Would You Rather Be 'Right' Or Realistic?

from the being-right-in-fantasy-land-doesn't-help-much-in-the-real-world dept

We recently wrote about the excellent comic from Matthew Inman's The Oatmeal to highlight how companies turn would-be buyers into infringers by not making the content available. Here's a snippet.
In response, some folks sent over columnist Andy Ihnatko's response, in which he suggests the comic is actually representative of the sense of entitlement that people feel towards such content. Ihnatko's writeup is slightly amusing as he tries to mock those consumers for actually having an opinion on how they consume content and concludes with this basic statement:
The world does not OWE you Season 1 of “Game Of Thrones” in the form you want it at the moment you want it at the price you want to pay for it. If it’s not available under 100% your terms, you have the free-and-clear option of not having it.

I sometimes wonder if this simple, grown-up fact gets ignored during all of these discussions about digital distribution.
I was going to write a rather long response to why this is kinda silly, but Marco Arment did a better job than I ever would in explaining the difference between being "right" and being "pragmatic." You really should read the whole thing, because it involves a rather detailed example involving the physical layout of a restroom. I'm going to skip over that part and highlight the summary point, but it's worth reading the full thing:
We often try to fight problems by yelling at them instead of accepting the reality of what people do, from controversial national legislation to passive-aggressive office signs. Such efforts usually fail, often with a lot of collateral damage, much like Prohibition and the ongoing “war” on “drugs”....


Relying solely on yelling about what’s right isn’t a pragmatic approach for the media industry to take. And it’s not working. It’s unrealistic and naive to expect everyone to do the “right” thing when the alternative is so much easier, faster, cheaper, and better for so many of them.
This point could be seen as the central theme of many of the 40,000 plus posts that have been made on this blog: dealing with reality is always going to be a more effective way to go about things than taking some "moral" stand on how things "should" be. And, if you can deal with the realities and it actually solves the whole moral "I'm right!" part at the same time, what good is it to not deal with realities?

Taking the point even further, there's a simple fact of today's world, which is that consumers have power. Ihnatko's entire point seems to assume that this consumer power is "entitlement." I tend to think of it as consumers making their will known -- and that tends to lead to better products that should make everyone better off. What Ihnatko ignores is that a market is not determined by just one side. It's the interplay between buyers and sellers, and if the buyers aren't happy, they express that to the sellers in certain ways -- and infringement is one of those ways. It's a market signalling method. I'd argue that it's just as much an "entitlement" mentality by the "sellers" to pretend that only they get to decide what the consumer should be able to get, without listening to what the consumer wants.

Filed Under: business models, infringement, morals, practicality, realism, right

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  1. identicon
    mischab1, 28 Feb 2012 @ 11:42am


    In thinking about this more, I wonder if part of the problem is actually cultural differences. The entertainment industry is used to the cultural interaction between them and retail companies. The producer offers only the products they want to offer at the time they want & at the price they want to sell at. Since we are talking about entertainment, the retailer's only choice is to buy\not buy. They can't get that story\song\book from another producer.

    Consumers on the other hand are used to the cultural interaction between themselves and retail companies. Unlike the prior interaction, consumers are not limited to a buy\not buy choice. If they don't like the prices offered by one retailer, they can go to another retailer and buy the exact same thing for less. If they don't like the selection\service offered by one retailer, they can go to another retailer to get what they want. If a retailer wants consumers to shop with them, they have to give the consumers what they want. There is a reason "the customer is always right" is a common phrase in retail.

    With digital goods, the retailer is fading away leaving the producer facing the consumer directly. Each side looks at the other; sees them behave as they always have; and is amazed at the hubris and sense of entitlement the other side has.

    You can argue the moral correctness of one over the other all day long:
    One side says "If you consume my product and nobody has paid me, that is morally wrong."
    The other side says "I have not deprived you of something you already had. What I do is not morally wrong."
    "Is Too!"
    "Is Not!"

    When all is said and done, that doesn't get you anywhere. Pragmatically speaking, there are a lot more consumers than there are producers. Between the retailer fading away and the advent of file sharing as a new distributor, the producer has become the new retailer. If the producer wants money from the consumers, they have to act like a retailer and offer products in a way the consumer wants. Creating new laws to force consumers to change didn't work with prohibition, and won't work now.

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