Monday, March 5, 2012

Why I Pirate - An Open Letter To Content Creators

Note: The following is a copy of my open letter that I originally posted on Step2. This is part 1 of 3.


I once rented a car for work and had an unpleasant experience. When I returned the car, I thought to myself, "I'm never renting from them again." After sitting on it for a day, I realized conducting my own silent protest wasn't going to help me or the rental agency. So later that day, I called their corporate headquarters and told my story to the VP of customer relations. More importantly, I told him what they did wrong and what kind of experience I expect as a customer if he wants my future business.

I would like all the content creators reading this to view this post as though you are the car rental agency. I am a dissatisfied customer who may never buy from you again unless you get your act together. I normally wouldn't waste my time explaining all this, but the content creators on Step2 certainly seem to be going in the right direction so I'm hoping this information will help.

This post isn't my attempt at a debate. You won't hear any mention of theft versus copying, exposure versus lost sales or right versus wrong. All I want to do is give you real-life insight from the file-sharing world. I want to hold your hand and show you how I decide what to buy and what my motivation is to pirate. I will use the terms pirate, download and file-sharing interchangeably throughout this post but they all mean the same thing: to download your content for free.

Some people will read this and think, "I don't care what this guy says, internet piracy is damaging." For those people, I ask you to skip the rest of this post and jump to the bottom section titled, 'In Closing.'

Some of you won't read this entire post and it won't hurt my feelings. You won't understand your customers and we won't buy your content. And don't read this hoping to find out why people download your content in the hopes that you can stop it in the future. You cannot stop file-sharing. It would be like trying to stop people from using electricity. People who have already paid for your content will also be some of the ones who download it. *And* they'll share it with others.


I'm probably in your demographic. Male, mid-thirties, no children and living in Los Angeles. I'm also an unashamed downloader. I have many albums, many movies and many games that I share with friends and strangers. Most of which I've downloaded for free. Surprisingly, I also have many albums, many movies and many games that I have purchased, that I also share with friends and strangers. How did this happen?

When I was 16 and got my first job, I had nothing else to spend my money on but movies, music and games. I amassed a decent collection those first couple of years. As I grew older, I discovered I had purchased a lot of garbage. I was buying based on hype and I hated myself for it. By the time I was 21, I had stopped buying everything. I only played video games at my friend's houses and I only rented movies because at $1 a pop, I didn't feel ripped off if the movie sucked. I stopped buying music completely because it was hard to justify gambling $10 per CD. And trust me, that's what it all felt like, gambling.

I was in my twenties when Napster appeared and I still remember the day I heard about it. I had just started converting my CD collection over to mp3 and Napster saved me tons of time. After I downloaded the stuff I had already purchased, I began checking out new content. I quickly found several new acts that I liked and started downloading more new acts. It was addicting. When Napster was finally shut down, the file sharing industry had exploded. All these new services were catering to all types of media. Internet speeds were increasing. I had to buy larger hard drives to store everything.

I noticed something peculiar though. I was buying music CDs again. And I was going to the movies again. Same thing with video games and movie DVDs. It definitely started out slowly, but I can say with certainty, I spend significantly more now on entertainment than I ever did before I started downloading. And my story is not unique, many file-sharers will tell you the same thing.

Here's one thing a lot of content creators seem to not understand: I'm downloading your content because I'm interested in it. I'm not downloading it to try and stick it to you, I don't even know you. It's up to you to make the content compelling enough for me to buy it. I might not buy this one since I already have it, but if I become a fan, I'll likely buy the next thing you put out. Many content creators will think this is unfair. "I created the content, I get to control distribution and formats." No, you are wrong.

It used to be that way. If the record label said, "We are releasing this album in New York on the 10th and in Los Angeles on the 20th and only on cassette" then I had no option but to deal with it. Now, I don't care when, where or how you release it. If I want it, I'll get it. This is exactly what the internet did: it took control away from you and gave it to me. If you don't like it, then sit in your basement and create your content for your love of the craft instead of for profit. But if you want to sell it to me, you're doing it my way.

I will still give you my money if you make me happy. The sad part is there are still times where I would gladly pay for something but the content creator has left me no choice but to download it. Techdirt seems to post a story like that once a week. I'm not going to deny myself the enjoyment of your creation just because you haven't figured out how to collect.

How about this, I'll continue to download your stuff and have a blast. When you finally catch up, I'll buy your new stuff if the price is right. Maybe if you're lucky, I'll tell one of my non-techy friends about your movie or book and he'll buy the physical copy because he can't figure out how to download it. And I'm not going to feel bad about any of this because according to my credit card statements, I spend about $2,500 a year on entertainment. A $200 per month entertainment habit that is *unequivocally* fueled by file-sharing. Yes, I download more than $200 worth of content a month, but if you take away my file-sharing, you'll lose the money I'm putting into the market. That was definitively proven during my pre-Napster days.


So let's approach this from a different angle. How about we take a deeper look at why I pirate your content and how you can extract money from me. But before I discuss how to get me to buy your album or book, let's go over a few things that are common to all types of media.

A. I have a lot of things competing for my entertainment dollars. You can't expect me to buy your content sight unseen when your competition has already proven to me that they have a quality product. You have to show me what you've got.

B. Get a handle on your pricing for digital media. Look, we understand why a paperback costs $7. You have to buy paper, glue and ink. It has to be written, edited, printed, shipped and stocked. And each of those people wants to cover their costs and make a profit. But when you write an ebook, and all you have to do is hit 'copy' to make another sale, you have no business charging $7 each. Remember before when I said I'm not downloading to try and stick it to you? In a situation like this, I'm downloading because you're trying to stick it to me.

C. Don't try and restrict when or how I can purchase your content. The internet has made the world a single, always-open marketplace. Either your product is for sale or it's not. Don't try and tell me I can't buy the DVD in the United States because Europe gets the exclusive rights for the first 2 months. I'm just going to download it and probably forget to buy it.

D. Stop trying to dictate how I can consume your content. This includes formats, media types and playback restrictions. I don't care if you think it's only real music if it's played on vinyl. I want it in mp3 format on my phone so I can listen to it at work. I don't care if you think a Hulu subscription is only valid for a computer. I want to watch the content on my television. I don't care if you think I should have to buy a digital copy separately from the DVD. I'm going to buy the DVD and create my own digital copy. And if you try to inject DRM to prevent me from doing what I want, you will have ruined your reputation and I will never buy from you again. Instead, I will only download your content for free. The question isn't whether I'll get your content in the format I want, the question is will you get my money in exchange for it? Your cooperation helps.

Next post: part 2 of 3.

No comments: