I was doing the notebook thing again and it was going pretty well, but halfway through the story, my mind started to wander. I fought it at first, got a little farther. Then I gave up. Perhaps the story will get finished tomorrow.
I don’t claim to have original insight into the topic. I’m not trying to convince you of anything (maybe something you say will convince me to change my way of thinking), but this is where my mind wandered to (is it ok to end with a preposition these days? To where my mind wandered? Whatever):
Back in the day, I bought a TV (or my parents did depending how far back you want to go).
Going no farther than this, I could watch as many episodes of as many shows as I wanted on three channels (some coat hanger tweaking required here and there). If that was not enough, I paid monthly for satellite or cable and got as many episodes of as many shows as I wanted on many more channels.
The more I watched, the more commercials I sat through. Actually, I usually got up to go pee, or get a snack, or just put the TV on mute. Anyway, these commercials were created by people who paid the TV people money to inundate me with glittery items they hoped I would spend my money on. Thus, keeping the economy of the television in equilibrium.
If I wanted to read instead of watch television, I went to the book store. Here I had a choice between paperback ($) or hardcover ($$). Aside from the discount table, all paperbacks cost about the same, and all hardcovers cost about the same. If music was my entertainment of choice, all CDs cost about the same. Unless I went for the radio, which worked on a model much similar to the TV with commercials and such, and all the content I chose to absorb.
It didn’t seem to matter how good the book or CD was. The price was always about the same for new releases, with less popular stuff maybe getting to the discount pile sooner than the hot stuff (this being as close as the consumer got to having input on the value of these items). A book is a book. A CD is a CD. It takes the same effort to print/manufacture and distribute it regardless of how good the content is. You’re paying for the item as much as the content. Or so I was told back in the 90s. Without my own personal printing press at home to do churn out books, I accepted this (like I had choice).
There were used-book stores and libraries for those who couldn’t shell out full price. And there was always borrowing and lending between friends. A behaviour that was not only accepted, but encouraged.
Then technology advanced and the people rejoiced. Faster, easier duplication of books, music, and movies means cheaper per copy (even if paying the artist the same amount) Yay!
Instead of a TV, I buy a computer (ok, I have a TV, but it’s basically working as a big computer monitor). Instead of satellite or cable, I pay monthly to connect to the vast internet. I’m all set to listen to music or watch my favorite show.
But wait. I go to the site that claims to have my show, a site riddled with adverts blinking and moving all over the page, and they want me to pay again. Either yet another monthly fee, or worse, per episode. Now I’m supposed to pay more, and I get less. And I still have to put up with buckets of advertising.
Forget it. I’ll read. It’s now virtually free to make a gazillion copies of a book. So really I’ll just be paying the artist, right? Wrong. The e-book of that bestselling author somehow costs more than the paperback. Despite the lack of paper and ink. And now I’m a villain if I share with other people, or ask them to share with me. Why? Because I can share without giving up my copy? Because I can share with a lot of people at the same time? Using technology to make things easier and more accessible is for crooks, apparently.
Is there really no difference between an ebook and a hardcover? I think there is a big difference. It does not take nearly the time and effort, or material, to make and distribute the former (I’m referring to the item, not the artistic content). Like it or not, is it really so shocking people don’t want to pay the same? And I don’t believe making the kindle version $10.99 instead of $18.99 (as many bestsellers do) quite compensates for the difference. Though, admittedly, some people are willing to pay it. Enough that the publishers are still doing it that way.
Anyway, in any transaction worth its salt, both parties have a say in what a product is worth. To me, peer sharing means these consumers are no longer willing to pay per copy. Because they know the cost per copy is zilch. They can make all the copies they want for themselves on their laptops.
Time for a new business model.
Some have already figured this out. Netflix still does the monthly rate thing, but the cost is very low for unlimited content. They recognize that we’re not idiots. We know how easy it is to send that content out to countless people. Despite the low cost, they haven’t gone out business either. Go figure, the low price attracts more customers. Since those extra customers don’t bring up their production cost, thanks to electronic media, they make more money.
What people are willing to pay for and support is the initial creation of the product. Torrent sharing is not a symptom of lack of respect for the effort the artist (and their team, if applicable) is putting into their product. This is why things like Kickstarter and PledgeMusic work. The value is agreed upon upfront between the artists and the consumers. Extra bonus, rather than a one-size-fits-all price, consumers can pay more or less depending how much spare cash they have, or how excited they are by the project. Then, once the content is out there, it’s out there (whether the artist, or publisher, has accepted that yet, or not). That’s how the internet works. I for one think it should stay that way.
I would like to make money writing one day, but I want to work with evolving technology, not against it. This doesn’t mean I’m disregarding traditional publishing as a way to get my work out there, but I won’t be losing sleep over how many people get their hands on my stuff without paying for it. I think all the copying and sharing can be a very good thing. Especially for newer artists. Free advertising. I’m good with that. Maybe (in this hypothetical, futuristic scenario), someone who ‘pirates’ a piece of my writing will like it enough that they will choose to support my next project with actual money. When otherwise they may never have bothered to read my work at all.
If this means less money per project, fine. If it means no royalties coming in years after I’ve completed a project, and I have to keep producing to make money, then so be it. It’s not like I’m making money now for the job I had five years ago. Why should I? Oh wait. I am making money–on the RRSPs and investments I had the forethought to put a fraction of my income into.
And for those of you who are afraid your favorite TV show will disappear thanks to Pirate Bay, because the networks are not adapting fast enough to survive without their cut from legal downloading sites, or old-fashioned commercials. I think you can relax. It’s no accident what brand of jeans those actors are wearing, or whether the laptop in that scene has an Apple logo on it, or some other trademark that just happens to be perfectly lined up with the camera.
A teacher once told me a story. He was teaching a course in an Earth resources program I was taking. He was somewhat of an expert on camping/outdoors equipment, and was asked to make an appearance on daytime television where he would discuss camping essentials.
He showed us the clip. Near the end he says: “Oh, and one more thing my daughter never goes camping without. Her iPod.” He holds it up, completely nonchalant and genuine. Or so it appeared.
He turned off the monitor. Then he told us his daughter was four years old. She didn’t own an iPod. But, he was paid $5000 to mention the iPod and hold it up for the camera to see. 5k for 5 seconds of
lying acting. Not bad. Obviously Apple had reason to believe that money would be recouped in increased sales. I bet they’re right.
Have no fear. They are making money off you whether you pay directly out of pocket or not. Those advertising funds are still rolling in to the networks smart enough to take advantage. And, unlike back in the days of fuzzy TV with the coat-hanger antenna, this way it’s much less likely you’ll miss it because you’ve gotten up to pee.