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.