Going on the Account: Letters of Marque to Come?

OK, we all know that you can pirate goods off a ship; the latest IMB map can show you every attack on shipping that’s happened so far.  And we’ve all heard about pirating movies and music; if you’ve done more than heard about it, well, don’t say anything to me about it…

But pirating books?  For real?

As of now, yes.  A report from Fast Company (with language that may be offensive to some, especially concerning the title) details exactly that, following up on an online Bay Citizen story regarding a pirated PDF of a ‘children’s’ book that was a few weeks from its street date.  Long story short, the book is now a major seller on Amazon.com thanks to the pre-publication copy of the title drawing interest to it.  So anxious is the interest that Fox 2000 has optioned it for a film based on the copy that went viral.

The question, of course, is how many potential sales did the book lose to the PDF, and were they made up by the publicity this gave the tome.  It’s hard to say, as there’s never been a good tool for modeling the sales of any intellectual property with any precision; yes, we can apply formulas to determine how much oil or corn will go up or down with all known factors figured, but how well a movie does on its opening weekend is still anybody’s guess.

But what does this act of piracy teach us, in the end?  Is there a lesson in all this?  Maybe…

  • Pirates continue to test the waters:  Much like the Brethren of the Coast before them, bringing to bear the latest technologies and tactics while testing new ways of plying the seas, the modern pirates show us what is possible in these waters.  Who’s to say that  publishers might be willing to forgo moving a few units if there’s a chance for an option down the road that they can share in?
  • Pirates are their own operations unto themselves:  Many a scurvy dog would change their flag if it suited them.  An author or publisher that wanted to try something out there but wasn’t sure of the reaction could send something under false flag and depending on the reaction adjust their rollout without over committing ahead of time.  (And yes, there’s some of that having happened before, as any fans of Richard Bachman can attest…)
  • Pirates can find the profits quickly:  Pirates of every age make their living by quickly going in for the easiest portable treasure they can seize and run with it.  Imagine someone in publishing tracking a pirated copy of the work to be able to target where the real roll outs need to go, as the pirate copy had done all the market research for it.  Apparently, Neil Gaiman has already done this with success, something I’ll need to consider…

So, does this turn all pirates from sinners to saints?  There’re still a lot of issues to be dealt with, as not every piece of information that wants to be free is going to lead to more sales down the road.  As well, there’s one big disadvantage:

  • Pirates are notorious for their fickleness:  Pirates have their reputation for seeing to their own skins first and likely to turn if they think they can get a better deal elsewhere.  Unlike a traditional marketing arm, using pirates can spin wildly out of control in ways no one could anticipate, or appreciate…

As you can see, I tend to focus on news items that catch my fancy, such as the one above.  I’ve also had my attention drawn to a piece from Gawker about failed municipal investment schemes, and one carried by the AP about virtual teaching replacing snow days.

Do I have a reason for having these draw me to them?   Well, maybe…

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