Doctorow on Norwegian Piracy Study

Cory Doctorow is, as always, making a lot of sense – this time about the Norwegian BI study that shows that pirates are 10 times as likely to buy music as non-"pirates". He makes two key points. First he explains the result in an intuitive manner:

There's a simple explanation for this: if you really love music, you do lots of music-related things. If you're in the 20 percent of fans that buys 80 percent of records, you're probably in the 20 percent of downloaders that download 80 percent of music, the 20 percent of concertgoers that buy 80 percent of the tickets, and so on. The moral is that music superfans love music and structure their lives around it.

Which means that when the music industry targets "the worst offenders" in its legal campaigns against downloaders, the people they're attacking are the ones who are spending the most on music.
Second, he looks at piracy as progressive taxation according to artist success. This closely aligns with my experience of music pirates. Very few people want to buy Britney Spears, because they're not invested in the artist. They are heavily invested in a particular song. We want to download "Hit Me Baby (One More Time)" and play it at our high school reunion. We don't want the complete Spears oeuvre. As one commenter on Boing Boing puts it "I no longer buy records that suck. And I check out more bands. That's what piracy does for me."

So artists such as Spears, who depend in their business model on constantly attracting attention from newly converted, but fundamentally low- and short-term-interest around hit singles, rather than a complete catalogue, will lose some money:

As Doctorow puts it:
Now, does this mean that downloads end up interfering with sales of music, or not? My guess is that it's a little of both. As Tim O'Reilly wrote, Piracy is Progressive Taxation. Obscure acts probably get more sales than they lose. Modestly well-known acts probably lose and gain about the same. Very famous performers probably lose a little. This has been the conclusion in the quantitative studies in music and books to date, and it makes sense to me.
Me too.

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Blogger suttonhoo said...

me three.

Doctorow nailed it his book Content when he compared free downloads to "visits" -- in online commerce purchases are almost always "considered", meaning folks come back several times (on avg 7) before they're ready to buy.

downloading a title is sometimes like flipping through a book on the shelf before you're ready to carry it to the register to make the purchase. except when it's not, and you're ready to buy. (cf. theories of light: particle & wave.)

the folks who are freaking out equate that same download with shoplifting, because they can't get past the idea that the virtual product *must* have a one-to-one equivalency with the real world product.

and they are mistaken. it does not.

April 25, 2009 6:19 am  
Blogger mrtn said...

Oh, you read Content, too? It's an interesting book. It's sort of like Doctorow himself: messy, but brimming with good ideas and creative solutions.

I totally agree with you - the difference is huge. And the fact is that there is nothing that prevents CC, online-release books from becoming bestsellers. Doctorow's latest debuted at number 7 on the NYT bestseller list, despite being available for free on the internet.

May 04, 2009 11:10 am  

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