At the Frankfurt Tools of Change one-day conference last week, Brian O’Leary presented the results, to date, of a study into the impact of piracy on book sales. It generated quite a little storm, helped along by some misunderstandings. So I recommend reading Brian’s level-headed response to it all. The study itself needs the participation of more publishing houses, and let’s hope that more join in.
The most important thing about the study is that it is a study, an attempt to gather some real data. As Brian pointed out to me afterwards, we may all differ on how we interpret the data, but let’s gather some in the first place. It’s a lot more useful than speculation and anecdotal evidence.
If I had a list more susceptible to piracy (EBW does very little publishing, and much of it is open-access) I would want to approach piracy like I should any competitor. I’d want to understand it in detail: why it happens, who does it, and how it affects us and our markets, so that we can figure out how to compete with it, even if it means putting some of our own books into the fray as guinea pigs and canaries.
So until we have more data to go on, perhaps we should treat a pirated copy as a competitor’s product. Just do better: deliver more conveniently and efficiently, experiment constantly, and draw customers to legitimate retail by adding social value, building relationships with and among readers.
There will be other, creative ways to outrun piracy, I’m sure. At the end of this month I’m attending the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s C&binet Forum, and I’m looking forward to seeing what ideas emerge there.