The Content Industry Keeps Penalizing The People Who Actually Pay
from the i-know-the-feeling dept
I’ve pointed out before that, contrary to the smug insistence of many people who dislike this site, I don’t download any unauthorized content. At all. In 1999 I had Napster on my computer, but I was stuck on a dialup connection, so I never had a chance to test it out before it got shut down (and, at the time I had no real desire to listen to music via my computer). Since that time, I’ve always legally obtained the various content I consume, preferably directly from artists themselves, but otherwise through buying the CD or via Amazon or CD Baby (and now I use Spotify a lot too, though I still like to directly support artists when I can). Despite people insisting that I must be “pirate Mike,” as I’ve said repeatedly, I’m simply not comfortable with going against the wishes of copyright holders. My arguments concerning the economics of free and why I think many artists should embrace these markets has a lot to do with what I think would be best for them, but I’ve never tried to use that to justify copyright infringement (again, contrary to what some insist).
During the SOPA fight, I explained this to someone who was heavily involved on the other side of the debate, and he simply couldn’t believe it, and made comments to the effect that even he would download unauthorized content, even if he felt it was wrong and he felt morally obligated to pass an internet-harming law to try to prevent himself from continuing to do so. Of course, for what it’s worth, I’m sure that I accidentally and incidentally infringe all of the time. Someone sends me a YouTube video? Could be infringing. These days it’s impossible not to accidentally infringe all the time. But when it comes to actually getting copies of content, I feel a personal obligation to do so in an authorized manner.
So, I identify quite closely with Brian Barrett’s recent article at Gizmodo, where he basically explains that he’s just like me: he pays for all the content he consumes. And he follows it up by noting that, even as he knows this is the “right” thing to do, it makes him “feel like a sucker,” because the experience he gets is much worse than what those who download unauthorized copies get.
I waited nearly a full year to watch Game of Thrones, because that’s how long it took to get from HBO to iTunes. If I had any interest in purchasing a Avatar 3D Blu-ray, I would have either had to buy a Panasonic 3DTV or wait three years just for the right to spend thirty bucks on FernGully with giant blue cat-people having tail sex.
Even content that’s accessible doesn’t often make much financial sense. Amazon’s the most reasonably priced e-retailer in the world (seriously, it’s got 1,000 albums for five bucks each right now), but even it can be fraught with peril and annoyance. Ebooks that cost more than their paperback equivalents. The specter of DRM haunting every click. A layout so unnavigable you feel like you’re being punished.
Want to comparison shop? Forget about it. Ecosystems aren’t just apps and software anymore, they’re movies and TV shows and everything you’d ever want to watch, read, or listen to. On any given day the best price might be on Amazon or iTunes or Google Play or Xbox, but if you want the simple comfort of knowing everything you paid for with your own American dollars lives in one place? Expect to pay full freight for most of it.
This is why I’ve always been arguing from the position of copyright holders and the content creators for why they shouldn’t just scream about how awful piracy is, but rather learn from it, and note that many people who are infringing are getting a better user experience. When they don’t do that, the end result may not be “infringement,” but it may just be people dropping out of the market entirely. Lately, that’s what I’ve done with movies. Despite being a movie buff, the limitations and controls on movie efforts has just made the whole thing not worth it. Combined with less time than I used to have (yay, family life), it’s made me pretty much stop watching movies or TV shows over the past two years. These days, the market is so fragmented, and the offerings still all seem so half-baked, that I’d rather spend my time reading or writing or just spending time with friends and family. I don’t necessarily feel like a “sucker” as Brian does, but I find that it’s just not worth the hassle.
Eventually, I figure the market will catch up, and perhaps I’ll go back to it at that point. But if the industry has lost some of my spending dollars it’s not because of infringement — but because they’ve failed to deliver a compelling customer experience for me.