Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Cost of Piracy

I caught this article on bleedingcool.com.

I'm always frustrated, and amazed, by people who feel, without reservation, that there's nothing wrong with this. Even beyond this guy, who's just blatantly making money on the backs of someone else's property. Yet, still the reason this guy thinks it's OK is indicative of a social mindset that's rampant.

Music, comics, digital books, it doesn't matter what the content is, there seems to be a vast disconnect to the idea that someone created it, someone put up the money to put it into a professional format, and someone paid to distribute it. Just because something can be made into an ephemeral format, like a digital file, has reduced the value of the work, the work itself, to nothing.

I get that the comics companies haven't yet figured out that the digital format should be less than the physical product. It'll come. They're too busy trying to appease the retailer market right now, because it's the only income stream they can count on. That might change if they embraced the $.99/$1.50 for a digital book price point, but they're scared.

I don't believe that would change the mindset, anyway. You can download a song for $.99 on Amazon, which I think is very reasonable, and you usually pay less if you buy the whole album in one fell swoop. Not that anyone cares about full albums anymore, except us fogies. Yet, piracy is rampant, and musicians can't even look at their actual music as a source of income anymore. It's a loss leader to try to sell T-shirts and other merch, and the profit ratio on that stuff is piss-poor, too.

Yes, Gene Simmons will sell you anything with "KISS" on it
There's a blues/rock guitarist I follow a bit named Joe Bonamassa. Extremely talented, works a lot, tours, and I got on his mailing list. I get e-mails about new music, but mainly it's about bobbleheads, or expensive lithographs. Which is fine, but I despair that music isn't about music anymore. It's all KISS, now, branding focused.

Which has always been, and will always be, part of the picture, but I worry for what will ultimately happen. It already kinda has, I firmly believe, for example, Marvel is more a movie company now, than comic book publisher. The needs of their movie/TV arm are driving choices in their comics publishing. "Corporate Synergy" as an editorial strategy. That makes me sad.

And I get it, brave new world, and all that. I understand you have roll with the times, and adapt. I think there are very smart people who've figured out how to give away their music, or comics, or novels, and make up the difference with ancillary revenue sources. Good for them, but I, again, am sad that the idea, the intellectual property, the story, the song, the germ that's supposed to drive the whole engine, is not the financial focus.

Plus, it's easy for Radiohead, or Neil Gaiman, artists who've established their "brand" under the old system, were marketed by large record labels and publishers, and now want to treat this as like checking out books form the library. Artists who either give away their work, or publicly state they aren't concerned. They've already established other revenue lines, and their value to their audiences. That's their right, and I support it, but what about the kid making demos, or comics, or writing in his basement? He doesn't already have a movie deal, or a world tour set.

In the old days, that kind of marketing plan would be called selling out. I try to imagine a punk band in the late 70's looking to T-shirts and keychains as their main income, and it's just...ridiculous. Bill Watterson was against licensing his strips for coffee mugs, let alone taking a check for a Calvin and Hobbes TV series. Now, I'm not a militant about it, I get that this is the way of things. I just feel like an artist should be able to sell his art, and make a living. If that makes any sense. He or she should also have the option of NOT using cafe press to put their logo/characters/face on a pair of panties to make a living.

Yes, I'm old, and I'm growling at the kids to get off my lawn. That, however, doesn't make my point less valid.

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