Pirating should be rewarded

Let’s admit it: pirating of movies, music, comedies, whatever, can’t be stopped. You can send all the cease and desist letters you like, sue as many people as possible, pay programmers to install the most sophisticated security available… but the public will find a way. Rather quickly, in fact. Piracy is here to stay and there is nothing you can do about it.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter. Piracy can only help.

Consider these situations:

1. Jane pirates because she can’t afford to buy the product.
2. The product is not released/distributed any where within a reasonable distance to John, therefore he has to resort to pirating.
3. Jill isn’t sure whether the product is worth spending money on but she still wants it, so she pirates it to test it out.
4. Jack is just cheap.

In all of those above scenarios, your customer gets to try out the product at no risk to them. Better yet, because it’s free a lot of them will give your movie or song the chance that they otherwise wouldn’t have if they had to pay for it. Then, if your art is remarkable, they might end up buying the album or the DVD when it becomes available to them. Even if your customer is like Jack, he’ll tell many of his friends if he likes it enough, and they might buy it. Or perhaps a person finds a song on his friend’s iPod, loves it, then goes out and buys a copy? Word of mouth.

Sure, there are some people who will download your product, never buy it, never tell anyone, or not like it, and hence add no value to the process. If they don’t like it, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t be all things to all people. But a few of the people who like the product but not make you any money in the short term may end up being a long term asset. Maybe she’ll buy your next release and the one after. Even if he or she never buys it, you’re still getting something extremely valuable: their attention.

Embrace piracy. Turn it into a benefit for you. Monty Python did, and they’re enjoying a 23000% sales increase for their DVDs. Even if you don’t like your art being pirated it’s not like you can stop it. You might as well take advantage of it.

EDIT: Charlie Hoehn had this to add in the comments:

“I agree that piracy has tons of benefits from an economic standpoint, but it’s a big problem when you condition people to expect free, 100% of the time. Your customers will not convert to paid customers easily when you say, “I know I’ve been giving this stuff away forever, but this time it will cost.” As with every relationship, it’s extremely important to manage expectations.

There’s something to be said for online businesses that skirt the freemium model and charge a high price for all of their services.”

He’s right of course. Free is remarkable. But like all things remarkable; too much of it renders it boring and bloats your customers expectations. Thank you, Charlie, for your ideas on the matter.

On that note, if anyone else has anything to add – ideas, questions, counter-arguments or questions – feel free to post in the comments or just email me instead.

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3 thoughts on “Pirating should be rewarded”

  1. I agree that piracy has tons of benefits from an economic standpoint, but it’s a big problem when you condition people to expect free, 100% of the time. Your customers will not convert to paid customers easily when you say, “I know I’ve been giving this stuff away forever, but this time it will cost.” As with every relationship, it’s extremely important to manage expectations.

    There’s something to be said for online businesses that skirt the freemium model and charge a high price for all of their services.

  2. Charlie,

    You’re right, that is a big problem and I didn’t consider that when I wrote this post. I’ll add your comment to the blog entry, and then when I develop my ideas about the topic further I’ll do a follow-up post.

    Thanks for your thoughts, and thanks for posting. I appreciate it.

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