Attributor, a company that I opined about back in April, has some interesting insights about the online leaks of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." As everyone in the civilized world knows by now, parts or all of the book (the seventh and final volume in the wildly popular series) have been popping up online for the past few days in advance of its release at midnight tonight. On Tuesday night, Attributor found a Potter spoiler site with excerpts from the book and summaries of each chapter, along with pictures of the actual pages. Rich Pearson, Attributor's senior director of marketing, said the company fed the excerpts and the summaries into its system, then went looking for other pages that had matching content Wednesday morning.
Within 12 hours it had found 250 different sites with much or all of the material. Although lawyers for Scholastic, the book's publisher, were able to force the removal of many of those pages, the total has continued to grow. By 6 a.m. Pacific today, there were more than 700 places online with spoiler content, with new ones coming on at a rate of about 20 per hour.
The most interesting finding is that the vast majority of the material -- 90% or more -- wasn't being hosted by Potter fan sites. Instead, Pearson said, it was found mainly on splogs that used the traffic to drive up ad revenue. By Attributor's count, about 80% of the web pages with the Potter leaks also had ads. These sites tended to be good at optimizing their pages for search engines, Pearson said, so they would appear near the top of the results when someone searched for "Harry Potter" or "Deathly Hallows." In most cases, the sites simply copied and pasted the same material found on other spoiler sites.
The effect on sales is yet to be seen, and I suspect it won't make an iota of difference. It's a Harry Potter book, after all -- more a phenomenon than a text. (For a good take on the whole affair, see this post by Bill Goodykoontz of The Arizona Republic.) Attributor tracked the leaks on its own initiative to demonstrate what its system can do. Had it been in Scholastic's service, Pearson said, it could have automated and accelerated the delivery of take-down notices, possibly helping the publisher with do a better job playing Whac-a-Mole with online pirates. It also could have helped Scholastic counter the leaks by, say, inviting sites to post a free copy of the new book's first chapter along with a link to pre-order the entire tome.