The Impact of P2P File Distribution on Paid Content Sales

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In trying to assess the impact of P2P file sharing on paid-content sales, we have been measuring paid sales four weeks before and four weeks after content for a title is first seeded. In our initial data set (eight titles), sales in the four weeks after a file was first seeded increased 6.5%; in the most recent report (all 21 titles), sales decreased 4.8% in the four weeks after seeding first occurred. The average lag time between first paid sale and first instance of seeding on a P2P site remained relatively constant at about 19 weeks.

With a larger data set, we tried plotting the average paid sales of pirated and unpirated content using a common starting point (that is, we plotted sales data week-by-week after publication). The results of the week-by-week and four-week rolling averages for both pirated and unpirated titles showed similar growth in sales in the first few weeks after a title is published, followed by a decline after peak. Average sales for unpirated content start higher and peak later, although this may reflect the specific nature of titles in a small sample.

The primary difference between sales of pirated and unpirated content appeared in weeks 19 through 25, when sales for pirated content peaked a second time at a level higher than that seen in the first, sell-in period. This second peak followed the time (19 weeks) at which the average pirated O’Reilly front list title was first seeded on a P2P site.

This is correlation, not causality, but the difference in the sales profile is notable and persists even when using rolling averages. Since these initial reports, we have continued to monitor the data on an ongoing basis to establish a more complete profile. Other publishers are also joining the study, including Thomas Nelson, whose fall 2009 front list has been monitored since August 2009.

Photo of Brian O’Leary

Brian O’Leary

Magellan Media

A publishing veteran with 25 years of consulting, management and operational experience, Mr. O’Leary is founder and principal of Magellan Consulting Partners, whose clients include major media firms as well as smaller and not-for-profit entities with significant publishing and media commitments.

The firm’s practice areas include operational improvement, revenue development, market analysis and business planning. Work done by the firm most often results in both immediate and mid-term changes in processes, structures and in some cases technologies used to produce client content. For Magellan clients, Mr. O’Leary has also written several business plans to guide start-up and growth opportunities.

Prior to starting Magellan Media, Mr. O’Leary served as senior VP and associate publisher with Hammond Inc., an internationally recognized geographic reference publisher. Responsible for editorial content, database development, production and operations, Mr. O’Leary restructured editorial operations to benefit from the firm’s prior technology investments. He also substantially increased the pace of the company’s new-product development efforts.

Before Hammond, Mr. O’Leary directed operations at several of Time Inc.’s weekly magazines and was part of the team that launched Entertainment Weekly. He joined the firm in 1983, after earning an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Mr. O’Leary also holds an A.B. in chemistry from Harvard College.

  • Ingram Content Group
  • Qualcomm
  • Copia
  • Impelsys Inc.
  • Innodata Isogen, Inc.
  • Adobe
  • Aptara
  • Baker & Taylor
  • Bowker
  • codeMantra
  • Connotate
  • Google
  • HP
  • LibreDigital
  • MagMe
  • Malloy
  • Mark Logic
  • oXygen XML Editor
  • Chuckwalla
  • Foxit Software
  • Jacquette Consulting
  • Jouve North America
  • Lulu
  • Marvell
  • Media Services Group
  • PubServ
  • Safari Books Online
  • Silverchair
  • Virtusales
  • Vitrium Systems
  • Smashwords, Inc.

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