In the discussion of my pirated products, Steve Remingon posted some good points to my Facebook page.
… you are assuming that the all 202 people who have downloaded the audio version of your book will not like what they hear, realise this information will be useful to have around and then go out and buy a paper copy. Alternatively they may like what they hear and then contact you to pay you for a services in another way.
Second, the people who do not subsequently buy an audio or paper copy of your book were never going to spend the money in the first place so you or the publishers in fact have not lost any money.
These are good points. Right now, I only have a couple of products, so increasing awareness by giving one of them away for free won’t lead to many additional sales because there’s not much else for them to buy. One of the favorable reviewers on the pirate board has already suggested they have someone sign up for my next paid program, record it, and post it on the board. I suppose I should be flattered?
While the meme of “lots of awareness will turn into increased sales” is a popular one, I suspect for every Cory Doctorow, there are 100 people like me who haven’t succeeded with that equation. The difference is that almost by definition, Cory’s grassroots popularity also spreads the story of grassroots success, while the absence of grassroots success doesn’t spread the story of “what a crappy strategy.”
I’ve been giving away free content for eleven years. The magical tidal wave of potential customers that is supposed to result never materialized.
“They wouldn’t have bought anyway” may be true. If that’s true, then unless they’re generating follow-on sales, I would rather they not have my material at all. If it’s not valuable enough to them to pay for it, and they don’t want it badly enough to buy, then they shouldn’t have it. That’s how an economy works.
“It’s OK to steal because I wouldn’t have bought the thing I stole” is not a defense that works in any legal, moral, or ethical system I’m aware of. And if a single one of those pirates would have purchased a program and now didn’t, then I’m out money.
Cost to Copy is Only One Piece of Cost
People confuse incremental production cost with total production cost. I attended MIT, Harvard Business School, and Deming’s “Total Quality” college. Then I applied big chunks of that to developing personal productivity products. The cost to me of that production is well into the six figures , not to mention several years of my life. Even the audio production of the MP3s takes time, effort, and cost. The fact that the final step in the chain—copying an audio file—has no cost attached to it doesn’t mean that it was somehow free to produce.
I don’t know. I’m just frustrated. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing for now, but if I have a wonderfully huge underground following that doesn’t translate into enough sales to pay my mortgage, at some point I’m going to pull the plug and go do something that makes money.