Piracy vs. Availability: a Parable

by Hugh

A Parable of the Past

An, er, friend of mine heard an interview on Fresh Air with Scottish director Armando Iannucci about his new film In the Loop (IMDB). He’d never heard of Iannucci, or the movie, or the TV show upon which the movie is based. The audio clips from the movie were so great he then went to Youtube to see if he could find more clips. He could. The clips video looked even funnier than the audio.

The movie — it appears — “comes out” on August 14. In the old days, that meant my friend had two choices:
1. Wait two weeks to watch the movie in a theatre
2. Wait six months (?) to rent the movie and watch it at home

It always annoyed my friend that he had to wait to watch movies he wanted to see, because movie studios liked to release movies at different times in different cities; and then wait months after that to release the DVD for rental.

The studios did (and do) this not because they surveyed their customers, and found they preferred having to wait to watch movies they wanted to see in the way they wanted to see them. The studios did (and do) this for various business reasons, that have proved, over time, an effective way to increase revenues on a movie.

Times Are Changing

But these are not the old days, they are new days. And a few things have happened. My friend watches 95% of the movies he watches on his computer; he rents DVDs using zip.ca (Canada’s Netflix); and occasionally when he wants to watch a certain movie right now, he looks for it online.

The movie studios so far have decided that he should not watch movies online when he wants to watch them.

Which in the old days, meant he just had to wait, despite being more excited about this movie than any other movie he’d heard about in past year or so.

A Parable of the Present

But it turns out that other people (not studios) can get their hands on copies of movies as soon as they are available — often before they are released in theatre — and those people make them available online. This is especially true for movies that lots of people really really want to see, right now.

So my friend now has a third choice:
3. Watch the movie when & where he wants.

It turns out that my friend much prefers option 3. It also turns out that movie studios don’t want to give my friend option 3 – which makes my friend shrug a little when he hears them talking about piracy.

Not because he wants things for free, but because it seems to him that “digital” means studios and moviegoers no longer need be constrained by the two choices of the old days. Option 3 is easy and cheap, and that’s the option he wants.

He often says: If you, as providers of content, give me what I want, when I want it, at a reasonable price, I’ll be happy to pay for it. But if you don’t want to give me what I want, when I want it, I’ll be compelled – when I really want something – to find other ways to get it.

Lessons

  1. If there is demand, there will be supply.
  2. In the digital world, media is infinitely copiable & distributable at rougly zero cost
  3. Media companies have long built their business around a restricted supply
  4. If demand exceeds restricted supply in the digital world, someone — not necessarily the owner of the good — will meet that demand by making & distributing infinite copies at zero cost
  5. Trying to stop # 4 is like trying to stop water going down hill
  6. If restricting supply is no longer a viable business, then something else must be
  7. When supply is unlimited, other factors drive the choices people make
  8. Those drivers include: ease, quality, curation, attention, service, connection
  9. Media companies – including book publishers – should stop thinking about business based on phony restricted supply
  10. Media companies – including book publishers – should start thinking about how to build business around the actual drivers that will bring their customers to them (see #9 above), instead of sending them to the pirates

Epilogue

It was one of the best movies my friend has seen in a long while; and he has urged me to urge you to watch it. You’ll love it (he says).