Media frenzy

First with all the publicity surrounding SOPA, and now with BitTorrent site The Pirate Bay blocked by many ISPs, a lot has been written recently about file sharing. I don’t delude myself that any contribution I make to the debate will be especially insightful, but there are a few things which have been bugging the hell out of me.

Let’s first put aside all issues surrounding copyright law. I’m not looking for argument about the ethics of file sharing and am willing to accept the simple truth that file sharing copyrighted material is, for the most part, illegal. I think it’s right that artists and publishers should own copyright and receive some form of remuneration when an artistic work is distributed, so really I have no reason to gripe about the law in principle.

What drives me crazy is that publishers have floundered for the better part of a decade to understand the realities of legal downloading and consequently the possibilities. Even now, I think publishers are incapable of applying common sense in the way they market and sell their product.

For example, browsing on Amazon I can see that the first Game of Thrones book is currently selling for £3.86 in paperback. The Kindle edition is £3.99. It’s actually more expensive to buy it for Kindle than it is to own the paperback. It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth if you have already spent between £89 and £149 on your Kindle. I think Kindle editions are cheaper in many cases, but how many books would you have to buy for your Kindle before you actually clawed back the cost of the Kindle itself? And don’t forget there’s no resale value to your Kindle editions. You might be able to put your old books on eBay, but you can’t do that with the books you bought for your Kindle.

Another thing I have noticed with the Kindle is that Amazon currently doesn’t offer a discount on purchasing the Kindle edition with the paperback. If you could get the Kindle edition for an extra 50p or something, it might be tempting to have it in dual formats and switch between the two. Personally, I feel like the digital copy should be thrown in with the paperback, but maybe that’s expecting too much.

I don’t mean to single out Amazon and the Kindle, but it highlights how the value of legal downloads are perhaps slightly inflated. There is a disparity between the cost and what you actually get for your money, because the publishers are disinclined to significantly differentiate between types of media format when it comes to pricing; even though we do as consumers.

It’s not only book publishers which are out of touch. All the major comic book publishers now have apps which allow you to easily access their catalogue and download comic books at will. It is only quite recently that the comic book publishers really got their act together and started shilling their wares in a digital format. For many years before, comic book fans shared scanned copies of popular series and the comic book industry was initially reluctant to counter this piracy in an intelligent manner. Now they have at least started making high quality digital downloads available, but I am struggling to find a good rationale for switching to digital. Yes, I know it’s cheaper. It’s actually also more convenient, because the digital copies take up less space and it’s so easy to pick up the comics you’re interested in, drop titles, and try new things. There’s no reason for you to miss another issue ever again.

However, there’s something very satisfying about leafing through a physical comic book and in owning a set of comics you love. I suppose I am a collector, but owning printed books carries a particular type of appeal for me. Also, again, we should consider resale. Sure, I might save a dollar an issue, but I’m really not saving anything if there’s a good chance I could sell the printed comic for a dollar or more at some point in the future.

I’ve talked about books and comics, but the same issues seem to affect other types of media, like music and movies. You can, for example, download movies via iTunes, but they’re the same price as they are on DVD. Actually, browsing right now, I’ve noticed Source Code is £6, but I paid £5 for it on DVD a few months ago; so I guess in some instances it’s cheaper to just buy things on DVD.

I go through phases of purchasing lots of movies on DVD (and inreasingly also on Blu-ray). I like to purchase things which I might not necessarily watch again and again but which I will be happy to have displayed on my shelves. I like good quality releases from companies which take pride in putting together definitive editions. Many times I find that buying a particular edition is quite expensive and I will really only get a few hours of enjoyment from it, but I don’t mind if it’s something worth supporting.

Publishers often quantify the cost of illegal file sharing on the basis that the people who downloaded a particular piece of media would have purchased the DVD or the CD had they been able to get the thing for free. This is of course a fallacy. When people are given access to an infinite amount of media, they become undiscerning. Just because a person will watch a film for free, it does not mean under different circumstances they would choose to pay to see the same thing.

I can’t afford to buy everything I want and often cannot really justify buying things which interest me, but I buy what I can and spend my disposable cash on things like comic books and DVDs. If you made those comic books and DVDs cheaper, I would just spend the same amount of money but buy more of what I like. This is probably true of most people to some degree and I think there’s a sort of equalibrium in which people spend what they are comfortable spending, then they purchase as much as they can within that bracket.

If this is the case, lowering the price of legal downloads might encourage more people to legally download the things they enjoy. If I could purchase back issues for about 50 cents or less (as you often can in comic shops), I would be inclined to purchase and read entire runs just for convenience of not having to track things down. If new comics were significantly cheaper in their digital format (perhaps $1 per issue), I might make the switch with some titles. If I could download a new film for £5 or rent it for £2 or £3, I would do that. Until publishers start thinking in this way and making more of their content easily accessible to people with average incomes, there’s too much incentive for people to stick with physical formats for things they really like and illegally download everything else.


3 Responses to “Media frenzy”

  1. Good Post.

    I posted on Piracy last week. If you would like to read it it is here:

    • thebigsmoke Says:

      Thanks, Phil. I checked out your article and would just say that my post is not about piracy so much as it is about the potential of legal downloads.

      • I suppose they both come under the banner of piracy, and I agree with your point about cheaper downloads, would lead to less piracy.

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