Book piracy: Less DRM, more data - O'Reilly Radar

What's the current impact of piracy on the book publishing industry?

Brian O'LearyBrian O'Leary: We don't know. Some people will tell you that it's the biggest problem facing publishing or that ebook piracy will kill publishing. None of those perspectives are informed by solid data.

We undertook research two-and-a-half-years ago with O'Reilly, and we've been studying Thomas Nelson as well, to measure the impact of piracy on paid content sales. We approached it as if it were cooperative marketing. We would look at the impact of what sales looked like before there was piracy, say for four to eight weeks, and then we'd look at the impact of piracy afterward. Essentially, if the net impact of piracy is negative, then you would see sales fall off more quickly after piracy; if it were positive, the opposite.

Data that we collected for the titles O'Reilly put out showed a net lift in sales for books that had been pirated. So, it actually spurred, not hurt, sales. But we were only looking at O'Reilly and Thomas Nelson. The results are not emblematic of publishing overall. It could be more conservative, it could be less conservative. We just don't have enough data. I've tried to get other publishers to join in, but it really hasn't been a successful mission. Even at a low- or no-cost offer, publishers seem reluctant to collect the data required to reveal the true impact of book piracy.

Now, you could argue that O'Reilly's target audience is different from say, music and film industry audiences - and you'd be right.

However, O'Reilly's target audience is much more technologically savvy than the general music and film industry audiences - and therefore much more able to grab stuff and run away without paying, if so inclined.

And yet there was a net lift in sales for books that had been pirated.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of chest-banging around the issue of DRM, and not all that much hard data or research. Need moar infoz!