Cory Doctorow: How to get people to pay for content in a free digital world
April 20, 2011 | 11:52 pm
Cory Doctorow’s latest column on The Guardian talks about ways to convince people to pay for “legitimate” products rather than downloading free versions off the Internet. He points out that many companies are trying to fight piracy using mostly sticks, when in fact that carrots would work better in some cases.
In the article, Doctorow examines the pros and cons of each method—some good, some bad—and how content creators are succeeding or failing at applying them. The methods include:
- Buy this or you’ll get in trouble
- Buy this because it’s the right thing to do
- Buy this because you’re supporting something worthwhile
- Buy this because paying money will deliver high quality
- Buy this because it’s convenient
- Buy this because your devices won’t play the unauthorized version
- Buy this and you’ll get more features than you would with the unauthorized version
In a lot of these methods, even when publishers, labels, or studios try them, they tend to have a hard time getting them right. For instance, the “high quality” legitimate DVDs frequently include some pretty strong negatives such as unskippable trailers or commercials, and “high quality” legitimate computer games often include DRM that messes with your computer.
And “convenient” can be problematic too for media such as e-books that fall under regional licensing restrictions so are not available to large parts of the world—while illicit pirated versions are.
One thing Baen is doing right is the “supporting something worthwhile” aspect. Quite apart from the DRM-free, inexpensive nature of their e-books (which gets into the “high quality” aspect), they also host a community forum where many of their authors choose to participate in discussions with readers. This puts a human face on the authors, and makes readers that much more likely to want to buy their books—it’s one thing to stiff some faceless writer somewhere, but another to do it to someone you consider an acquaintance or friend. (Non-Baen authors who blog or social network do this, too.) Mike Masnick at Techdirt calls this the “CWF+R2B” formula: Connect With Fans, and give them a Reason 2 Buy.
You do catch more flies with honey. Content producers might do a lot better at fighting piracy if they focused on giving consumers a quality product that would not make it harder for people to enjoy something they’ve paid for than something they went and got for free.