It can help to think about things overnight.
Yesterday, Publishers Weekly reported on the results of a study of pirated book content that had been undertaken by Attributor. Their research results suggested that the average book is pirated 10,000 times, costing publishers as much as $3 billion in lost sales.
I have a number of concerns with the methodology and assumptions made by Attributor, a firm that makes its money helping publishers combat piracy. Given that we’ve been analyzing the impact of piracy on paid content sales for almost two years, I was more than ready to challenge the claims here today.
And then (overnight) I realized I was preparing to do to Attributor what others have occasionally done with the results of our research: dismiss the claims before fully understanding the work.
That’s a mistake, plain and simple. In presenting the results of our work, I’ve said, repeatedly, that we really don’t know the impact of file sharing on paid content sales. The Attributor study won’t solve that, but it is data. It deserves an airing.
Via Twitter, the firm has offered to talk with us about joining forces to study the impact (and not just the instance) of piracy. While I am not sure our approaches are compatible, I am sure that I need to keep my mind open to new and different data. I ask that of people who hear about our work, and I need to do the same in return.
If I had a suggestion for Attributor, it would be in the cover sheet: spend more time building transparency and little (or none) detailing how big the piracy “problem” is. The right answer is, “We don’t know, and we should find out.”
Related: A new blog
Wil Johnson, who has been collecting data for the piracy research since we started the project, has graduated from NYU’s M.S. in publishing program. He is starting a new company, Digital Crow’s Nest, with a helpful blog. He posted about the Attributor research yesterday.