On Pirates

For some reason there’s still a debate in genre circles about book piracy, one that seems totally irrelevant to the modern publishing business. For a moment I thought I was in 2009 all over again. However, there are some interesting and fairly witty pieces floating about, and one of them is by fellow scribe Chuck Wendig, who really hopes you don’t pirate his book. There is wisdom there – check it out.

On the same subject, Steve Mosby linked to this powerful piece on music downloads, which I think deserves even wider coverage, particularly because it ends with this to ponder:

Why do we value the network and hardware that delivers music but not the music itself?

Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?

Why do we gladly give our money to some of the largest richest corporations in the world but not the companies and individuals who create and sell music?

This is a bit of hyperbole to emphasize the point. But it’s as if:

Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Hardware: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class. Screw you, you greedy bastards!

Congratulations, your generation is the first generation in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo freak musicians!

I am genuinely stunned by this. Since you appear to love first generation Indie Rock, and as a founding member of a first generation Indie Rock band I am now legally obligated to issue this order: kids, lawn, vacate.

You are doing it wrong.

Beautiful, no? Anyway, I’m of the opinion that the piracy issue won’t ever be settled by discussion in the publishing world – it’s likely to be settled by large corporations, Internet Service Providers and governments, who together have the power to make life difficult for people who use torrent and file-sharing sites. We wished these big players would catch up with the digital age – be careful what you wish for, I say…

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08
Feb 2013
AUTHOR Mark Newton
CATEGORY

genre stuff

COMMENTS 6 Comments
  • TheBrett

    Most of it is just convenience. When you’ve got something that sells at a high price, but at which the production and duplication price is far lower, it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to get legal (and illegal) attempts to arbitrage the difference and make money at a lower price. That’s why we see piracy and counterfeiting in not just digital goods, but in just about any branded good.

    Some of it, though, is rooted in a genuine objection to the idea that someone should have control over how an idea or concept is used by other people, or that people should be able to demand payment for just duplicating something, as opposed to actually taking it. And the big corporations don’t necessarily get a break – just look at the reputation of the music companies.

    Sometimes I sympathize with them, particularly when I see copyright/patents/trademarks detached from those who actually create them, at which point they just become tools for extorting money.

  • http://markcnewton.com Mark Newton

    I do find the concept that the production etc being far lower because you don’t have a physical object is still a little misleading. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, reproofing, design and so on, that didn’t have to be done before. Not to mention the various author advances and distribution costs (yes, a publisher still has to work to distribute ebooks) are all still part of that price, and then there’s not as much difference as people might think. The price isn’t for the object and if people could somehow get a glimpse into the process, I’m sure that would be beneficial.

    But you’re right that it’s about any branded good, and it’s something that’s easily forgotten. Ultimately I’d say all of this is more to do with the fact that people simply want something on the cheap and if they can they will. (Personally, I think if you buy a counterfeit good, you’re paying for the crap quality you get, which is why I’ll make every effort to avoid counterfeit goods of the brands I like.)

  • TheBrett

    I do find the concept that the production etc being far lower because you don’t have a physical object is still a little misleading. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, reproofing, design and so on, that didn’t have to be done before.

    It’s basically an issue of marginal cost, or the cost it takes to make one additional copy of the product. And unfortunately, that’s almost zero because of technology, at least if you look at what it would be without any laws prohibiting it.

    I should have been clearer about that. It’s not the cost of producing it, but the cost of duplicating it that’s driving digital piracy. Duplicating a brand-name car takes a factory, money, etc, so it’s hard and basically never done (usually they just get stolen instead). Duplicating information, though . . .

    The price isn’t for the object and if people could somehow get a glimpse into the process, I’m sure that would be beneficial.

    They do try. When I worked at a university bookstore, the bookstore had a bunch of charts on the walls, showing how the cost of textbooks broke down. It’s just that you’re up against some pretty powerful convenience issues.

    (Personally, I think if you buy a counterfeit good, you’re paying for the crap quality you get, which is why I’ll make every effort to avoid counterfeit goods of the brands I like.)

    I’ve bought a few, but I knew they were counterfeits and mostly bought them because I thought their low quality was funny. I remember getting a pair of counterfeit Oakley sunglasses with a group of kids years ago – we called them “FOakleys”.

  • http://markcnewton.com Mark Newton

    Well, that would certainly be true if we were talking about baked beans or something that possessed your standard marginal cost curve. And at first glance, I suppose units of books look that way.

    But those books? Each and every one is a gamble. A huge chunk of them don’t make the publishers a lot of money. Many of the more esoteric ones especially make no money. But they’re bank-rolled by the successes. The extra unit sales above and beyond what was expected. Without those extra sales that come over time – and it’s theoretically the same for physical books, though there’d be some production cost – that helps the publisher fund unusual books. Different ones. Taking more risks. Adding more variety.

    Of course, with the baked bean philosophy, you could have bookshops and torrent sites filled with cheap 50 Shades copycats, or whatever the latest trend is, but I don’t really want my bookshops to look like that. I like the variety and I know that it comes from publishers being able to afford to try different things.

  • TheBrett

    You misunderstand me. I’m not saying that should be the business model, just that it’s the cost of duplicating additional units of information.

  • http://markcnewton.com Mark Newton

    My mistake. I think, maybe, it’s one of those rare industries where the minimal cost of duplicating the additional units helps the rest of the industry and eventually the reader. Perhaps.