Giving away the content freely is good for business

Well, there you go! Here is proof that Digital Rights Management and attempts to control copies of intellectual property does not help business. Paulo Coelho put online “pirate” copies of his own books and that made sales soar. I’m taking Coelho at his word that there is no other explanation for the increase in sales than the fact that he book available freely on the internet. His sales went from close to nil (1000 copies a year is nothing) to being a bestseller (millions of copies a year!). And these are sales not just copies that people downloaded for free. See the writeup at Torrent Freak for the details. This real world experience completely refutes the received wisdom that to maximize profits, publishers must prevent people from freely copying intellectual works. Not only that but the question which comes to my mind is if Coelho’s sales were so poor initially and he was able to make them soar by offering free copies of his book, then what benefit did he get from working with a publisher? Even, if he did get a benefit from working with a publisher did that benefit outweigh the costs? Because, as we all know, publishers do not provide services for free.

Here we have an instance of the content creator willingly giving away his work for free, so the author is able to give us the real deal about sales figure and how making the work available freely affected them. However, in cases where the work is leaked illegally, the publisher is left to build a narrative as to what happened. Usually, that narrative is based on the bunk notion that all illegal copies are lost sales. So they figure the book has sold X copies and Y copies were downloaded illegally. Then they consider Y to be a net loss. In other words, in a world where free copies are not available the book would have sold X+Y copies but because of copying, it sold only X and so they lost Y in profit. They do not consider that perhaps the situation is more like Coelho’s. Granted, the Y copies were made illegally. But maybe if they had not been made at all, the total sales would be a number much smaller than X. So in a world where free copies are not available, the sales would not have been X+Y but would have been Z where Z is only a small fraction of X. So in the end, without the free copies they would have lost much more than Y.

The story here is that doing away with DRM and lowering the cost of access helps making the work visible. With so many movies, books, games, tv shows available out there, being visible is most important because if people do not know the work exists, they will not even consider buying it. DRM and high prices are the prime obstacles against visibility. It is high time to recognize this.

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