A few people seemed confused by my last post on why Hollywood is wrong about piracy, so I wanted to clarify a bit.
I’m not suggesting anyone get rid of distribution. I am suggesting that piracy is not the threat Hollywood is making it out to be.
It’s best practices in many industries to give away a certain number of copies of your books or songs or images for free – because the more eyeballs that see it (or ears that hear it) – the more money it makes in the long run. This might appear counterintuitive to the kind of corporate executive who manages intellectual properties like commodities – who believes that media should be sold and managed like the goods on the shelves at Walmart. Reduce shrinkage. Prosecute shoplifters. Spend a fortune on traditional advertising, but show no one the actual product til they buy.
However, selling TV and movies is very different from selling a 24-pack of toilet paper. People are going to talk only so much about consumer goods like toilet paper – in person or online – no matter how good your marketing is. But people want to talk about culture. That’s one of the main things we talk about – we identify with what we like, we reference culture to signal we’re part of the gang who likes Bon Iver and Game of Thrones and Annie Hall, we use stories we saw in movies, TV or books to help us make sense of the chaotic mess that surrounds us in our own lives – we enjoy telling each other about what we’ve seen. It’s part of the fun of being human.
And Hollywood wants us talking about their shit. Because out of ten people – if two of them are talking about a movie they saw, the chances are far greater that the other eight may go buy a ticket. Or pay somewhere else down the revenue stream.
But to get more people talking about it, you have to seed the storm cloud a bit. They’re starting to catch on – like when they put Portlandia’s season premiere online before it aired and ratings in key demos jumped 81%. But that kind of thinking needs to extend across the entire industry, not just TV, which is used to giving its shit away for free.
Piracy achieves the same effect, though less formally. If Hollywood were to formalize the practice – legitimize piracy, make downloading titles fast and easy and inexpensive, none of this would be a problem. And yeah, certain distribution arms might have to change to accommodate this, but distribution always has to change to accommodate new technology. Outdated industry models will wither and die in the face of new technology and new consumer preferences. This is what market pricing is all about – letting consumer demand set prices. And if that’s readjusting prices downward, resetting what could be seen as a speculative bubble so that inflated movie budgets have to go away and huge marketing campaigns are replaced by good word-of-mouth buzz, then so be it. The industry will be healthier for it.