I'm not the most popular author in the world. Often, I'm not even among the 100,000 most popular authors on Amazon (according to their ranking tool, the highest rank I've achieved in the past 2 years was #55,628, the week following the release of my second book, The Piracy Crusade). But these past few weeks, my popularity has grown significantly.
Summer is usually the doldrums for academic book sales. Most students aren't required to buy any books, and even serious-minded grownups would rather read easy breezy summer novels than theoretical treatises and policy analyses. So why is it that in the last three weeks, my Amazon author rank has escalated from about #350,000 to nearly #100,000, eclipsing even my perennial end-of-spring-semester sales boost?
The most likely cause: P2P file sharing. On July 8th, file sharing sofware company Vuze released a free download bundle featuring a full PDF copy of my book and several videos of my public appearances. Since then, I've happily tracked the bundle's progress on BitTorrent, as the number of peers sharing it at any given point in time has escalated from about 100 to nearly 400 today. Both the Vuze bundle download page and the free PDF of the book include links to buy it on Amazon, so it seems clear that, though the majority of readers probably aren't buying the book, the free giveaway has boosted sales more than enough to offset any sales I may have lost to "piracy." This is a huge relief, because that's exactly the scenario I pitched to my publishers at University of Massachusetts Press when I suggested we release the book under a Creative Commons license and allow the text of the book's first draft to be posted freely online as I was writing it.
As I warn in The Piracy Crusade, correlation doesn't always imply causation -- so it's possible that other factors are at work here. But I can't really think of anything else that would cause my Amazon sales rank to climb so steeply in the middle of the summer. Can you?
Update 7/28: The trend continues. As of this moment, there are 592 peers sharing the book on BitTorrent, and my Amazon author's rank has climbed to #69,576.