The Pro-Piracy Argument Rises Again

Responding to the recent slapdown of Amazon.com by MacMillan publishing, an oh-so-tech-savvy fellow over at DigitalTrends.com asks if book publishers are the new record labels, i.e., by responding badly to the digitalization of their product and encouraging piracy.

The writer offers up the typical hipster, pro-criminal argument that stealing is an acceptable response to high prices.  This isn’t Les Misérables, guys; we’re talking about entertainment, not food. 

A little bit of piracy might help word-of-mouth publicity, but too much of it actually necessitates higher prices in order to allow the art to continue being produced.

I am no fan of bloated profit margins, and the crocodile tears of Metallica millionaires sparked no sympathy in poor little unsigned singer-songwriter Nelson Leith.  However, the grand irony of glamourizing piracy while wagging a finger at entertainment publishers and reps for setting higher prices is that the publishers are not the ones expecting something for nothing.

If what the publishers are doing is wrong because they ask too much for what they give, then what the thieves are doing is absolutely wrong because they give nothing for what they take … and they don’t ask.  Beam, dust, eye: Google it.

But, the shark separating reasoned analysis from looney rant was jumped by this analogy targeting the recording industry:

They’re still milking CD-like prices out of a [digital] distribution system that practically eliminates the need for them to exist at all. It’s like Aquafina ganged up with the public waterworks to charge you $2 for every cup out of the tap.

Perhaps if Aquafina was (a) providing a recoupable up-front investment to make sure the water was available and clean, (b) enforcing agreements with the public waterworks to ensure the quality of the water remained high all the way to the spigot, and (c) paying the salaries of the people who worked to bring the water to the public pipe network in the first place.

And, like adding Mork to the jumped shark, the writer goes on:

Macmillan reminds me a lot of street artists who charge money to take pictures of them. They’re really in no position to make outlandish demands of you as a pedestrian. You should really pay them something – because it’s fair. But if the amazing robotic moonwalker’s little cardboard sign demands $50 for a picture, you’re just going to take a picture, turn on heel, and walk away with it for free. Because you can, and because that price is outrageous.

Go back to your calculators and punch up some numbers that make sense, Macmillan. Before we snap our pictures and slink away from your clown act without dropping you a dime.

Yes, asking $14.99 for a book that took years to research, write, polish, edit, and contract is the same as asking $50 for a casual photo of a street performer.  The real “clown act” here is DigitalTrends.com allowing some half-baked Freshman Rebel to advocate Federal crimes on their website.

Sanctimonious radicalism of this comic-book level of sophistication (I would bet this guy’s efficiency sports at least one Che Guevara or Guy Fawkes image) does not help any of the “little guys” in this struggle, neither artists nor their loyal, paying audience. 

It does, however, help buttress the market-vampirizing tactics of monopolistic distributors like Amazon and Wal-Mart, who are willing to kill the vetting and polishing process — undercutting quality and sustainability — in order to swell their own margins. 

As anyone who has ever actually listened to the glitchy garbage that typifies pirated digital music knows full well: you get the quality that you pay for.  Smart readers and listeners are willing to pay a little more, and are not taken in by the fool’s bargain of short-sighted price-slashing or glamourized piracy.

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