Thursday, January 26, 2012
What if piracy vanished?
There is a saying that you do not know how important something is until you no longer have it. With thoughts of SOPA and ACTA still in my mind, I wondered what would be the results if Santa Claus came down from the North Pole and gave old media the silver bullet for stopping piracy (hint, it is not SOPA or ACTA as those won't work anyway and is as like to exist as Santa)? If piracy were to become impossible, what would happen? Personally, I try not to pirate anything so for me little would change other then knowing that all the stuff I buy is fully legit. Looking at the excuses I have heard for piracy, lets look at the outcome based on the excuses. Percentages are an estimate of how many times I have heard the excuse and don't add up to 100% because most people have multiple excuses.
1. Can't afford to buy the stuff (80%). After piracy is gone, these people will still not be able to afford it. That means that they will not be buying it because they don't have the money to buy it anyway so it is not lost revenue. No extra sales from these people. Granted, some of these people are young and would likely buy stuff once they started getting money but they would have probably done so anyway the difference is that many of these also fall into point 3 even if they don't realize it so the negative sales would apply to these people as well. Net result is a harm to old media and a gain to new media in the long term.
2. Not worth the price (60%). These are people who think the price is too high. Quite often what they want to pay is much lower than what the price will ever be so the result is no sales. In the cases where the price does drop to the point that these people will be willing to pay for the item, some of them will buy the item but most will have found other (new media) equivalent stuff. Net effect is a big gain for new media. While there is a small gain for old media, it comes at a cost of exposure (see point 3) so a tiny short term gain but long term losses.
3. Wanted to see if it was any good (60%). This is the most interesting category as it is where the arguments against piracy fall apart. When you look at it logically, it is obvious that people do not want to buy something they are not going to like. Unless the price is really low most people won't take the chance. This means that there is no net gain from these people. This leads me to a personal example. Steve Gibson recommended the Honor Harrington series but when I looked at the book covers I took a step back. I know you should never judge a book by the cover and this series is an example of why. I would not have grabbed the series had the first two books not been freely (legally) available at http://www.baen.com/library/ . The free books got me to get past my hesitancy about the series and resulted in much more of my money going to Baen. There are a lot of cases I personally know of where a person has become a fan of something due to a pirated copy. Often these people don't buy copies of the stuff they have pirated (sometimes they do) but they usually end up buying new stuff that comes out from that series/author. If they had never pirated, they would not know they liked the series/author and not buy new stuff. Net result is a huge loss for old media.
4. Already Bought It in different format or DRMed (40%). The result of DRM is often products that don't work as good as the pirated version. Some people don't care for the less-functional version so will find a non-crippled pirate version of the product. These ARE NOT lost sales as a copy was legitimately paid for. Likewise, people who have an old record or tape collection do not want to buy yet another copy of something they already own so will "pirate" the stuff they already bought. I assume Santa's solution would cover both these issues so the net result is no gained sales as the pirated numbers were artificially bumped up anyway.
5. Because I can (10%). These are those people who pirate for the sake of pirating. The few people I know who fall into this category either are also in group 1 or buy an awful lot of stuff legitimately so if they were no longer able to pirate they would simply do something else. Possibly a gain for new media. No change for old media.
After looking at the world after the silver bullet I see old media dying at an even faster rate then they are now and new media growing at a faster rate then they are now. Not exactly the outcome that RIAA/MPAA and other MAFIAA type organizations are after. All I can say to the people from these organizations is to be careful what you wish for because you might actually get it and the results are not what you think they will be.