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Getting your book in front of 160 million users is usually a good thing

"Pirate's Dilemma" author Matt Mason on BitTorrent.

Last week, Megan Lisa Jones launched a promotion for her new book “Captive” in a (seemingly) unlikely forum: BitTorrent, a space commonly associated with “piracy.” At about a week into her two-week promotion, I checked in with BitTorrent to see how it was going. In an email interview, BitTorrent spokesperson Allison Wagda said that as of 10 am Tuesday, “Captive” had been downloaded 342,242 times.

Though the environment may feel like a strange bedfellow for publishing, the impressive level of exposure for a new book release can’t be denied. The marketing appeal of BitTorrent, Wagda said, is two-fold:

The technology and the audience. For larger downloads, BitTorrent is the fastest, easiest way to distribute and download a file to lots of people. And there’s no infrastructure cost. Since we have a built-in massive audience, publishers and creators gain a unique ability to engage with users.

For more on how a platform like BitTorrent could be used by publishers, I turned to Matt Mason, director of innovation at Syrup and author of The Pirate’s Dilemma. Our interview follows.

What advantages can be gained by staging a promotion through a platform like BitTorrent?

Matt Mason: The real problem for most authors, to quote Tim O’Reilly, isn’t piracy, but obscurity. There are millions of books on Amazon, and the average book in the US sells around 500 copies a year. A lot of authors, including Cory Doctorow, Seth Godin, Paulo Coelho and myself have had success by giving away electronic copies of our books as a way to promote the books. It can spread the message of the book further, boost sales of physical copies, boost ebook sales, and stimulate other opportunities like speaking and consulting engagements.

The great thing about BitTorrent is you are talking to a massive audience — more than 160 million people use it. Research has shown that people who use file-sharing sites are more likely to spend money on content. Whatever you’re trying to promote, 160 million people who are big consumers of all kinds of media is a huge opportunity.

Do you think this is a viable promotion/distribution model?

Matt Mason: Absolutely, and it will become more widely used as content creators and distributors wake up to the benefits of BitTorrent. It is quite simply the cheapest and most efficient way to share digital information, because the audience is the server farm. It’s way to create a giant repository of content with no servers. It has a huge user base and it is growing every day. It’s not about giving something away for free, but about distributing it in the smartest possible way. In the next five years, I think we’ll see all kinds of publishers waking up to this.

What are some of the obstacles environments like BitTorrent face as promotion platforms?

Matt Mason: One of the biggest problems peer-to-peer technologies like BitTorrent have is the stigma of piracy, but P2P is actually a new and better way of distributing information. Piracy has been at the birth of every major new innovation in media, from the printing press to the recording industry to the film industry — all were birthed out of people doing disruptive, innovative things with content that earned them the label “pirate” (including Thomas Edison).

I think of piracy as a market signal — it signifies a change in consumer behavior that the market hasn’t caught up with. If an ecosystem like BitTorrent grows to 160 million users, it’s not a piracy environment, it’s just a new environment. Media is an industry where the customer really is always right. If people are trying to get your content in a new way, the only smart thing to do is to find a sensible way to offer it to them there.


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Comments: 8

  1. As the author of Captive, mentioned above, I very much agree with Mr. Mason that obscurity is a bigger problem than piracy – especially for a new author and first book.

    The term I’ve been using with respect to the BitTorrent promotion is “blown away”. Not only did we have almost 400,000 downloads in about two weeks but we reached people across the globe where Captive is unlikely to ever be published.

    I believed that authors need to work with their audience and not try to exert total control (hard for me…a control freak) which is why I partnered with BitTorrent and reached out to their audience. The direct feedback I’ve gotten from readers has only increased my confidence in the promotion.

    Much thanks for providing insight into our promotion.

  2. I feel good about BitTorrent promotion. as an author self-published,pod, bittorrent is the type of system needed to reached the millions looking for good reading material, such novel as mine speak of the oil crisis,money, love something I no that BitTorrent can help me with on my novel so, hey, I’m in.

  3. Well done Megan! That is amazing. Great story. I worked a lot with the music industry during the Napster era. One of the labels major complaints back then was getting airplay, getting on the playlist of the radio stations. What they havent woken up to it seems is that Bitorrent is the new airplay.

  4. The other way forward is to release the content under a Creative Commons license. We’ve taken that approach with Asterisk: The Definitive Guide (formerly Asterisk: The Future of Telephony) and it has worked out quite well for us. Even though the content is available for free online, we still seemed to have gotten some pretty decent sales.

  5. I’ve been wondering for a long time why podcasters are not using P2P as their primary distribution medium (or one of several alternatives). The popular podcast “This American Life” says that their distribution costs are hundreds of thousands of dollars per year; P2P could take a big bite out of that expense.

    One challenge for podcasters is getting accurate measurements of the number of downloads — a kind of trackability which is the not wanted by pirate users. Do there exist ways for podcasters to get the desired metrics when using P2P as a distribution mechanism?

  6. Way to go Megan! You see it is quite stupid for me to pay for a half pound of printed paper and for this item to be transported around the world, damaged or even stolen in transport, when people can get the content with just one click. And also on the other side: it would be great if users could have a way to say thank you in a form of donation or micropayment or any else mode possible and acceptable. It is not that people want to “steal” (pirate, note: its not stealing its copying) a book, it’s that they cant get it any other way. And happy readers is what you want in my opinion. I was always glad when I read something and felt always obligated to repay somehow. But there has to be a way developed for saying “thank you” for your work.

  7. Haven’t downloaded Megans book but I agree with Sasha that a way to donate or micropay from paypal or the like as a thank you for a good read/experience is a solution to the “piracy=theft” idea. It gives the author a direct link to the market and cash as feedback – 400000 of any amount adds up.

  8. Very interesting prospect for publishers, but Megan, how many sales have you had from other avenues where your book is available? I’m all for releasing material free as a means of promotion, but it has to provide some sales benefit too. Would be interested to hear.