Thursday, March 8, 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 2 of 3.


Music. If you want me to buy your music, I need to be able to hear it first. Even if you're trying to sell for profit, you should find a way to get mp3 versions of your music on file-sharing sites. Now I know some of you are going to tell me that since you're selling your songs on Amazon or iTunes then I can hear 30-second preview clips and I have no reason to pirate. Nonsense.

Most music listening is not done sitting in front of the computer clicking "Play Preview," waiting 30-seconds, clicking "Play Preview," waiting 30-seconds, etc. We all listen to music while driving in the car, working out, partying or browsing the internet. I can download your entire full-length album in unrestricted mp3 format in less time than you can listen to one 30-second preview. You're not going to sell me anything by forcing me to sit on one website, going click click click and only getting small snippets of your music. What you *are* going to do is make me not care about your content.

One day I saw the name of an artist I had never heard of before. He had released three albums but hadn't made it big. I downloaded all of his albums and found out I liked a good portion of his stuff. A few months later on Amazon, I noticed he had a new digital album out. I purchased it without listening to a single preview clip. I also told several of my friends about him. I don't know if they bought anything, but that's not the point. The point is he got my money. Specifically because I was able to download his older albums and the stuff he was selling was DRM-free.

Now some of you are sitting there thinking, "Hey, you now have four albums but only paid for one. That artist lost three sales!" Obviously you aren't paying attention. Your facts are accurate but your conclusion is erroneous. No sales were lost. There were only two possible outcomes, either there would be no downloads and no sales or there would be three downloads and one sale. Which would you rather have?

Don't try to gouge me either. We customers have come to expect physical CDs to cost $10-$12. You better be in that range if you want me to buy. You've got no business selling your album for $25, you're just going to alienate me and drive me to download it instead, even if you're a big-name artist. I'm also turned off by the current mp3 market pricing of $1 per song and $9 per album. It's digital, I should be saving more money by not buying the physical product. I think $0.25-$0.50 per song and $3-$5 per mp3 album is my price range. You may think I'm insane, but luckily I'm not confined to your pricing structure, I've got other options.

Those other options also mean I'm not going to entertain your thoughts of using special playback mechanisms to enjoy your music. I will not install some special software just to play your CD. I will not install iTunes. I will not use Windows Media Player. I'm going to convert your CD to flac and mp3 and put it on any device I want. I want my music free of DRM and free of licensing restrictions for personal use. Another thing I'm not going to tolerate is when you offer special tracks through one particular retailer. Like when you make an album with 15 songs and then offer a special 16th song that is only available if you buy from Walmart. I'm definitely going to pirate that 16th song and I'm going to consider pirating the whole thing. Do you want my money or not?

You want to know who's really going to get my money? The artists who wake up and realize they can sell me their newest physical CD for $20. And by paying $20 for it, they're going to give me unrestricted digital copies of this album, and all their other albums. You know who's going to be hurt the most by that? You. Instead of me paying $10 for their CD and $10 for your CD, I'm going to give them the $20 and pirate your album. And if you are going to sell your album digitally, I would really appreciate liner notes. You can offer me a pdf file or simply link me to a webpage, but stop ignoring this valuable info. And make sure you have a website that details everything you've released and what you're working on. There's nothing more frustrating than finding a new obscure artist you like who only has a dormant Myspace music page.

Keeping your head in the sand will also drive me to download. The Beatles fiasco when they held out allowing their music to be sold digitally is a prime example. The band, the heirs and the label all had their idiotic hands in the mix jockeying for position. Since they had no respect for their customers, I decided to downloaded every album simply because I could. When they finally did release digitally, I wanted no part of it.

I have a colleague who has been working with his brother on releasing an album. They are terrified of the internet and it shows. When I first asked to hear some of their music, I was told the only way to hear anything was to come by their studio. Excuse me? Come by your studio? Are you nuts? Barring that, they told me to go see him play live. I'm not a fan of concerts so I doubt I'd go even if it was free, but they wanted me to buy my own tickets. They finally put a few tracks on YouTube but they're still nowhere near getting me to reach for my wallet.


