On Piracy

At some point in your Banana Stand’s lifetime you will become aware that people are consuming your content without paying you for it. Either someone will send you an email that’s like “hey, I think I found your book posted on this sketchy website”, or you’ll run across it while googling yourself.

So first off, yeah, it feels like a violation. I hear ya. Because, I mean, it is a violation. Regardless of whether there is an economic impact (we’ll get to that), when you see your stuff posted for download by some customer of yours, it’s a fracture of trust. Someone treated your stuff like it had worth, then turned around and was like “haha fuck that schmuck, I’m stickin’ it to the MAN“.

Secondly, congratulations. This means people want what you’re putting out there. All worthwhile content is “pirated”, always.

Ugh, that word, though. Let’s get this right out there: “piracy” is a goofy-ass term for unauthorized copying. Equating copying data with theft and murder on the high seas is the invention of a bunch of terrified movie execs who saw their firehose of blow money drying up. Ironically it’s also a word that in today’s society is mostly associated with being awesome, so double fail, movie dudes.

But it’s the word that stuck, so here we are. For convenience in this piece I’ll use that term to refer to both the folks posting the content without permission, and the folks consuming it without paying you.

So. You sell digital content from your banana stand, and those dang parrot-toting, eyepatch-rocking pirates keep stealing it. What are ya gonna do.

Here’s the thing, though: this series is mostly about selling digital content to techies, because that’s what I do and what I know. And the thing about techies is that they mostly have money, and they usually don’t mind spending it on quality content. They usually value having a relationship with the author of said content, even if it’s just a quick “thank you”.

By and large, your target audience aren’t piracy-inclined. Which leaves the small minority of consumers who are, and unless your output is wildly overpriced, those people were never going to pay you anyway. Either they straight-up can’t afford it, they are unable to pay for it (this can happen for a few reasons, we can talk about that another time), or they could but they are sociopathic little shits. In any of these cases, you were never going to get any blood from that stone.

So dealing with piracy isn’t about the money.

OK actually in one case it is. If you sell educational content to techies, at some point it will become painfully obvious that certain accounts are really being shared by a whole team or organization that’s too cheap to pay for a multi-seat license of your product. In that case I give you my 100% blessing to tell them “fuck you, pay me“. But, like, in a nicer way that hopefully nets you a long-term corporate client.

Anyway. Piracy. Look, honestly I felt like I should write this one as a companion to The Tote Bag Economy. But the truth is I don’t have a lot to say about it. It’s a fact of life, it’s an indicator of popularity, it’s not something to obsess over.

If you want to do something about it:

  • Focus on people who are selling your content as if it were theirs. That shit is evil and can hurt your brand.
  • Issue takedowns on large platforms that make it (relatively) easy, like YouTube or Scribd.
  • Give economically-disadvantaged customers other options, like pay-with-a-postcard (I’ll write about that another day).
  • Do like RiffTrax does and put a note in your content along the lines of “hey! If you got this somewhere other than my store, and you’ve gotten value from it, why not drop me a tip at [insert URL here]. Thanks!”

Finally… Just, like, be a real person in the way you present yourself in your marketing and your content. People have an easier time ripping off faceless corporate entities than relatable human beings.

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