterfeiters circumvent the process of obtaining legitimate rights to printing a book.

Consumers may also pay a price indirectly for counterfeit books. As publishers struggle to combat bleeding sales, they may turn to document security systems in an effort to keep the rights to their content safe.  This raises the costs of books for everyone.

Consumers may also unwittingly purchase counterfeit books that are out of date or incomplete rendering them useless for their intended purpose.

Why Should You Care?

There are a variety of reasons the average person should care about counterfeiting and avoid purchasing counterfeit content.

  1. Reliability: Individuals manufacturing counterfeit books have no regard for the content they contain.  They are in it to make money so they do not have a vested interest in making sure consumers are getting a reliable product like legitimate publishers are.  Content may be out of date, incorrect, or missing.
  2. Supplemental materials: Counterfeit books (especially text books) may not be able to include valuable supplemental materials that the original publisher intended to accompany the title.  Items like CDs, work books, and other additional materials often go missing in counterfeit books.
  3. Erosion of legitimate publishers: Purchasing counterfeit books on the open market makes it much harder for legitimate publishers to remain competitive. Larger publishers may be solid enough to endure, but smaller publishers are at greater financial risk to counterfeiting activity.

Spotting Counterfeit Books

Sniffing out a fake is tougher than it seems.  Counterfeiters have become extremely sophisticated.  They use similar materials, similar features, and similar pricing to the real deal.

Here are some tell-tale signs that the title you’re searching for (or found) is a fake:

  • The price is too good to be true: If a book is in high demand or you’ve seen it in other places for far higher prices, the cheaper version may be a fake.  Counterfeiters sell fake books at lower rates because they can.
  • Distorted artwork: If a title has blurry images and graphics on the cover or inner pages that could mean it wasn’t produced by a legitimate book manufacturer.
  • Low-quality paper: Counterfeit books are often made with lower quality paper.  This can make the overall book thinner and give it a feeling of cheapness.
  • Fuzzy or missing bar code: All books have an ISBN and bar code.  If this is not legible or missing then the book might not be a legitimate copy.

Keep in mind that counterfeiters only target high-demand books.  You probably don’t have to worry about purchasing a fake if the book you’re looking for isn’t popular.


Ultimately, book counterfeiting hurts everyone, not just the publishers that own the rights to the content.  Illegitimate goods take opportunities away from the people and businesses that have worked hard to create the real thing.

Consumers can do their part by avoiding the purchase of counterfeit books and manufactures can make sure that the publishers they are working with have the legitimate rights to content required to make copies.

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