E-book Piracy Can Boost Sales, Publisher Claims

The music industry has made it quite clear that the Internet is a scary place full of pirates. These same fears have spread into the minds of some book publishers, but not all.

According to a recent column in the Chronicle of Higher Education there are publishers that see piracy as a promotional vehicle.

At least, that’s what an associate professor of philosophy writing under the pseudonym Clement Vincent reveals.

When found out that one of his books, published by an established university press, was available on a popular file-sharing site, he informed his publisher about it.

“A lawyer for the press replied quickly, and his main points surprised me. He began by noting that while Web piracy is a problem for all publishers and authors, there is no direct proof that the piracy of any book leads to a decline in sales of the print version. His e-mail noted further that the circulation of pirated copies can in some cases lead to increased overall sales, as the pirated copies create a buzz around a work.”

The professor nonetheless asked the lawyer to send a take-down request, and the file was removed shortly. But was this really the best option?

“In that short time, however, I had become increasingly ambivalent about the situation. Had I just harmed the sales and the scholarly circulation of my work by having the pirated copy removed? The lawyer’s had implied that possibility. Was the press’s viewpoint an academic appropriation of the proverb “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”? I noted that in comparison with other academic presses, my publisher was far more generous in allowing previews of its books on its own Web site and other online outlets.”

Although there’s little research on the topic, even some of the best-selling authors are convinced that piracy is actually a good thing.


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