How Neil Gaiman Went From Fearing 'Piracy' To Believing It's 'An Incredibly Good Thing'

from the epiphanies dept

Public Knowledge points us to a wonderful short clip of Neil Gaiman, being interviewed by the Open Rights Group, explaining how he has completely changed his mind about “piracy” and copyright:

He admits that early on, when he saw his works “pirated” on the web, it made him quite upset. At first, he (totally incorrectly) believed that if he didn’t fight online copies, it might mean he’d lose his copyright (a myth based on a weak understanding of trademark law that sometimes people confuse with copyright law). Thankfully, he learned that wasn’t true. However, where it gets interesting is when he realized that whenever his works got “pirated,” it actually seemed to help his sales:

“Then I started to notice that two things that seemed much more significant. One of which was that places where I was being pirated — particularly Russia (where people were translating my stuff into Russian and spreading it out into the world) I was selling more and more books. People were discovering me through being pirated. And then they were going out and buying the real books, and when a new book would come out in Russia it would sell more and more copies.”

He then mentions that after a lot of persuading, he got his publisher to release a free digital copy of American Gods, and sales went up by 300%, even though it had already been selling quite well before that. And that was his epiphany moment that you’re “not losing sales” by having stuff out there. And he explains how “piracy” is just a giant way of lending books, and points out that, when asked this question at talks, he asks how many people in the audience found their favorite author because someone lent them a book vs. going into a book store and buying it. And only 5 to 10% of people found their favorite authors first by buying the books.

“That’s really all this is. It’s people lending books. And you can’t look on that as a lost sale…. What you’re actually doing is advertising. You’re reaching more people. You’re raising awareness. And understanding that gave me a whole new idea of the shape of copyright and what the web was doing. Because the biggest thing the web was doing is allowing people to hear things, allowing people to read things, allowing people to see things they might never have otherwise seen. And I think, basically, that’s an incredibly good thing.”

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Comments on “How Neil Gaiman Went From Fearing 'Piracy' To Believing It's 'An Incredibly Good Thing'”

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54 Comments
fiestachickens (profile) says:

What you're actually doing is advertising

I find this article particularly well timed. Recently, a friend of mine recommended Neil Gaiman to me and lent me a book. I enjoyed the book so much that I went and purchased several more books by Neil.

If I had never been lent that book, the odds of me ever discovering Neil’s works would have been incredibly slim. In truth, while I did not spend any money on the first book (I “pirated” it by borrowing it from a friend), I so enjoyed his works that I went and purchased several more of his books (and I’ve lent them out to others / recommended him to others).

All of this to say, I am pleased to see that Neil discovered that “pirating” (people utilizing your artistic works without paying for them) is actually a platform for advertising yourself. In fact, not only is a method of advertising, but it is a method of crowd sourcing the advertising for you. Essentially, what Neil discovered was that by giving away his work for free, he was able to leverage an incredible platform for advertising that no other method of advertising could provide to him!

Anonymous Coward says:

Marketing is a wonderful thing: If you martket a product, you might actually sell some of it.

Books are an interesting place, because people still value the dead tree editions enough that an electronic version won’t hurt sales so much. I suspect some people read a sample, decided they like his work, and purchase the book to actually read it.

That of course will change as the dead tree editions stop being produced in the next few years. Then, just like moving from cassette tapes to perfect copies, the writing world will get to face the true effects of piracy.

I am looking forward to him changing his mind again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ahh yes, Metallica… last album in late 2007, or early 2008? 2 years of touring, and instead of off to work another album, they are off to play shows in a wild 4 some of metal acts, including and right though to the end of 2011. If they get the urge, you might see some new music from Metallica in 2012 or 2013.

5 years between albums. Seems piracy may have removed some of their motivation to “innovate”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I think they aren’t “embracing it”, rather they are wandering away from it. Making a new record is quite a job, it’s not a 10 minute thing. If all of your work goes to nothing, if you are going to attract the same size audiences, sell the same merch, and do the same number of shows, why make more new music unless you truly feel like it?

Their actions speak louder than words. Only 2 albums since the Napster deal, 11 years ago. Lars may say nice things about piracy, but it certainly appears to have contributed to their lack of productivity.

Chosen Reject says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Making a new record is quite a job, it’s not a 10 minute thing.

If it’s such a difficult thing to do, then why are you wondering why they aren’t making a new album? Apparently they are busy touring. They can busy themselves with touring for years and you wonder why they aren’t making an album? People are willing to pay to see them years after their last album was released and you’re wondering why they aren’t making a new album?

