An Open Letter To Scott Turow About Not Freaking Out About Book 'Piracy'
from the you're-doing-it-wrong dept
We recently noted that author Scott Turow had been elected as President of the Authors Guild, where his initial focus seemed to be all about the evils of file sharing. Thankfully, some are trying to talk some sense into Turow. Michael Scott points us to a fantastic open letter to Turow, from Brian O’Leary, about why his kneejerk reaction isn’t helping, and that he should be focused on understanding unauthorized file sharing, and what impacts it has (both good and bad), before jumping to the conclusion that it’s evil and must be stopped at all costs. Here’s just an excerpt, though you should read the whole thing:
First, though: I am not a pirate. I value intellectual property and believe its prudent defense can return value to its creators. But I’ve also come to believe, in this increasingly digital landscape, that the greater threat to many authors is obscurity, not piracy.
That’s why we started studying the impact of piracy on paid sales almost two years ago. On an admittedly limited sample… we’ve found an apparent correlation between piracy and subsequent growth in paid sales.
Now, you recently told GalleyCat’s Jason Boog that “…the larger problem for us is the pirating of books“. I ask, simply, “How do you know?”
There are no reliable studies of the impact of piracy in the book business. Because our sample set is limited, I include our own work to date in that bucket. The studies that are cited most often are based on sampling techniques that try to track the instance of piracy, then apply an assumed number for “substitution rates” (lost sales).
The Government Accounting Office recently “assessed the assessments” of digital piracy and found them all lacking. That’s not the final word, but it’s an indication that conclusions drawn on the limited data available are premature, at least.
In talking with GalleyCat, you went on to say that “(piracy) has killed large parts of the music industry.” But, the music industry is not dead, and there are studies that suggest that the more likely shift in buying patterns occurred when vinyl owners finished replacing treasured albums with CDs.
As replacement sales declined, purchase patterns also shifted from whole albums to individual songs. This was a trend that the music industry actively resisted, in the end fostering the piracy it wanted to prevent. The lesson here could be more readily distilled as: “Don’t take actions (like delaying the release of e-books) that frustrate consumer demand.”
There’s much more in the full letter, and it’s well worth the read. O’Leary suggests not that Turow ignores the issue, but that he takes a more open-minded, data- and evidence-driven approach to responding to this market issue. That is, don’t immediately assume the best response is “stopping” unauthorized copies, but collect some data to figure out how to best respond to the market situation. Hopefully Turow will actually pay attention and maybe rethink his position.