Several months ago, a nice post was written by a Green Options blogger, supporting purchasing music on-line strictly for environmental reasons. I will take this further, also including software and movies and other reasons for which buying such things on disks should be dropped in favor of other means, means which wouldn’t even require servers to be kept running non-stop. Greedy distributors certainly won’t have any of this, but maybe someday greed will stop ruling our world. One can dream, right?
I have written what I think about software piracy and how programs should be marketed to make it fairer and more affordable for all before, even added another idea to that topic later, but now I mean to go into more detail. If you read those posts you’ll notice I’m repeating myself a lot in this one, but you can’t go into detail without explaining where you’re coming from.
Looking at it from the environmental point of view, it’s perfectly obvious that buying software, music or movies on disks is very harmful. You have resources used and pollution caused by the production process, as well as materials that will, sooner or later, end up in a landfill. And that’s just for the product itself, but you have to keep in mind that an entire system is set into motion to distribute that product. Materials and products alike must be shipped from place to place, which once again uses resources and causes pollution, not to mention requires a certain infrastructure which can only be created by scarring the environment. On top of that, storehouses and shops are required to store and sell those products, taking up space, using more resources and causing more pollution.
On the other hand, as that Green Options blogger pointed out, the sale of digital versions is not without its own environmental costs. They are significantly smaller than those of the disks, but they certainly exist and we should aim towards eliminating them as much as possible. Why keep servers running non-stop to store and make available all the things people might want to purchase, with all the added environmental costs of that, when there is another way?
Next, let’s look at matters from a financial point of view. Manufacturing the disks, boxes, manuals, guides and all other things that may come with software, music or movies certainly costs money. Then you have the costs associated with shipping, rent for the space used for both storage and sales, the necessary furnishings and equipment for those locations and salaries paid to the people handling it all. This system also requires distributors, multiple layers of them actually, and they take a very large share of the profits despite not being involved in creating the product. Or not involved in any good way at least, since they often get in the way and make the creators basically ruin their work in one way or another for “marketing reasons”.
Digital sales, the way the concept is currently understood, also come with their own financial costs. Those servers aren’t cheap and neither is the power required to run them. You also need a specialized team to ensure they’re operational at all times and fix any problems that might arise as soon as possible, not to mention the costs associated with the actual space they occupy, including the necessary furnishings and additional equipment. On top of that, the bandwidth used by the customers when they’re downloading their purchases also needs to be paid for. This model could perhaps avoid the need for distributors, but it requires an initial investment which many might not be able to cover from their own pockets. Large content producers could afford it, Radiohead’s case being the best known recently, but for the smaller ones it would be a hard path to take.
Also, both of these methods have another kind of added costs. They use copy-protection technology, which certainly costs money to develop and implement, but which will always be cracked by those who are determined enough. It’s simply a waste, and not only from a financial point of view.
When it comes to ease of purchasing and use, disks are once again at a disadvantage. It’s certainly far easier to download something from a file-sharing network than it is to go and buy it. In order to buy it, you need to search for a shop that has it in their offer, make an order and wait for delivery. You may also find that the product you’re looking for is no longer in stock and you need to either wait or look for another shop. Such a purchase also requires direct contact with other people, which is a problem for those who are shy, and you may also need to adjust your schedule in order to be available when the shop is open or when the delivery can be made.
Digital versions fare much better from this point of view, since the products can never be out of stock, the purchase may be made without any direct contact with another person and the customer is usually able to enjoy the product immediately, without needing to go out or wait for delivery. Still, purchasing a product without any interaction usually requires a credit card and that is a problem for some. Also, the need to search for a shop that has the product you’re looking for, or for the producer’s site in case distributors are left out of it, is not eliminated, plus that if those sites have technical problems there could be delays. Downloading a product from such a site is also likely to take longer than from a file-sharing network.
As for the copy-protection methods, those are probably the worst problem when it comes to ease of use. They limit the devices you may store the products on and the ways in which you may use them, they make the first use more complicated by requiring registration or entering certain information, they may cause compatibility issues or even make a legitimate buyer no longer able to use their legally purchased product… As I keep saying, those who wish to get around them will always do so, but legitimate users keep being hindered by them.
