from the but-on-the-other-other-hand dept
As an author myself, I, too, am terrified by the thought of piracy. I can't stand seeing my books, which are the primary source of my income, posted on all these piracy Web sites, available for anyone to download free.Now, it's worth noting that it really was just last year that Pogue insisted that publishing digital versions of his books was a terrible idea, because he had tried it twice and they were pirated all over the web. So it's really nice to see that he's actually come to his senses and realized that piracy does not automatically mean lost sales, and he was willing to run an experiment and actually look at the empirical data.
When I wrote about my concerns a year ago, my readers took me to task. "For all you know," went their counterargument, "the illegal copies are just advertising for you; people will download them, try them out, then go by the physical book. Either that, or they're being downloaded by people who would not have bought your book anyway. Why don't you try a controlled experiment and see?"
Well, it sounded like it could be a very costly experiment. But I agreed. My publisher, O'Reilly, decided to try an experiment, offering one of my Windows books for sale as an unprotected PDF file.
After a year, we could compare the results with the previous year's sales.
The results? It was true. The thing was pirated to the skies. It's all over the Web now, ridiculously easy to download without paying.
The crazy thing was, sales of the book did not fall. In fact, sales rose slightly during that year.
He's still not totally convinced however -- as he notes that the reason his experiment worked was because it drove sales of the physical (paper) book. But he's worried that when more people have ebook readers, then things might change. Of course, at the time of that last column, we used it to point out that the mistake was in thinking that "give it away and pray" is a business model. It's not. Instead, you have to give people a reason to buy, and "hey, because I want you to" isn't a particularly good one. Instead, the focus should be on adding real value. Again, this is a situation where O'Reilly is pretty good. We were just discussing how one of the "reasons to buy" it offers is the ability to buy into "living books" that keep updating, so your copy isn't out of date. In that case, what they're really selling isn't the content, so much as the convenience and the knowledge that the information will always be the latest, without requiring any additional work or checking. There are lots of ways to compete with piracy that don't involve locking the content down in a customer-unfriendly way.