What’s so wrong with giving people what they want?

DRM is DefectiveByDesignStudios make movies to make money; publishers publish books to make money; music companies produce cds to make money – content producers want to exploit their content to make money. That’s why they seek strictly to enforce their copyright in movies, books, music, and so on. It’s how they make their money. And they adopt measures to protect this content from piracy. So, they objected to the photocopier, and to double-tape decks, even though a photocopy or copied tape is rarely as good as the original. Now, however, the benefits of digital content are threatened by the ease of copying digital content without loss of quality. And the content producers, in particular the movie and music companies, are (controversially) trying to use technology to prevent such copying and (even more controversially) to use the law to support (and enforce) such anti-copying technology. They have failed to understand why it’s getting such a bad press, and they have become locked into a mindset that seeks to corall and control their content. And they can’t see that much of this anti-copying technology makes life very difficult indeed for their customers.

The challenge for these companies is to find a way to co-exist with both the advantages and disadvantages of digital content, without losing customers. As Antoin recently demonstrated, however, they are not meeting this challenge very well:

Revenues are falling in the industry, from around $38 bn to less than $30 billion in a few years and that’s without taking inflation into account.

So he posed the questions

  • what concrete steps can the music industry take to stop, or at least slow down piracy?
  • how can the music industry make money from peer-to-peer and music downloads?
  • how could they trial this?
  • In reply, Bernie ventured a proposal constructed on making available 96 kbps free MP3 samples, and selling easy to find 192 kbps tracks of the same material. He’s absolutely right that one key to growing the market is convenience. The local record store is still a convenient way to buy cds, and its convenience is what’s keeping it alive in the face of competition from online retailers. If and when downloads become as convenient to purchase and use as cds are, then the music industry will do itself the favour on which Antoin and Bernie muse. Apple have seen this; they have come out against some of the technology that music companies use to prevent copying because that technology makes enjoying the music very difficult even for legitimate users – making download and use more convenient can only be good for sales of Apple’s products.

    The solution lies in getting the right mix of convenient things: good harware (computers, players), good – fast – broadband, easy sharing between machines, persistence and durability of downloads, ease of download (software, hardware, internet connection), ease of location – the key is to make it easy for the non-techies. Bernie might buy his “tracks from Yahoo! Music, the Podsafe Music Network and iTunes”, but a lot of people with computers don’t download music at all because they think it more convenient to buy the cd; and a lot who do download music, download pirated material rather than protected material not so much because it is cheaper as because it is often simply more convenient.

    Making music download considerably more convenient will divert many people from priates to legitimate sources, which will slow down piracy; but the industry will have to accept that promoting convenience and thus growing the market will result in some piracy. They will simply have to stop worrying about this as a problem, and embrace the internet as the solution instead. As Apple are proving with iTunes and the iPod, if paid-for download is convenient, people will use it. The answer to Antoin’s questions then: do more to make download convenient rather than difficult. What’s so wrong as a marketing strategy with giving people what they want?