At a panel convened by New York University’s M.S. in publishing program, Macmillan CEO John Sargent claimed that 90% of their front-list titles are available on file-sharing sites.
I believe him.
He went on to claim that “We are at the stage of the music industry just before file-sharing,” And on that point, I am not ready to believe him.
Of a recent lawsuit against Scribd, I wrote that it would make sense to understand the impact of pirated content on actual sales before trying to shut it down. I’m not condoning piracy, but publishers have been giving away content to promote paid sales for about as long as they have been making books. Galleys, blads, sample chapters, review copies … who pays for that content?
The ongoing study we have done of O’Reilly titles suggests that the relationship between pirated content and paid sales is more complex that Sargent posits. It may even help increase awareness, trial and ultimately paid sales.
I’ll acknowledge that O’Reilly is not like every other publisher, and there are probably types of books that are consistently hurt by piracy. That said, we’ve been collecting data for a year to help inform the publishing business about what types of free distribution might be worth worrying about. The study may still be narrow, but it’s more than a stone’s throw better than generalizations about uploaded content and parallels to the music business.