It’s very telling to see someone extraordinarily popular, extraordinarily widely-read, and with a great deal to lose, put his own works up on the internet for free as an experiment, and change his mind about piracy when the empirical evidence proves his original thoughts on the matter wrong.
Just yesterday, I bought a copy of Watchmen — my first ever — despite having read it years ago. Why would I have bought it, if I already know the story? If I already read it for free once before? Because the content is worth it to me, and I never would have known that for certain if I hadn’t read it first.
I know some of my readers consider this opinion of mine to be damaging to their own bottom lines, and will dissent in the comments, as they’ve done before. Every time I point out one of these cases, where someone tries pricing the distribution of their content correctly, or every time some creator discovers their content is being distributed at the correct cost without their consent and does the unthinkable — engaging with the copyright infringers as fans — they mysteriously become single anecdotes, rather than data, when their sales improve as a direct result. Why do I figure their sales improve in these cases? Because the content is worth it, and like me and the Watchmen graphic novel, people might otherwise have failed to realize that they would have enjoyed it and considered it worth their money. I’m thinking that since these experiments happen so infrequently, and since they especially happen so infrequently when done by content creators with a great deal to lose, that these particular instances show that content quality matters far more than artificial scarcity.
Is piracy a panacea for flagging sales? Of course not. Like how word-of-mouth about how terrible Gigli was hurt their sales, inducing the studio heads to scapegoat the fact that folks used texting to spread the word, it’s the quality of the content that really matters. Prove it’s worth the money to people, by way of letting them try the actual product rather than a slick and polished piece of marketing, and they will buy it.
Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.
The worldwide copyfight will continue apace, of course. The intellectual descendants of SOPA/PIPA are still being proposed and still being lobbied for by those content middle-men with their hands on the levers of power. To them, maximizing their own profits is a far higher priority than maximizing the profits of the content creator.