Jack Valenti, longtime MPAA president, proclaimed to a congressional panel in 1982 that the “VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.” Mike Masnick, who runs the influential Silicon Valley blog TechDirt, sees an acute irony in comparing the video recorder to a rapist and murderer. “Movie and television studios are now saying the biggest threat that online piracy poses to their business models is lost DVD sales and rentals,” Masnick says. “That market only exists because of the VCR.”
When I say I’m pro-piracy AND an artist, people always ask, “but wouldn’t you be upset to see your work pirated?” and the answer is no. So far as I’m concerned, individual pirates are not the problem, never have been and never will be.
The first book you ever read by your favorite author, did you buy it before you read it, or did you borrow it from a friend, the library, or even get it from a used book store? As a result of that “lost sale” the worst thing that happened was that the author then made other sales in future — think about it, how many of their books have you bought since then? How often have you suggested that book to someone else? How many copies have you bought as gifts?
I believe that people want to support their favorite artists, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is on this one. When my book is ready for publication, I’ll be releasing it in paperback via a small publisher who will set whatever price he thinks is appropriate, but have retained the e-book rights for myself, so I can offer the e-book as a pay-what-you-will download, which is to say, for free.
Why? Because if the book is good, folks will recommend it, and I will make money. Maybe not much, but I believe that’s less the fault of the model, and more a result of the niche subjects I tend to choose. I never had any ideas of writing a best seller, but even so I could do quite well; the data I’ve seen so far suggests I may even make more than if I’d priced it traditionally.
As to the free copies? Well, people who aren’t willing to put down a little cash upfront, or even come back later and pitch me a few bucks probably weren’t ever going to buy the book anyway. It’s not like you can twist someone’s arm on a thing like that. Anyway, what I’ve read suggests the free copies simply average out the high dollar purchases, so in effect, those free copies are not lost sales, they’re free advertising. This is a tried and true model, remember shareware?
Also please note, the question is not, “do you want to see a factory in a third world country reproducing your work in shabby quality with the unsafe labor of children for pennies on the dollar and selling it at an outrageous markup to your unsuspecting fans?” Which, obviously, nobody wants — but US anti-piracy laws aren’t going to stop overseas factories from producing knockoffs. We need the governments in those countries to make and enforce their own laws in a way that works for them. Turning ordinary citizens into criminals isn’t the answer.