Saturday, November 6, 2010

Consumer Interest in Pirated eBooks is Even Lower Than I Thought

My recent posts following up on Attributor's most recent study on demand for pirated ebooks have been republished on TeleRead, probably the longest running blog covering ebooks and related topics. Paul Biba, the current editor, has been doing a great job bringing together interesting articles from many different perspectives.

The Teleread discussion on my article Attributor ebook piracy numbers don’t add up had some interesting contributions. Jim Pitkow, CEO of Attributor, suggested that the difference between the data I got from Google AdWords and Attributor's data might be a result of a difference in methodology. While I used Google's predicted traffic numbers, Attributor used numbers from an actual AdWords campaign. For example, Attributor bought the keyword “lost symbol free ebook” along with 868 others and counted how many impressions were generated by Google.

AdWords predicts a total query volume of 62 per day for the keyword “lost symbol free ebook”. If each of the other keywords did the same volume of queries, Attributor should have seen 53,900 impressions per day for its ad campaign. It's not at all clear how 53,900 impressions turns into 1.5-3 millions searches for pirated content; that would be a factor of 30-60 larger than the traffic predicted by the AdWords estimator tool. Pitkow's comment seemed to suggest that the result of an actual advertising campaign would be different from the estimate, possibly accounting for the discrepancy.

So I did an actual advertising campaign of my own to see if this was true.

I've used AdWords in the past with amazingly cost-effective results. I would spend about five dollars a month at five cents per click to advertise a service that sold for thousands of dollars per year. My experience, albeit somewhat dated, was that the estimator tool overestimated, not underestimated, the actual traffic. I was interested to see if this was still true.

I constructed a "free ebook survey" landing page for my ad campaign, and added StatCounter analytics so I could see who clicked on my ad. I bought the keyword suggested by Pitkow: “lost symbol free ebook”.

AdWords gives you a number of settings to fine-tune your ad campaign. For example, I checked all the boxes for geographical coverage so my ads would be seen in as many countries and languages as possible.

AdWords offers three important options that determine the distribution of the ads. You can choose to advertise on Google only, Google and its "search partners" or on Google, it's search partners, and Google's "display network". I spoke with Pitkow last week, and he indicated that Attributor's study used both Google and its search partners.

The initial results of my ad campaign were alarming. In just four hours, I accumulated 7,000 impressions and 19 clicks; my campaign halted because my bids were too low. This traffic level would easily support Attributor's estimates. But when I looked into it, I found that I had included the "display network" without meaning to. What's more, the referring sites were really junky. I couldn't imagine who would use sites like "Lost World TV", NDParking and Sebaidu. The 61 cents I spent in those four hours may well have gone to a bunch of sites engaging in click fraud.

A full week of advertising on just Google, by contrast, resulted in a grand total of 15 impressions, much less than Googles estimate of 62 per day. I next added Google's search partners to my campaign, and got an impression rate about three times higher.

Even with the search partners, the reported search volume is about a tenth of the predicted volume. I must therefore revise the estimate I made about "consumer demand for pirated ebooks". Instead of 100,000-300,000 searches per day, 10,000-30,000 per day throughout the world seems to be a better estimate.

As a result of this experiment, the Attributor numbers are even more inexplicable than before. It's worth noting however, the one area where there's no disagreement. Both my investigations and Attributor's show that consumer interest in piracy is mostly located outside the US, UK, and Canada. Jane Litte's recent post on the geographical restrictions conundrum for ebooks (and comments thereto) does an excellent job of describing why that may be so.
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  1. We have been discussing this topic a bit in our international online reading group. These geographical restrictions seem particularly crazy in the e-format. I think you are right that those of us in the UK and US are both well-served for choice and (hence?) don't mind paying so long as it is a bit less than the print version. However, those of us in countries like Australia are really suffering.

    On Amazon, incidentally, Michael Connelly's latest fiction title is £9.40 hardback, £5.99 Kindle - not bad. Val McDermid's, however, is £9.49 hardback and £9.99 Kindle. How can anyone justify the e-book being MORE expensive than the (admittedly discounted) hardback.

    Connelly, by the way, also provides an enhanced ebook version with videos etc, for about the same price as the hardback. I think it is a good idea to provide a basic version for people like me who just like to read, but a more media-rich version for those who like all that.

  2. I guess one can conclude that consumers must be relatively satisfied by the e-book delivery systems and options out there. Even though e-books are DRMd. And that complaints about the prices generated by the agency plan aren't reflected in illegal downloads of those books. In short, there is no rebellion against the conservative e-book strategy of the commercial publishing industry.