WILL DOWNLOADING INCREASE VIEWERSHIP? - Complications Ensue
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Monday, July 17, 2006

The conventional wisdom is that free downloading kills sales, whether of music, books or episodes. Some claim that downloading (piracy) has little effect because a lot of what people download they would not have paid for anyway, so there is no loss of a sale. This science fiction author shows that giving away free electronic copies of his books has actually boosted sales of his physical editions. He believes it's because people want a hardcopy edition, but they like to use the free e-text as a sampler to see if it's worth buying the book. The logic seems counterintuitive but the numbers are pretty clear.

Some readers have argued that so long as networks are willing to sell high-quality recordings of their episodes for a reasonable price (one or two bucks), people would much rather pay than steal. (After all, many people are paying $60+ a month for cable, which pays for a lot of appointment TV.) In this case, TV series "as we know it" won't have to change so much.

Via Webs.

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8 Comments:

You have the link to my site wrong, Alex. It's: http://101squadron.com/blog.html

Or, specifically to the Baen post: http://101squadron.com/2006/07/jim-baen.html

By Blogger Webs, at 3:49 PM  

Most people are going to get a show whether they want it or not, simply by virtue of being force-fed programming via channel tiers. They will have plenty of free opportunities to find out of they will like it or not.

I know a lot of my friends regularly download episodes of Battlestar Galactica and Stargate SG1/SGA, and even though I have nothing to do with those shows, those are two I'd like most to work on right now (there are others, but I feel they are well out of my league right now, and I'm sure you'd agree.)

It burns me to think that eventually I'm going to see people trading around something I wrote.

I think JMS has said much of what can and need be said about the issue right here.

By Blogger Paul William Tenny, at 4:45 PM  

Say what you will about downloading but I know that it took a friend of mine showing me a pirated copy of the first couple episodes of Battlestar Galactica to change my mind.

I had no interest in that show whatsoever - wasn't a fan of Battlestar Galactica. But those episodes were so good that I literally went out and NOT ONLY bought the Season 1 and 2 DVD sets (when they were available), I've also been loaning them out to friends ever since.

So, out of the cost of those 3 pirated episodes they managed to get $90-$100 out of me for the DVD box sets and easily several thousand dollars in free word-of-mouth advertising (hey, what can I say? I'm not cheap :P). Not too shabby if you ask me.

Personally, I think that people won't - and don't - mind paying for a quality product as long as they know it's quality. Many other industries have solid try-before-you-buy policies so why do people freak out at the idea of letting a quality show sell itself?

The digital music industry is booming 'cause people want what they want when they want it - slowly the TV industry is catching on. ;)

DD

By Blogger DefiantDragon, at 6:25 PM  

There is a Harvard business school study which backs up the claims by Jim Baen - downloading doesn't hurt, but is like crack. You give people a taste and they keep coming back for more - whether that's in print, dvd, cd or whatever.

If people buy DVDs because of downloading (as in defiantdragon's example) I don't think that the Guilds should have a problem, as writers will ultimately be paid for their work.

Guilds, Unions and organizations like the MPAA need to look at the facts and not the "conventional wisdom." The facts bear out a business model that Hollywood has only scratched the surface of, because they had their heads buried in the sand.

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 7:15 PM  

Those amongst my friends who download stuff are also the biggest buyers of DVDs that I know. Mostly it's American TV that gets poor or no UK distribution -- try finding VERONICA MARS on any channel here. It's thanks to them that I laid down money for boxed sets of ALIAS, GALACTICA, CARNIVALE...

None is a tightwad and I'm pretty sure that most would pay for a legitimate service. But they bristle at the notion of paying storefront DVD prices while providing their own hardware, bandwidth, manpower and media.

(Universal's UK venture is a bizarre arrangement in which you can download a locked file that can only be played on a computer, while they mail you a DVD -- see http://www.bva.org.uk/content.asp?id=27068)

It's one thing to see the greater part of a purchase price going to middlemen who are necessary to get the goods into your hands. But right now the studios think that if they eliminate the middlemen they should be able to pocket the difference. When that mindset changes, they'll be able to take the one action that can actually eliminate the pirates, and outmarket them.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 5:38 AM  

I think this discussion overlooks the very different relationship we have with different forms of media, which (I think) will result in even greater divergence of the way we get them into our homes. Music is sticky by the individual song. That is, if you hear a Shakira song and you like it, then you want to listen to that song again, perhaps repeatedly. It doesn't necessarily make you want to listen to the NEXT Shakira song.

If you see an episode of a TV series, you probably don't want to watch that episode again and again. If you like the episode, it will make you anticipate the next episode. So releasing a small amount of content free is probably a lot better investment for TV than for music.

So the relationship with books is trickier. It takes an investment of time and energy to read a novel, so people tend to look for "brands" of a sort, to know which ones are going to be worth reading. Particularly for a genre author, an online free download could be quite a promotional tool. (Of course, as I occasionally have to remind my students, you don't need to buy books to read them. They tend to forget the existence of libraries.)

And there's a difference in the way media can go from electronic downloadable format to traditional portable format. If I want to transfer the songs I've illegally downloaded into a format I can put in my stereo, it's easy. If I want to transfer a book I've downloaded into a format I can read on a train, it's not so easy, and an inconvenient waste of paper. So if I like a book I've downloaded, I might buy the printed copy, whereas I'm unlikely to buy a disc of music I've downloaded.

Then there's the whole issue of promotion vs. piracy. If a creator chooses to release work for free as a promotion, that can be a smart move. If someone else chooses to release that creator's work for free, it's completely out of the creator's control, and I can't get behind that so much as effective promotion.

By Blogger Andrew, at 8:58 AM  

It's true, JMS pretty much said it all.

A consideration specific to tv writers: If you're writing a spec, you need to have the show at your fingertips, so you can watch it over and over, see how they structure the acts, internalize the characters, etc. If you want it to be current, you can't afford to wait for the DVDs; you have to download. My solution? I pre-order the DVDs. That way they already have my money; I've paid for what I'm watching. Why bother? Not only because I think the writers (directors, etc.) deserve to get paid for what they do, but also because execs make their decisions based on how much money a show makes. If I want a show to stick around long enough to get hired by them, I have to show the execs that this show is worth money to them. Same goes for a genre... If I want to write for sci-fi, I have to show execs that sci-fi can make money.

Now if only more shows were available on iTunes...

By Blogger Katya, at 12:40 PM  

For what it's worth, Scott Adams found exactly the opposite. He put one of his books on the web for free PDF download, and found it let to NO increase in sales of the physical copie.

Several people expressed and interest in seeing the sequel, though .. when it came out free as well.

It's interesting to hear arguments people give for shoplifting. eg: If I steal this product, I might get a taste for it and so buy more of it later on. In fact, I'm doing the shop a favour by shoplifting a few items to get some 'free samples'. Other shops offer free samples, so I'm not REALLY shoplifting anything ..

Mac

By Blogger Mac, at 10:51 PM  

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