No Starch Press, publisher of geeky but in-depth books (including the best-selling Hacking: The Art of Exploitation), recently posted torrent versions of a couple of its best-selling backlist tech volumes with 11,000 combined downloads in the first week:
Recognizing that the book business is changing and that books end up on file-sharing sites within days of being released in electronic form, they thought they’d take matters into their own hands. The result? No Starch released their own “official pirate version” of two best-selling backlist titles, Leander Kahney‘s The Cult of Mac and The Cult of iPod. News of the release became a viral hit online, and there were over 11,000 downloads of the books in the first week.
“I’ve always felt that these two books should have sold many more copies than they actually have,” said No Starch Press publisher Bill Pollock, “but that they suffered from a lack of visibility. As four-color, coffee-table books, they were never released electronically and never appeared on torrent sites. So these two were good choices for this little experiment.”
Visibility online came swiftly. One of No Starch’s editors had shared 2GB of data from his home PC within hours of the initial upload. By the next day, The Cult of Mac became the #1 book on the infamous torrent site, The Pirate Bay. And a story about the experiment posted to TorrentFreak.com reached the front page of popular social news site Digg.
The truth of the matter is that the battle to stop people from posting copyrighted material to torrent sites is one that can’t be won. Beside the fact that No Starch Press sells PDFs without DRM (digital rights management) protections, anything that can be viewed online can be captured and pirated. Within days of its release, No Starch Press’s best-selling Hacking: The Art of Exploitation, 2nd Edition, was scraped from an e-book site and posted to multiple file-sharing networks.
Of course, part of the reason for No Starch releasing these titles on P2P sites is political. As major organizations and ISPs work to shut down file sharing, No Starch aims to remind them that P2P has valid uses as wellâ€”even for traditional content providers. “File sharing itself, or P2P, is not a crime,” said Pollock. “It can be a great way for willing artists to share their work. That’s not to say that stealing copyrighted material is not a crime, and our actions are not in any way meant to endorse it.”