It seems like becoming popular and rich stops creativity more than piracy. I say we outlaw wealth and becoming popular.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Umm, sorry, no. Actually, my taste in music tends to run to alt rock, old style grunge, metal, and the like. Oh yeah, jazz ๐Ÿ™‚

Lady Gaga makes me puke, because she clearly has no talent. But she has a great ONLINE marketing team that has promoted her endlessly through all the great places that get pushed around here, and now she is top of the charts all over, with absolutely no talent required. She is actually the completely proof that the internet age stars suck worse than what was there before.

vivaelamor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

“Umm, sorry, no. Actually, my taste in music tends to run to alt rock, old style grunge, metal, and the like. Oh yeah, jazz :)”

If you like jazz then I would recommend Elizabeth Shepherd, Sola Rosa, Marie Fleurand Jill Tracy. Bonus, metal jazz: Diablo Swing Orchestra.

“Lady Gaga makes me puke, because she clearly has no talent.”

While I’m not a great fan of her style of music, to claim that she has no talent is funny. She started playing piano at four and was performing at open mike nights at fourteen. ‘Oh, well that doesn’t mean she was any good’ I imagine you will say, but then she was admitted to the Tisch School of the Arts when she was seventeen. If you’re still not convinced then here’s an early clip, which I like a lot more than her famous stuff.

“But she has a great ONLINE marketing team that has promoted her endlessly through all the great places that get pushed around here, and now she is top of the charts all over, with absolutely no talent required. She is actually the completely proof that the internet age stars suck worse than what was there before.”

Great, pop music gets an actual musician and you use her to ‘prove’ that the internet is bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

Lady Gaga may have had some musical talent in the past, but right now she is all about marketing talent, not musical. Her music is pretty much disposable and forgettable. It isn’t the stuff of classic playlists in the future. She is Madonna without the actual content, or Elton John without a piano or skill. Style over substance, look over material.

Jazz? I am all over the road. Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones, as example, and then Frank Zappa or Vernon Reid. I don’t tend to look at Jazz as just a style of music, as much as a musical attitude. On the other end of the non jazz scale, I am as likely to enjoy Rancid as I am to enjoy Suicidal Tendancies, Bad Brains, motorhead, or the Long Beach Dub All Stars / Sublime. Attitude is a wonderful thing, no matter what.

Some of your suggestions are interesting, I will have a look ๐Ÿ™‚

vivaelamor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

“Lady Gaga may have had some musical talent in the past, but right now she is all about marketing talent, not musical. Her music is pretty much disposable and forgettable. It isn’t the stuff of classic playlists in the future. She is Madonna without the actual content, or Elton John without a piano or skill. Style over substance, look over material.”

You mention Madonna, whose natural talent seems to be regarded as all round mediocre, yet seem to rate her above Lady Gaga on substance. I still like both of them better than Elton John (despite him having a whole lot more talent than Madonna), because I just don’t like his style. Lady Gaga obviously concentrates more on fashion than music, as did Madonna, but I don’t have a problem with that because there are plenty of dedicated musicians out there.

“Jazz? I am all over the road.”

Elizabeth Shepherd is probably the most traditionally jazzy in my collection, but in terms of genre jazz is probably as broad a label as rock.

“Attitude is a wonderful thing, no matter what.”

If you’re interested in attitude then Mindless Self Indulgence are a gem.

Bruce Ediger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Or they’re feuding with their label. It happens, previous case in point, Prince. He changed his name to a non-typographical symbol to irritate his label.

Maybe Metallica is trying to irritate their label, or protest some horrible contract or something by touring (where they keep the money) rather than doing a studio record (where the label keeps much of the money.

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think a crapload of money and old age are the only things removing their motivation to do anything… and I don’t really understand how being on tour for 2 years and then going into a foursome to play more shows for at least another year, as you say, isn’t an understandable excuse that could be otherwise put as “they were too busy to worry about writing songs…there just wasn’t a pressing need for them to.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Well, it must be old age, because their concert rate for the last couple of years was only averaging 1 out of 3 nights or so. They haven’t exactly been wearing themselves out. Even Ulrich is quoted (on Wikipedia of all places) in saying that they haven’t written a thing since 2006.

When a band can’t be bothered to write new material, you have to wonder. It is clear that since the Napster thing, they have only turned out 2 albums… in 11 years. Someone suggested they “embraced piracy”, but the results seem to suggest they are just not bothering to record anymore, because there is little motivation and little desire.

Side note: Comparatively “washed up” classic metal band The Scorpions have toured more extensively than Metallica in the last 11 years, and have released 3 albums in the same time period. Hmm!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Ahh yes, Metallica… last album in late 2007, or early 2008? 2 years of touring, and instead of off to work another album, they are off to play shows in a wild 4 some of metal acts, including and right though to the end of 2011.”

Seems to me, this is exactly what any musician wants to be making a living doing. They get to play music and make tons of money for doing it. Who needs to release a new album when you’re booked solid on performances?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

My feeling is that newspaper and dead tree books are going to become the next targets for the green people. As soon as it is both viable and common for people to have decent ebook reader, the pressure will come. Save the trees, save the environment, stop generating all that pollution to make the paper and wasting all that oil to ship the books around.

