“Piracy boosts sales” theory may just be child’s play

A “children’s” book has become a bestseller at Amazon, apparently as a result of it becoming popular via piracy. But there are questions about how strong the connection is and whether it could apply to other books or media.

The book, Go the F**k to Sleep attracted attention when it hit number one in the overall books chart on Amazon despite the fact that it isn’t released until 14 June and is just 32 pages long.

(In case you’re wondering, the book is actually a spoof of a children’s book, aimed at frustrated parents. A sample page reads “The eagles who soar through the sky are at rest; And the creatures who crawl, run, and creep; I know you’re not thirsty. That’s bullshit. Stop lying; Lie the fuck down, my darling, and sleep.”)

The theory, which is reported at sites including Fastcompany.com, is that the sales boost came about because a PDF copy of the book, possibly leaked by a bookseller, “has gone absolutely viral.”

There are several reasons to question this idea. For example, I was unable to find a working source for illegally downloading a copy of the book, something you’d expect would be an easy task for something so popular. Of course, this may be that the types of place I was looking are not necessarily the target audience for a book aimed at parents of young children. But I certainly follow plenty of those people on social networking sites and am yet to see any mention of the book there.

It’s also possible that the nature of the Internet makes such circumstances self-perpetuating. Something certainly got the book high up on Amazon sales charts in the first place, but since then its sales seem to have been boosted both by media coverage and by the sheer visibility of being in the charts themselves. Remember that the Amazon ranking system heavily favors most recent sales, so it’s much easier for a book to shoot to number one than with more traditional bestseller lists (which are often based on shipments rather than sales.)

The other point to remember is that even if the piracy has helped out in this case, it’s hardly a typical book. People buying it will be getting it as much for the color illustrations as the words itself, meaning a pirated copy is much less attractive than it would be with a hefty novel or textbook. It’s only $8 in hardback, meaning there’s less incentive to steal. And it’s also the type of book where it’s likely a high proportion of buyers will be getting it as a novelty gift for a friend, a situation in which piracy is inherently ruled out.

15 Responses to “Piracy boosts sales” theory may just be child’s play

  1. I've lost count of how many times I downloaded a few songs and liked them so much I bought the songs or entire album.

  2. I read this book a few weeks ago, and it's hilarious. It's popped up on a few blogs I've read (and they still work, but since many of those sites are going down, I'm not going to say with blogs still have it.)

    And why would buying it as a novelty gift rule out piracy? I read it, immediately thought of a few people who would love the book, saw that it was cheap, and ordered a couple. I wouldn’t have done that just based on the title of the book alone.

    And count me as someone who makes it a habit of listening to an entire album—in whatever way possible—before buying it.

    • By rule out piracy, I meant that people who buy books as a gift have to buy a physical copy rather than send somebody a PDF of it. With books you are getting for yourself, piracy is a more viable option.

  3. I've gotten this through at least 3 different FB friends, and it seems they are floating around as pics of the pages, as I'm reading them in people's images.

  4. Another prime example is Minecraft. Notch (The creator) has said about only 30% people playing it have actually paid for it, however because it's being pirated, it's attracted millions of people which makes more profit.

    • Not true. The statistic on their website (http://www.minecraft.net/) stating that 30% of registered users have bought the game means that the remaining 70% of users are using the free version. People that have pirated the game (if any) would be included in the 30% as full version users. stating that 30% of registered users have bought the game means that the remaining 70% of users are using the free version. People that have pirated the game (if any) would be included in the 30% as full version users. 

  5. I've heard of this book and have seen it mentioned by friends in various social media circles.  I haven't yet had a chance to check it out, but may have to now.  :)

    Oh, and count me among the many who download songs and end up later buying the whole album (or in some cases, several albums!).

  6.  It has nothing to do with Piracy boosting the sales. I pre-bought it on Amazon solely based on the premise and the title. I'd expect that MOST of the sales are similar.

  7.  It's basically free sampling, or loaning something from the library. People who don't have the money or aren't going to buy the product, will still not buy it even after reading it for free. However, people who do have money and are curious about the product, have a higher chance of buying it after reading it and liking it then if they had never read the book at all.

  8. The day publishers stop spending millions of dollars on cover art to entice people to buy an often inferior product ( Computer games? Breakfast Cereal?) is the day I stop "previewing" media before plonking down my hard earned money for it.

  9. My Dad sent me an email with the pdf of this book as an attachment. It's hilarious. I'll definitely have to buy it. 

  10.  this is one of the more silly articles I've read on the internet. "It didn't happen for me thus it is not true"…really?

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