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

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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