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!

Cutting their own throats - Charlie's Diary

DRM is really a strategy for *reducing* the usability of an ebook: You can only use it on the right hardware, with the right kind of data connection, and while the server hardware is operating properly. The first time any of those things is not true, the reader is going to look for a way to access the content he paid for.

And he's going to find it, in the form of the hacked ebook or scanned and OCR'd PDF of the hardcopy. From then on, he's a pirate. And having already crossed the line, he's going to find that it's not only cheaper to read the pirate versions, it's easier and more convenient. Access to the content without the hassles of DRM becomes the "Gateway Hack" to not buying any books at all.

In fact, they may already have done it: For most authors, it is easier to pick up the latest version of the huge, combined all-in-one ebook pack (currently nearly 4700 books) than to find those of a particular author, and easier to find everything from a particular author than just one of his books. Ebooks are so *small* compared to video, or even audio (virtually every popular audio-book is also available) that they are all just combined into one giant mega-bundle. With one download, their quest for one usable ebook yields a library they couldn't finish reading in their lifetime.

I just looked up your name, and the combined version of *your* work includes not only all your novels, but all of your short fiction, non-fiction, interviews, and a snapshot of this very blog. A reader couldn't get that comprehensive a package from a legitimate source, at any price.

A very nice summary of a problem publishers either don't see or don't know how to deal with.

That being said, I DO want the authors I like to get money from their books.

True, I borrow rather than buy nowadays, when it comes to dead tree books, but that's because I don't really like reading on my iPad 1, and I don't own other readers. And also because it's one less physical thing to move.

Charles Stross has enough of a fan base *from* coming from traditional publishing that I believe he can indeed drop the middleman if he wants to.

But what about those writers who are just starting out? Realistically, they haven't got the reach, the polish, and the marketing that a publisher provides. Not to mention, having a dead tree publisher also helps with reputability. >.> I confess that if it isn't an author I know, then self-publish greys into fanfic or Legendary Times 'scrollers' for me. (LT is LegendMUD's newsletter that I used to subscribe to when I lived there.)

Not to mention that it isn't really possible to get a 'combined' version of an author's works without stealing. I assume this is due to all the different contracts associated with different books, across different publishers.

But if the only way to get something people want in a form they want is to steal it... >.> I dunno, but to me, that smacks of market opportunity.