Piracy is not a pricing signal

Lost sales from illegal downloads are lost because of convenience, not price.

The comments to yesterday’s Four Short Links threw up a predictable response from “Frankster”:

So why don’t you put your money where your mouth is. Why don’t you put torrent links next to all of your books here at oreilly.com. Put a big “free” button next to the button that let’s you pay. Show us how it’s done. Show us how cool you can be. Show us that it works. Don’t just give us a “great takedown”. Lead by doing!

This is such a well-worn canard that I am reposting my response.

@Frankster: actually, you’ll find all O’Reilly books in shop.oreilly.com have links to ebooks that are cheaper than the print version. The purchasing system is simple (not one-click, alas, but pretty close) and–most importantly–you can have the ebook in whatever format you want, without DRM. Oh, and there’s Safari, our subscription service for ebooks. We try to make it as convenient as possible for you: all our books, all the formats, no DRM inconvenience. What kind of an idiot builds roadblocks to a sale?

Also, as an author of a technical book, I’m well aware that it is readily pirated from around the Internet. Go knock yourself out if price is that much of a barrier to you. I’d rather see you educated than bankrupt for the price of a lousy technical book.

You seem to have me painted as some kind of creator-hating anarchist. You don’t understand that I want to pay for movies and TV. There’s a huge pool of middle-class downloaders who would gladly buy if it were available: iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 sales show this for music, and Hulu and Netflix are the signs of this for movies and TV. (I want downloads, not streams, because of the pricing structure of broadband in my part of the world)

Whatever lost sales there are from illegal downloads are lost because of convenience, not price. The inconvenience of current downloads and streams are not a technology problem, they’re a business problem. And rights holders (aka existing distribution companies) perpetuate the piracy “problem” by not giving consumers the convenience that piracy does.

The experience of piracy is actually pretty good compared to that of existing TV and movies online. And, once you get outside the USA, it’s pretty much the ONLY way to get digital media–iTunes and Amazon and Google don’t carry much digital media for us; they offer a dismal few items to international customers versus the munificent excess of their domestic catalogue.

Downloading isn’t a sign of the rise of technoanarchist capitalist-hating communist punks. It’s not even a pricing signal. It’s a market signal to the distributors that convenience matters. While they ignore that signal, piracy will win. It’s that simple.


tags: , ,