Books, comics and magazines. Some will say it's not a real book or comic if you can't hold it, turn the pages and smell the paper. That's just elitist nonsense. Anyone who has paid attention to the industry knows there is a demand for digital literature and as a producer, you need to give your customers what they want. There is a market for both physical and digital and you better make sure you have both available. Sure, someone huge like Ray Bradbury can hold his breath and stomp his feet and say "No ebooks!" But someone like you can't afford to ignore the market trends. And Ray Bradbury finally releasing ebooks was a non-event for us downloaders, all of his works were already available in ebook format on the pirate sites.

Just like with music, some of you will think that if you provide several preview chapters, I have no reason to pirate. And just like with music, you'd be wrong. Many times I've read sample chapters and then been disappointed by the entire book. Maybe it was your ending, or maybe it was the way you pulled something out of your ass in chapter 17 to rescue the girl. Either way, I'm not gambling anymore. Sure, some people might read those three chapters and think, "Hey, this is great, I'm going to buy this book." Me? I'll download it and read it if it's compelling. If I didn't like it, no harm, no foul. But if I did like it, one of two things are going to happen. One, I'm probably going to buy your next book so you should make sure you have a website where I can check up on what you're doing. Two, if I *really* liked this book, I'm already thinking about who else would like it. I'm going to buy the physical copy and give it to that person. I've probably purchased 10 books this year, yet I don't have a single one in my house because they've all been given away.

So if you want to generate a sale from me, you better make sure your book is available on the file-sharing sites. All of your competitors are already there so there is no reason you shouldn't be also. Additionally, if I buy your physical book, you should throw in a free digital copy. And if you offer digital copies, offer all the possible formats. If you only offer a pdf version, you aren't inconveniencing the pirate community. We can easily convert it to lit, mobi or epub. But what you are doing is potentially losing a sale to people like my mom. If she can't easily get it on her Nook, she's not going to bother with it.

I rarely buy hardcover so I'm going to skip offering a price opinion on it. As far as fiction goes, I expect to pay $6-$9 for a paperback and $3-$5 for a comic. For digital, ebooks should be $1-$3 and ecomics should be $1. Sure, I'll pay more than those prices if you're one of my favorites, but chances are you're not. Stop pricing your content like a diva.

If you've managed to coerce me to buy your current book, you're going to have to entice me if you want me to buy your older stuff (which should always be cheaper than your current stuff as a rule.) At the very least, I should get a discount on your older stuff for being a current customer. And I'm not talking a token 10% discount, make it something substantial like 50%-75% off. Or better yet, use the example I proposed in the music section. Sell me your current paperback for $12 and give me free digital copies of all five of your books. Treat me right, and I'll pay full price for whatever you put out next.

Even though I'm big on downloading, I still subscribe to four print magazines and one daily newspaper. Why would I do that when everything in those old-timey printed things is available for free online? Portability. I'm not paying for the content, I'm paying for the service of collecting all those articles in one easy to carry format and having it delivered to my porch. Now I can take this easily mobile collection with me anywhere I go, including the toilet.


Video games. I've had a very up and down relationship with video games. The ones that I like, I like a lot. And the ones that I hate, I despise. Of all the media I come in contact with, video games have the hardest time drawing money from me and the main reason is their pricing.

Take World of Goo for instance. I first heard about them in 2008 when Techdirt featured their blog post saying they had a 90% piracy rate. The World of Goo makers weren't complaining about piracy, they were just trying to put some numbers out there for analysis. I downloaded the game to see what all the fuss was about, to see what was so great about this game to give it a 90% piracy rate. I felt it was a decent puzzle-type game, and liked the attitude the makers had about piracy, so I considered buying it. The problem was it was $20. I'm not paying $20 for a puzzle-like game that is nothing more than a bunch of similar but different levels. $5 probably, maybe $7, not even $10. I played it a couple of more times to see if it would hook me. It didn't so I deleted it.

