Convenience Can Be More Important Than Free
from the it-ain't-all-about-the-price dept
There’s some buzzing about a recent Forbes article concerning the fact that even though you can get Radiohead’s new music “legally” for free at their site, many, many people are still downloading it from unauthorized sources. This shouldn’t be surprising or even remotely controversial. Of course people are going to download it elsewhere. They do so because it’s convenient. If there’s one thing that we’ve seen over and over and over again is that convenience is everything in this market. It can even trump price. The success of AllofMp3 had nothing to do with “free” music, but with the convenience the site provided. People are willing to pay for that convenience, even if it’s free elsewhere. So, if it’s more convenient for people to get the music from other sources, that should be seen as a good thing. That’s why media companies have to learn to let go of the control and recognize that there are many, many different ways that people will want to get their content, and they should learn to embrace them all, rather than demanding that everyone does things their way.
The Forbes article on this (linked above) has some really odd quotes from Intellectual Property law professor Doug Lichtman, who seems to think that people downloading the album from unauthorized sites is somehow a bad thing that has hurt Radiohead’s experiment. It appears that he, like so many others, seems to have ignored the full explanation of Radiohead’s business model here. What they make from the digital copies is rather meaningless. They’re trying to get the music spread as far and wide as possible, and then are trying to give fans a real reason to still buy the CD by providing many valuable extras. Lichtman claims that this shows it’s hard to compete with free — but I’d actually take the exact opposite lesson. It’s easy to compete with free. If you provide convenience, flexibility and focus on selling services or tangible goods that are made more valuable by the free distribution of content, competing with free isn’t that hard at all. Radiohead seems to be proving that quite well.