April 27, 2009

"Casual pirates" vs. "hard-core pirates"

While I was making up my mind on writing this post, the news on BI Norwegian School of Management research on piracy and legal music purchases spread around the net so far, it’s even all over Cyrillic web. But I didn’t just waste that time. I google-scholared the subject, and found a) one relatively old article from two researchers of that school and b) the only paper that sites that paper from (a). The (b) is a doctoral thesis, it’s a very interesting (and long) reading and it’s available in pdf!

The idea of “piracy” in general being positively correlated with “willingness to pay” for the music seems ambiguous to me since the “pirates” are very different. There are people who’d download the latest Beyonce single, there are people who’d download “the best of… anybody”, and people who’d download “the full discography of… their favorite-one-and-only”, and finally there are people who’d download “almost everything available, just for the sake of new music”. These people are very different in their “piracy” patterns and in their willingness to pay. Hence, in an ideal world where their download behavior is perfectly observable and legal, they can be clasterized and price-discriminated.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll try to explain what I mean with only two types of “pirates”. I’ll call those who download the last a-la-mode single “casual pirates”, and those who download virtually everything they can reach and grab the “hard-core pirates”. And I know what I’m talking about since I know both types, and I used to be a “hard-core” myself in the wild days of Audiogalaxy. 

The “hard-core” pirates are spending much more time listening to the music and looking for something they like. They are investing their time into research of the product and it means that when they come to a store they are ready to invest some money in what they know they like. This is good for the music-publisher, resellers and generally anyone on the other side of the counter, because those people can be charged more. And this is good for side-business development because these people are willing to pay for any tools that would help them do the research (I’ve just bought a book on history of Soul for thrice the price of the casual book and I’m happy about it because it gives me a good new mapping of my now-favorite style, yet my mom is shocked). 

The “casual” pirates actually don’t care for the music at all; they care for, so to say, the social value of music. They are good for the industry if they don’t download, since they are persuadable and would buy everything new and glittery. 

Hence when those two types of pirates are combined, we can get the “more downloads – more legal buys” effect. My idea is that they should be treated differently. While for the “hard-core” pirates this can be true (the more dirt we search, the more gold we find and we’re ready to buy that gold), for the “casual” pirates that shouldn’t hold. 

Two notes:
I don’t think that “casual” people are wrong or not good for music in general. The industry exists because of the “casual” people. 

The industry seems to see the differences between at least two types. More and more independent labels and musicians without labels would offer free “testing” material for those who want to do the research. While the mainstream singles are easier to download legally from iTunes than to look for illegally on the web.

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