My solution to all of this is to sell only the right to use the product, not the actual copy. Get rid of all copy-protection measures, let people obtain their copies of the products either way they see fit and then only pay for the right to use them legally. Of course, some might still want disks, boxes, manuals and so on, but they will have to pay a lot more for them and this will act as a deterrent, which is a good thing for the environment. But I’m quite sure that all other potential customers would be very happy if this would happen. They would be able to legally use their software, music and movies without any of the problems associated with purchases right now and also pay significantly less. Or they would pay significantly less if the content producers wouldn’t get greedy and only ask as much as they would have made from the sale of the product on a disk, after deducting all the costs associated with manufacturing and distributing said package.
Distribution would be handled by file-sharing networks, after the content producers would initially make it available from their own computers. That eliminates the entire production and shipping chain, including the distributors, meaning that all revenue would go directly to the content producers, who are the ones who are really entitled to it. And if they would stop being greedy and set the price in such a way as to reflect the elimination of all those additional costs, the product would end up costing only a fraction of what it costs now and that will certainly make far more people want to buy it.
Making such products available would no longer be a crime in any way, as you wouldn’t need to have a license to use them if you only store them and make them available for download. This would most easily be implemented for software, as purchasing the right to use it could mean you get a code that you have to enter in order to be able to run the program, meaning that if you don’t actually use it you have no need for the code and therefore no need to purchase it. Of course anybody could make valid codes public and there would be no need for purchase, but that’s being done anyway and, as I keep saying, methods of protection are only effective in hindering legitimate users.
There would also need to be very convenient means of making this purchase, and I can think of several. For those who have credit (or debit) cards and wish to use them, the easiest way would be to be able to buy the right to use the product directly from the content producer’s site. Still, other methods of payment would have to be available for everyone else, and those could include checks and direct money transfers from various sources, but there should also be a way to pay by SMS. Some small additional fees might be added depending on the method used to make the payment, such as the credit card handling fee or the communications operator’s SMS charges, and those should be clearly specified so people would know exactly how much they’re actually paying for the product itself.
Many people will say that eliminating all protection and legalizing the free distribution of copyrighted content will make even less people actually purchase it, but that’s the distributors’ brainwashing doing the talking. So-called “piracy” does not lower sales! Even now people who wish to purchase such content do so and those who don’t still won’t either way. Making such content harder to “pirate” will not increase sales, it will only make fewer people be able to enjoy it. I think we don’t need to pointlessly take away things that people enjoy, there are few enough reasons for happiness in this world as it is.
There is also the issue of eliminating an entire industry, namely the content distributors. If you think about it, they wouldn’t be entirely eliminated, as some people would still desire to own copies and all the other things that come with them, but they would end up catering mainly to a niche audience. That would make them far less important and certainly far less wealthy, which is something I have absolutely no problem with.
Instead, what this would do would be making such products far more affordable and easier to purchase and use legally (and adding a direct renting system, where you purchase usage rights for a limited amount of time for an even smaller price, would make it even better). That would certainly translate into many more buyers, not less, and with distribution costs out of the way that means greater profits for the content creators, who would then truly benefit from the results of their work instead of being at the mercy of their distributors more often than not as the case is now. That means both the creators and the users would benefit greatly, and they are the two groups that matter when it comes to this.
In addition, something like this would virtually eliminate the real piracy, and by that I mean those who earn money by selling products they did not create. That’s something I’m firmly against, making a profit from somebody else’s work, and it’s one of the reasons I’m so against distributors as well. Yes, I see distributors and actual copyright pirates as being quite similar and would like it if people would fight against them both equally.
And all of this still assumes that some payment should be required in order to legally use copyrighted content in a non-commercial manner. When it comes to software that does seem logical, seeing as software developers have no other means of income, but even there there should be different tariffs for commercial and non-commercial use where applicable, not to mention that open-source options are becoming better and better when it comes to productivity software.
On the other hand, musicians and movie makers have other means of income and I firmly believe those should be their main ones. Musicians have concerts and also earn something when their songs are played on commercial radio or TV stations, movies earn money by being played in theaters for those who wish to watch them there and also by being aired on TV, and both would still be able to earn something from the people who want to own actual copies on disks and all the other things that come with them. Those should add up to more than enough to cover their expenses and even make a nice profit if they’re good enough at what they do, so there should be no more need to charge people for the content they have on their computers and portable media players.
That said, it would be a nice thing to legally allow such content to be used in a non-commercial manner free of charge, only allowing people to donate something to the content producers if they wish to do so, as a recognition of their merits. It’s been proven to work already…