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The Internet and Congress

So, at this point in time if you’re not aware of SOPA and the PIPA legislation you must be living in a cave, or don’t use the internet at all, and so aren’t reading this anyway.  So I’m not going to bother explaining either of these bills.  You know what they are.

On the bright side, they’re effectively dead.  What supporters they have have backed out, opposition is rampant, hell even the White House is set to shoot them down if the House or Senate were to pass them, assuming they still have the numbers to make that happen.

Unfortunately, while these particular bills seem unlikely, this is not the first nor is it likely to be the last time such things will be proposed.  Which is troubling.  I understand the concerns of intellectual piracy.  Piracy is wrong.  Period.  Don’t try to defend it to me, such arguments are fallacies.  However, having a stranglehold on the distribution methods is not an acceptable answer.

There is a better way.  I don’t pretend to know just what it is, but I like to think that I am part of something that may just figure it out.  Webcomics give their content away for free.  I have to wonder, what would happen to sales if  Hollywood used our business model?  What would happen if a movie was released, officially, free for your viewing pleasure online with simultaneous release in theaters?  Would theaters really suffer?  As it is, no one really likes going to the movie theater.  It’s always full of noisy people interrupting your viewing experience, sticky floors, and that one drunk dude who inevitably pukes up his popcorn.  But maybe, having seen a film at 1600×900 pixels, Jeff would gather up his six best buddies and go see what he now knew for certain to be an awesome film on the big screen, and BE HAPPY to pay the $12 for the privilege.  Having seen the film for free, perhaps sales would actually spike.

Maybe that’s a fantasy.  I don’t pretend to know for sure.  But I have to say, the only way to really prevent piracy is to change how people feel about paying for content.  If they don’t know, or think it’s crap, or simply don’t care they’re not going to shell out.  But for quality, people will pay through the nose.  Changing people’s minds is the only way to bring about change.  No law, no regulation, no penalty, nothing will make things change until you change their minds.  Change their minds.  Make them care.

So how do you make an audience, a market, care?  You open up.  It really is that simple, as far as I can tell.  The most successful production companies are the ones that put themselves into their product, and truly wish to share it with their audiences.  When you put up pay walls and lock things down with regulation and excessive licensing, you push people away.  You give off the impression that you want to keep whatever media you’ve created for yourselves, that you only begrudgingly allow others to see it because they’ve bribed you with money.  Is it really so surprising that there are those who wouldn’t think twice about sneaking a peek without paying up?

I don’t know how to end piracy.  I don’t know if my business model translates to any other media type.  I don’t even know if the webcomic business model is a viable model writ large.  Perhaps it’s only rare exceptions who make it work.  But I do know, without hesitation that I, as a consumer, will eagerly pay top dollar for media I enjoy and/or enriches my life.  And the harder it is for me to acquire my beloved movies and books and music and comics through official channels, the more likely I am to walk away.

And so in parting thoughts, I shall sum up the business model for the new millennium in four easy steps:

  1. Make it Awesome.
  2. Make it Accessible.
  3. ???
  4. Profit.

27 Responses to “The Internet and Congress”

  1. Gimarie says:

    I can’t even count the times I’ve said, “Oh that movie looks kind of good, maybe I’ll come see it.” Except then I say, “Hell, is it gonna be good? I don’t want to pay if it’s not good. I’ll just wait to rent it or something off of Red Box for a dollar.” Massive price gap right there, and all it costs me is an extra buck when I go pick up a gallon of milk. I paid to go see Lion King in 3D because I know it’s a freaking awesome movie that I’ve seen a million times. I’m going to pay to see Beauty and the Beast. You know, perhaps you’re onto something, Mr Graham. Perhaps.

  2. lonely says:

    Or if you’re really iffy about it, you could get it from the library. I just waited through 1500 hold and I’m going to see Transformers 3 now.

  3. Kuma says:

    In China a lot of the music goes out for free now and they make their money through concerts and merchandising. They knew they couldn’t stop the piracy (something like 99% of all music files are pirated.) So they found a way around it. Same principle works with free public newspapers. Articles get published because advertisers pay for what eventually are the operating costs.
    I think people need to just rethink the traditional business models that they we’re using prior to the internet and adapt to what is now a very digital world. Webcomics and youtube channels make money through selling their mp3s and t-shirts. There is a reason it’s not going away. But thats just my 2 cents.

  4. Andy says:

    (Note: this got a lot longer than I meant it to… oops)

    1) Make it Awesome.
    2) Make it Accessible.
    4) Profit.

    How many people do you know who started downloading music illegally when CDs cost $18? How many do you know who stopped when it became possible to get the whole album online for $10, or a single track for $0.99? I know a lot of them.

    People haven’t stopped going to movies because they can get them free online: they’ve stopped going because they’re not getting enough entertainment for their money. (Actually, I’d argue that that’s because movies are getting less interesting, but I’m pretty sure that’s just me…) Regardless, I’d see a lot more movies at $6/ticket than $15, which is what my local theater charges now. At that price, I wouldn’t mind walking out halfway through if I was bored.

    How about books? I’ve pretty much stopped buying hardcopy books, and I used to buy a lot — I’ve got over 2000, mostly sci-fi fantasy, still sitting in my library, and that’s after getting rid of everything I was pretty sure I’d never read again. But at $8-9 per paperback, I get them from the library. Or, you know, download them. I can go to Baen’s website and get most of their catalog at around $5-6 each. I’ve bought something like 35 books from them in the last couple months.

    I see the same pattern at work: I do IT support, and it’s the same with software. People pay for some things: the general rule seems to be that if it’s under $100 and really important, people will pay for it. Office used to be pirated on almost every laptop I saw. Now students here can get it for $50, and almost everyone buys it. Almost every machine I saw had a pirated copy of Photoshop on it, because it was too expensive for a student to be willing to pay for it. Now they can get it legally free (it’s a lot of hassle, but they don’t have to pay for it), and almost everyone has a legal copy. I bet they’d be paying for that, too, at $50.

    People aren’t stealing because they’re mean, vicious people who want to defraud companies. They’re stealing because the media companies have priced themselves out of the market.

  5. Novalpha says:

    Couldn’t have put it better!
    Make it good.
    Make it affordable – even if you have to postpone the filling of this third swimming pool of yours…

    And here we (all) come back!

  6. Gillsing says:

    It’s possible that a ‘pay as you please’ model might work even for the big companies, but I don’t think that it would give them more profits than their current model. And business is all about increasing profits, or at least decreasing them as little as possible. That’s why the old business models are only changed by necessity, with the old companies being dragged kicking and screaming into the future. And they don’t really have an incentive to give up until fighting costs more than they’d lose by surrendering.

  7. A Lone Wanderer says:

    The answer to #3 is; Care about what you make and who buys your product.

    Companies are in it for the money honestly, but the ones that last longest are the ones that make their customers feel appreciated, be they evil or no.

    Affordability comes into play only where you have a market that is not under government control via regulation or otherwise. The U.S. market is technically no longer a “free market,” save for internet businesses. It is my belief that this is the major reason for the push on SOPA and PIPA. And the fight has only just begun!

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