Why Won't Copyright Holders Run Studies On The Actual Impact Of Piracy?

from the wouldn't-they-want-to-know dept

A bunch of folks have sent in this recent O'Reilly Radar interview with Brian O'Leary, concerning the data on the impact of ebook "piracy," with many pointing to the following quote:
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.
Of course, if you read the details, he's actually saying this is from a study from a couple years ago, and the focus of his point is that there really isn't enough data to say yet. He's hoping that other publishers will work with him to do more research on this subject, but so far, they haven't.

O'Leary, correctly, points out that there are lot of factors involved and it would be nice to have more data to look at the actual impact. But what really struck me is that line about how publishers simply aren't willing to collect the data and study the actual impact of unauthorized copies. I'm trying to figure out why this is. There are so many copyright holders who whine and complain about the impact of unauthorized copies, that you would think they would be all over the idea of working with some researchers to figure out the actual impact (good or bad), so that they can respond accordingly. That they refuse to do so seems oddly telling. It's as if they don't want to know. I can only speculate as to why, but as a guess, I would imagine that some firms are afraid of finding out that the impact isn't as bad as they think (or, as O'Reilly discovered, that it's positive on sales, rather than negative), and suddenly they've lost their "bogeyman" that they've been able to blame poor sales on.

Filed Under: ebooks, piracy, stats, studies
Companies: o'reilly


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2011 @ 11:43am

    There are a few things here that make studies like this very hard to do properly.

    First and foremost, we are dealing with individual's actions and morality. To pirate or not pirate, that is a big question. If the risks of piracy are higher (more likely to get caught) are they more or less likely to pirate instead of buy.

    Books are a difficult subject as well. While I find many manuals I need online, I often buy the books because the paper version is valuable. However, in the case of fiction books, I can see where the e-reader market may be a better place for them. I can use a manual a bunch of times, I will read most fiction (or non-fiction entertainment) once. So if I read it on my e-reader in a pirated version, there is little chance I would then pay for it.

    So you are dealing mostly with what the public would do under a given circumstance, not under all circumstances. The subject of the material would change things. it should be noted the O'Rielly does mostly computer manuals.

    The other part is social pressure. People will often answer surveys in the way they are expect to answer, rather than the honest answer. There was a UK study a couple of years back that showed only 10% admitted to illegally downloading, yet the real numbers are 20% or higher. So a study of human actions, based on interviews would be misleading.

    Really, the key is this: giving away free copies of something may or may not be good for marketing (good for some, maybe not so good for others) but that choice to give away something free should be up to the person who owns it, not random internet people.

    Every time someone decides for the owner to give something away without permission, there is cost. Regardless of if the piracy may increase sales or awareness for some, let's make it clear: The ends do not justify the means. The TD mentality of looking at the end result and then dismissing anything that happened to get there are immaterial is really sort of annoying, and very misleading.

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