Quantifying the impact of pirated content and free distribution on book sales

As digital content has become more available and more commonly distributed in book publishing, fears of piracy and lost sales have grown.  The rise of peer-to-peer file sharing sites has likely amplified these fears.  While the debate over the impact of “free” content has been at times heated, the discussions are more often than not characterized by a lack of hard data.

To address this data gap, we partnered in 2008 with O’Reilly Media and Random House to characterize the “free” universe, catalog and assess recent experiments, establish ways to measure the benefit or cost of free distribution and conduct some follow-on experiments of our own.  Initial results suggested that freely available digital content coincides with greater paid sales.  The research continues, with other publishers expected to join the test.

Modeling cost-effective use of print-on-demand technology

Over the last several years, print-on-demand (POD) technologies have grown both more flexible and more accessible.  Printed and bound quality has improved, and over time a number of POD service providers, including solutions targeted at individual authors, have developed along with the technology.

After studying the POD market for more than a year, in 2006 we joined with BookNet Canada to model the circumstances in which POD made sense as a production and distribution option for Canadian book publishers.  The model analyzed the pricing matrices of several POD vendors, compared those manufactured prices to the total cost (printing plus inventory) of traditional technologies and identified annual demand scenarios below which POD was a more cost-effective option.

Since that initial report, the model has been updated twice, and in 2008 two extensive presentations of the model were made at BookExpo Canada (June 2008) and for an O’Reilly Media webinar (December 2008). These presentations expand the model to address the U.S. market, explain how POD affects publishers’ decisions about press runs and keeping titles in print, and discuss the extent to which this technology can help publishers and perhaps writers better control every aspect of their true production costs.

StartWithXML: Why and How

Based on the results of six months of research, surveys, interviews and analysis, the StartwithXML project offered a clear argument for developing intellectual property as XML documents from the outset.  Magellan Media was part of a four-consultant team whose members also included Mike Shatzkin (The Idea Logical Company), Laura Dawson ( and Ted Hill (THA Consulting).

The research and analysis was documented in a 20,000-word research paper published in January 2009 by O’Reilly Media.  The paper presented an argument for why an XML workflow makes sense for publishers, as well as an explanation of how content agility provides publishers with opportunities to grow revenues and better manage expenses.  The paper’s “why” and “how” components also included recommendations on what publishers should consider when planning to adopt XML workflows.

Additional information about the StartWithXML project, copies of presentations given at a January 2009 industry forum and related data can be found on the Magellan site and on the StartWithXML web site and blog.