Attributor on ebook piracy figures

Research company Attributor has just released details of a study of Google search terms in Google Trends, in relation to pirated ebooks. The study looked only at behaviour on Google. And only at searches for PDF copies of “Amazon’s top 89 books”. So, they’re basically measuring idiots and newbies who don’t know their .rar from their arse. However, even then, searching isn’t always finding. And then finding isn’t always ‘getting what you wanted’. I’d suspect that many of the dim newbies forming Attributor’s headline “1.5 – 3 million daily Google queries for pirated e-books” simply find themselves being sucked into con-games, spam sites, and ugly porn come-ons. It’s unlikely that most of them will have search skills that are up to the job.

If you wanted to measure the more hardcore book pirates then you’d need to measure sophisticated search modifiers like site:http://thepiratebay.or* You might also measure people using Google filetype search modifiers such as filetype:rar and filetype:cbr or filetype:mobi.

But even assuming the “1.5 – 3 million” actually find what they’re looking for half the time (unlikely), how much of that actually equates to lost sales? And… here we spiral into the same deeply tedious debate that was had over music piracy, and frankly it’s probably not a debate worth spending any energy on. Attributor obviously sees that some publishers are feeling a need to rustle up some scary statistics to chide pig-headed law-makers into draconian new laws, and they’ll get them by hook or by crook, whatever the blogging classes say about it.

Yet there are some useful points that can be made. For instance, when Attributor headline: “a shift from larger sites like Rapidshare dominating the syndication market” what they are probably measuring is the proliferation of Rapidashare-like sites over the last year, and the consequent appearance of search aggregators such as Filesbay that search all of them at once. The huge growth of Rapidshare clones doesn’t necessarily mean there are actually more pirated files out there, just that they’re now spread more thinly. Files also seem to be duplicated, so as to avoid the strict download restrictions that such sites put on unpaid accounts.

Attributor’s sly elision between this proliferation and the “54 percent increase in pirated e-book demand since August 2009”, thus…

“other, smaller cyberlockers, have increased their position in the piracy market, with a 54 percent increase in overall demand for pirated material since August 2009.”

… suggests they’re simply angling for future consultancy fees from lobbyists, and as such their statistics are not to be overly value

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