It’s hard to see from here, but it’s coming.

Chuck Turnitsa says:

Agreed

Poignant thoughts on a touchy subject. I know that when I have encountered creative works (either through a borrowed copy, from the library, on pandora, through youtube, etc etc etc) that I never would have bought, I sometimes find myself impressed enough to then go out and purchase further works by the same artist.

Books and music are certainly part of that phenomena, at least for me.

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) (user link) says:

Re: Re:

It’s been at rest for a while. A ways back it was replaced by “alternative business models only working for small-time and very popular producers”, then “alternative business models only working in very special cases”. It’s currently at “alternative business models not scaling beyond the novelty appeal, and relying on generosity being demeaning for creators”.

Not an electronic Rodent says:

Re: Re:

That means that maybe once and for all the boogeyman of “alternative business models only working in very special cases/for small-time producers” can be put to rest.

Don’t be daft – as has been shown every single time an example comes up, you can make the “But this one is a special case because [insert reason here] it couldn’t possibly work for anyone else!” model fit anything.
Neil Gaiman by the way fantastic author – Neverwhere, Watchmen, Sandman, American Gods, Good Omens with Terry Pratchett. All fantastic.

Joe Obvious says:

Just because the activity is from some file on a computer, doesn’t mean the method has changed. In general, people really do want to consume culture in a way that supports their favorites, it’s just that their pennies are precious, why spend them until they know it’s a sure thing? People need to stick their toe in the pool before jumping in. It’s just that now, the pool is worldwide and filled with the Free bits and bytes of human culture. It’s a new time where people have an opportunity to find new passions, and support them.

Welcome to the 21st Century, Mr. Gaiman.

sehlat (profile) says:

Availability isn't the only factor in buy vs. pirate, though.

As an example, a friend of mine recently discovered a large selection of pirated books. She told me over a dozen Harlequin romances, and a Rachael Caine book, all of which she was interested in.

I asked her what she’d done. The reply was interesting. The Caine book was by a publisher which had stripped all of Rachael’s work from fictionwise during the great Amazon-Publisher War. So she kept the pirate edition.

I asked her about the Harlequins. Her reply was “They’ve never f***ed me over for either price or availability. I bought those, of course.

How publishers and other “content providers” are perceived is clearly also important.

Rinald J Roley says:

This Is Why Artists Should Leave Accountancy To The Experts

So this guy thinks just because his sales have gone up, he must be making more money? What a na?ve fool. That?s not how piracy works. If that was all there was to piracy, nobody would worry about it. So clearly there isn?t.

The problem is, he?s counting his sales as though they were actual property. But they?re not?they?re intellectual property. So you?ve got to account for them in an intellectual way. And once he includes all that intellectual property theft due to piracy, he will realize he is making an intellectual loss on his business. And once he realizes that, he will no longer be so sanguine about piracy.

What Mr Gaiman should do is consult a proper qualified Intellectual Property expert, like myself, rather than just listening to the uninformed ramblings of those who don?t even grasp basic economics. Intellectual property isn?t something special, it?s no different from real property, and should be treated exactly the same as real property. Therefore, intellectual stealing is still stealing. QED.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: This Is Why Artists Should Leave Accountancy To The Experts

Ha, yeah, I was pretty sure it was sarcastic. My point was that IP maximalists have become such caricatures of themselves, it’s impossible to tell sarcasm from their actual beliefs. Kind of the opposite of “it’s funny ’cause it’s true” – it’s so true, that it’s not even funny anymore.

(Through no fault of “Rinald J Roley,” of course.)

Shava Nerad says:

I am terrified by these places called libraries. They give people free access to the stuff I write for free and it’s obviously anti-author. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Note that publishers didn’t freak about libraries because they believed in the multiplier effect of one (sometimes discounted) copy in a community.

My experience is that piracy goodness maps best to book sales, less to music, and even less to video, esp TV – just from observing the bad habits of friends.

And this worries me, because a book can bewritten by one person, but a movie or opera, say, needs broader funding, to support hundreds of artists.

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to recall that publishers and authors did freak out over libraries, in the distant past. And about a century ago publishers and authors (Mark Twain, for one) freaked out about used book stores and media lending, which lead to the Doctrine of First Sale that officially legalized those two actions.

History is currently repeating itself, and publishers and authors are again freaking out about second-hand sales and lending, especially in the realm of computer software and digital book/music/movie downloads. But at the moment said publishers and authors are having better luck (in suppression) than last time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Piracy markets based upon quality over reputation

Which I suppose also explains why the old gatekeepers hate it so much as well. Someone lesser known but of good quality gets previewed by others and they think ‘holy crap this is great – I need to buy it and everything else by them’. Meanwhile the gatekeepers produce hyped up crap and when people preview it they say ‘this is mediocre’ and forget about it.

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