Ongoing Piracy Study Elicits Interesting Data
How does making a book—or a portion of it—available for free affect its sales? Does piracy erode sales or drive interest?
Publishers continue to debate the impact of free and pirated content despite the relative lack of data to help steer their strategies. Brian O'Leary, principal of Magellan Media Consulting Partners, is aiming to change this with an ongoing study.
He led a Thursday morning session at BEA titled, "The Impact of Free (and Piracy) on Book Sales: An Update on the Piracy Project," at which he presented some hard data culled together by the daily monitoring of piracy of O'Reilly Media's 2008 front-list titles on peer-to-peer (p2p) Web sites since fall 2008.
Among O'Leary's primary findings thus far: The piracy threat may be overrated at this point, he said, as he found a low incidence of O'Reilly books being "seeded" (uploaded) and "leeched" (downloaded) illegally on p2p sites. In fact, he found that just eight of O'Reilly's 2008 front-list titles were pirated through early 2009, and that the average post-seed sales of these titles increased 6.5 percent in the four weeks following their appearances on the site. Further, he saw a low seed and leech volume of those titles that were pirated.
Since February 2009, 13 more O'Reilly titles have appeared on the sites, and these books' post-seed sales fell by an average of 4.2 percent in the four weeks after their appearances.
Among the more surprising observations made thus far, said O'Leary, was that there is a very clear second peak in sales of pirated books immediately after the titles first appear on the p2p sites.
O'Leary admitted that he's dealing with a very small sample size to date, and while he didn't report having any definitive agreements in place with other publishers to expand the study to their front lists, he said he's had some positive discussions and is hopeful he'll be able to set up similar arrangements to the O'Reilly study.