Fast forward to 2010 when the first Humble Bundle was released. Upon hearing the details, I thought it was a fantastic concept and had already decided I was going to participate. Low and behold, World of Goo was one of the games. I paid $20 that day and got six games. I still haven't played World of Goo, but they got my money. I've purchased all 7 Humble Bundles and expect to continue doing so.

Now let's look at the big budget games, like Call of Duty, Halo and Madden. $60 for one video game? Forget that, I'm going to download it. If I spend $60 on this game, that means having to skip a future game I might like even more because there's less money in my pot. Even getting these games on sale for $40 is too steep. Right now, $30 seems to be the most I'm willing to spend on a game. And those prices are for when I buy physical copies. I expect discounts when I buy digitally. I think $20 is the max I'd pay for a digital game.

Someone out there right now is thinking, "What?! We spent $25 million making this game, there's no way we can make a profit selling it at $20." Not my problem. If you want me to buy it, you've got to get the price down. Here's an idea, don't drop $25 million making one stupid game. So while you bitch about it, I'm downloading it and playing it anyway.

Here's a real life example of how this works. I heard from a friend that Mafia was an enjoyable game. I downloaded it, played it and enjoyed it. Did I immediately go rush out and buy it? No, of course not. But when I heard Mafia II was coming out and it was made by the same company as the first one, I pre-ordered it. During my pre-order, for $10 more, they offered a Mafia I/II bundle, so I bought the bundle. When the games arrived, I gave Mafia I to a friend.

Why did I download Mafia I instead of trying out their demo? Because video game demos are the worst kind of samples of any media out there. I played the demo of this one adventure game and the demo was nothing more than a series of well-crafted interactive cutscenes. When I bought the game, I discovered the main gameplay was horrible which explains why it wasn't present in the demo. And the cutscenes weren't interactive. I got baited and switched. I once played the demo of an RPG that lasted about 10 minutes and had you fighting through one dungeon. When I bought the game, I found out it had only one other dungeon and the total game time was about 35 minutes. It's not worth it, it's easier to just download the full game. I'm done gambling.

The interesting thing about Mafia II was that I still pirated it. When I went to install the game for the first time, they tried to force Steam down my throat. I will not install Steam or any other DRM package just to play your game. I'm starting to soften up on Steam because it looks like the guys running the show seem to understand gamers. But my biggest complaint with Steam is that I want to play my game. I don't want to wade through advertisements, memos, updates and reminders. I want to play my game. The one I bought.

One company who will never get my money until they get their act together is Ubisoft. I refuse to give them any money until they stop with this nonsense. I'll still be playing their games though, but I'm tired of having my system mucked up or made less secure because of poorly designed DRM. The farthest I'm willing to go is entering a serial number one time, during installation. Anything more complicated than that and I'll probably ignore your game completely. If there is a lot of buzz, maybe I'll download it to check it out. Many times I've had a better experience with the pirated version of a game than the retail version. If something isn't working right with a game, the pirates usually include a fix in the download package.

Ubisoft's stance on their upcoming game I Am Alive is rather amusing. Even though they later backpedaled, Ubisoft originally said there would be no PC-port because of piracy and it would initially be released on Xbox and PlayStation. What I find funny is that the people clamoring for a PC-port are the ones who would probably buy it. The rest of us will just download the iso and play it on an emulator.

If you expect to have any hope of me buying your game, you really need to work on your pricing structure. Nobody buys one game and plays is for 24 months straight and then buys another game. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements for the next new big game. And you know what? It's exciting, we like it. We want to play your games. When they're $60 a pop, it limits the number of games we can buy, but it doesn't limit the number of games we can download.

Next post: part 3 of 3.

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