In my travels through the blogosphere I found an article which grabbed my attention. The author was ranting on how we have become evil pirates leaching on the poor artists who invests in music and have to starve to death because. We are so insensible and indifferent that we steal to no end.
I am going to take the politically incorrect stance here. People, really, the whole stealing thing. It’s a marketing campaign. It’s being overblown, taken out of proportion to serve the interests of the big corporations which distribute media. They publicize astronomical numbers in losses, sue innocent people, raid servers in foreign countries. All to get your attention. All to make you fear your dastardly activities and lead you into a path of redemption.
It is very hard to take any large group of people and place them all under a single category or specification. Yet it has been done. The millions of people that trade digital media around the world in P2P networks (this is the most notorious example, but there are other technologies at work here as well) are all labeled universally as thieves. Is this an accurate description? Let’s try to take an unbiased look at the evolution of the “illegal” distribution of media to try to find out. I’ll concentrate on movies and music, since they are the two types of content that tend to get most attention.
Ten years ago you could also get movies and music illegally. The internet was still in it’s infancy. A 33.6 or 56 KiBPS dial up modem was the hottest thing since individually wrapped sliced cheese. The widespread use of audio and video encoding that we see today was science fiction at best. There was still a very tight coupling of content and medium. To acquire and consume the content you had to accept the medium it was being distributed on. This was no exception for the pirated distribution as well. Let’s sum up the characteristics of the content and medium that was being distributed.
- The pirated medium sucked. The packaging was sported a very bad copy of the originals logo or front label. Usually never had a back label. The tape, or CD itself usually also had a bad copy of the imprint or nothing at all.
- The content quality was bad. The audio and video was usually very bad. The VHS tapes presented static on the TV, the image looked less sharp. The sound sounded muffled.
- The location of transaction was informal. You had to go to a flee market, or meet up with someone selling pirated content on the street. You never walked into a respectable business with a nice presentation. There was no support, no number to call, no promise of customer satisfaction.
- It was more cost effective than buying the original content. Despite all the negative elements previously mentioned, the strong motivator is that it was significantly cheaper than the legal alternative. Legal and illegal product offer more or less the same thing, with a big price difference. Obviously the market is going to respond to that. Keep in mind that there were no HDTV’s or 7.1 surround systems, so a focus on quality was not the big factor it is today.
Jump to the present. The internet has taken the world by storm. We have tiny devices that we carry around all day that can connect our calls, play music, and announce next week’s forecast. Appliance costs continue to decline and an overall growth of technological related product consumption grows. The media market is at the center of this growth. With the supply of all those media devices, content demand rises as consequence.
People want content. It’s that simple. As always, the market will give them a different choices on what and how to acquire it. How have the illegal offerings evolved during this time?
- There is no medium. I can no acquire my content without the need of it being tied to a to a physical medium. I no longer have to worry about a CD or DVD scratching and ruining my favorite song or movie. I no longer have to worry about that big disc pile in the corner of my room. I no longer have to worry about having a CD and a cassette only radio. With digital content, I can have it with me wherever I go. It’s versatile enough to be played on a wide range of devices, not just my radio or TV. I can quickly and easily share it with anyone irrelevant of geographical position. This freedom is a very powerful concept. Especially when compared to the previous status quo.
- The content quality is excellent. Most of the time on par or above legal offerings. I can download movies and TV shows in HD resolution in a wide variety of formats. I can get MP3’s in 320 KiBPS or lossless formats.
- The location is the best place on earth. You can acquire everything you want from the comfort of your own home. No need to deal with traffic. No need to wait for the half hour it takes you to get to the store and the other half hour it takes you to get back. Instant gratification!
- It still is more cost effective. It’s not free as some people think or promote. You pay for the bandwidth necessary to download the content. Those resources are dedicating the acquisition, so they are part of the cost. Even though, it is still considerably cheaper, probably even more than before.
Before I had to choose between “good price and bad quality” or “not so good price and good quality”. Now it’s simply a no brainer. The illegal offering is superior, and it’s cheaper. There is simply not enough to motive you to “step out of the dark side” so to speak. That is why the MPAA and RIAA are crazy suing people and companies and spending millions of dollars in lobbying. The only motivator they can count to favor them is fear of prosecution. So the judgment now becomes: “good price but I’m in danger” or “not so good price but I can sleep at night”. This introduces a little more balance to the equation. It’s not the best method. They are not stupid. They are aware of this, but it’s the only thing they can resort to.
We all know they have made attempts to follow the new distribution mediums. They have been hindered by poor quality, awful DRM schemes, non competing release dates, etc. If you look at piracy as a competing company, not a menace, and you compare each offering… again, no brainer.
Markets react to the products and services that are presented to them and under the circumstances they are offered in. It’s not that we wont pay for content! We will. Make it worth our while. Not by driving us into fear. Do it the old fashion way: actually offer a superior product. When you do, you’ll see me in line with everyone else.