So the CRIA (Canada’s recording association, for those unfamiliar with the acronym) is up in arms about a relatively unknown band that they claim would have gone platinum with their debut album if the people who downloaded it illegally had actually bought it instead. I’m nit going to go into all the details about how the numbers they claim are probably false, you can click on the link I added earlier for that, because I want to cover the other side of the argument here.
I do not believe for one second that everyone who downloads from peer-to-peer or torrent sites does not buy music legally. I do not believe it because I have used torrent sites myself in the past. There are bands that are not available on iTunes (my preferred download service) or whose tracks are “album only download”. In these situations, I want to get a good idea of what I’m buying before I buy it. I use peer-to-peer and torrents as a kind of ‘try before you buy’ system. If I like it, I buy it. If I don’t like it, I delete it.
I did that with Metallica back in the days of Napster. I think i’ve mentioned this before on my old blog back when Napster was still relevant. I heard about all the commotion being made about Metallica’s tracks being downloaded, decided to see what all the fuss was about and ran a search for them. Their most shared tracks were ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘One’ so I decided these were probably the best. I downloaded both, listened to them all that night because they were so good, then went to my local record shop (it was MVC at the time but they are gone now) the next day and bought their entire back catalogue.
Hear that, record companies? I bought the entire back catalogue based on 2 songs downloaded to see whst the fuss was about.
What’s more, after the disappointment of St Anger I was wary of pre-ordering Metallica’s next album so I held off. I waited until copies of the tracks started to appear on YouTube (official or otherwise) and I listened to them there. I listened to ‘Cyanide’ and ‘The Day That Never Comes’ and loved both of them. By the time ‘Cyanide’ had finished playing, I had pre-ordered a copy of the album on Amazon.
So, record companies, please note that not everyone who downloads tracks does it to steal from you.
I also don’t just think this this is limited to big business. I run a publishing company, All Mouse Media Ltd, and we use a try before you buy model, too. We publish all our comics online, for free. We also have 20% of the book we have in print right now available through Google Books. When we put our second title into print, we will do the same with that. I put the complete first drafts of my stories online for everyone to read for free. I have put my money where my mouth is on this one.
What has happened as a result of this? Simple: my work brings me an income. I know I’m a relatively unknown author and so do my potential customers. I don’t have the pulling power if Pratchett, King or Gaiman. People will not buy my work simply because I made it. Because I give them the chance to try it first, those who like it reward me. Those who don’t are better off too. It’s win-win.
It’s time the record company dinosaurs woke up to this fact, otherwise they will go the way of the actual dinosaurs -and I’ll tell you something else for free: they will not be missed.