No one seems to have this magic answer, but a recent article interviewing Brian O’Leary of Magellan Media offers some insight. O’Leary described a 2 1/2 year study with O’Reilly media, stating:
“We undertook research two-and-a-half-years ago with O’Reilly, and we’ve been studying Thomas Nelson as well, to measure the impact of piracy on paid content sales. We approached it as if it were cooperative marketing. We would look at the impact of what sales looked like before there was piracy, say for four to eight weeks, and then we’d look at the impact of piracy afterward. Essentially, if the net impact of piracy is negative, then you would see sales fall off more quickly after piracy; if it were positive, the opposite.
Data that we collected for the titles O’Reilly put out showed a net lift in sales for books that had been pirated. So, it actually spurred, not hurt, sales. But we were only looking at O’Reilly and Thomas Nelson. The results are not emblematic of publishing overall. It could be more conservative, it could be less conservative. We just don’t have enough data. I’ve tried to get other publishers to join in, but it really hasn’t been a successful mission. Even at a low- or no-cost offer, publishers seem reluctant to collect the data required to reveal the true impact of book piracy.”
Later in the interview, O’Leary states, “Any good pirate can strip DRM in a matter of seconds to minutes.” If you’d like to be one of these pirates, a recent blog post on WIRED offers step-by-step instructions on just how to remove DRM from eBook formats, compliments of the Apprentice Alf.