- Recent changes to Google search algorithms may have exacerbated online book piracy, according to a new study.
- The Perlego textbook subscription service analyzed traffic to book piracy sites and found increases to coincide with updates.
- Textbook publisher Wiley said companies like Google needed a “proactive” approach to tackling piracy.
Recent changes to Google’s search algorithm may have exacerbated online book piracy, according to data compiled by online textbook subscription service Perlego.
Every year, US publishers lose an estimated $ 300 million due to downloading illegal copies of books online, according to a 2017 study published by Digimarc and Nielsen. Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors’ Guild, said that in 2019 the figure had likely increased.
Perlego, which charges users a monthly subscription to access academic, professional, and non-fiction eBooks, has monitored search traffic to major online book piracy sites for five years.
The company used an SEO analysis tool Ahrefs, which tracks how live websites ‘connect to each other and the keywords they rank for in search results’, and with Keywords everywhere, a tool that allows users to more accurately monitor Google search traffic.
It has detected recent increases in traffic to the most popular book piracy sites, which Insider chooses not to name, which coincided with a two-part “base update” by Google of its search results in June and July.
Spikes in traffic to hacking sites coincided with Google search updates
The above graph, provided by Perlego, shows the traffic between September 2020 and September 2021 to several book piracy sites, represented by the colored lines. Orange dots represent Google’s two-part algorithm update.
One hacking site, represented by the blue line, has seen its traffic skyrocket 478% since the first part of the update in June, from around 31,000 unique visits per month to 183,000.
The site represented by the red line experienced a 200% peak in traffic over the same period, from 78,000 visits to 236,000. While traffic to the yellow site declined slightly in September, it has everything likewise experienced massive growth, up 258%, from 43,000 visits per month before the update and 154,000 last month.
“After Google’s June and July updates, we saw online hacking sites on the rise,” said Tom Blackshire, SEO director at Perlego, who said Insider publishers “were losing a ton of money “accordingly. “Google wants to make sure people can find what they’re looking for, and with the last two updates they’ve focused on that – but now the hacking sites seem to be rewarded as a result.
“You have to respect the fact that they’re processing trillions of results, and it’s not like somebody at Google is saying, ‘Let’s ditch the publishers,’ but they create these algorithms and don’t necessarily lend all of them. attention to what are the results. . ”
Publishers have been warning about the cost of book piracy for years
One of the factors behind online piracy is the cost of some textbooks. An engineering book, “Rocket Propulsion Elements,” can cost up to $ 125 for a legitimate purchase. Based on the number of times the book was searched on pirate sites, Perlego calculated that the US publishing house Wiley may lose nearly $ 900,000 a year just for this book.
Commenting on Perlego’s findings, Aref Matin, chief technology officer at Wiley, told Insider that academic document piracy was “a significant and ongoing challenge,” which “blurs the line between high and low-quality information and threatens the security of people and institutions around the world. “
It’s not just Google that should tackle the problem, he said.
Matin said: “The reality is that this problem can only be solved through a multi-pronged approach that includes the efforts of content creators, governments, research companies and individuals.
Matin added that search engines were in “a unique position,” suggesting that they could not only remove pirated content found online, but also “do so more proactively, by implementing smarter technologies to prevent infringements from occurring on a large scale “.
Stephen Lotinga, CEO of the UK’s Publishers Association, told Insider that the increase in online piracy was a “growing problem”.
He said: “Governments, platforms and other Internet intermediaries all have a responsibility to tackle this problem. Access to pirated material is illegal and jeopardizes the creation of academic texts in the future. “
It is possible that the increase in traffic to hacking sites is temporary and will decrease after another adjustment by Google. The company changes its algorithm in hopes of improving the user experience of its search engine almost daily, but is not always transparent about how these changes will affect the rankings of other websites.
Several times a year, Google – in his own words – makes “important and important changes to our algorithms and search systems”. These basic updates can have a big impact on what appears on Google’s results pages, depending on how much information, relevance, or credibility the new algorithm judges websites against a search query. given.
According to Google transparency reports, the company has received requests to remove more than 5 billion different URLs from its search results under copyright law over the past 20 years. The company says it “regularly receives requests to remove content”, but adds that it cannot “act as a mediator” and advises complainants of their right to prosecute those who violate the human rights law. author. Google declined to comment further.
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