Being Nasty is No Way to Make Friends
David Aldea, at the Publishing Business Conference and Expo earlier this month, painted an interesting picture of what not to do when considering an anti-piracy strategy. One prominent publisher's effort to combat unauthorized use of content, which he says he witnessed, consists of a bunch of people sitting around a table searching the Internet for titles in their catalog. When they find content that has been shared, they send a "nastygram," threatening legal action.
It kind of reminds me of some of the recent zombie movies where the desperate hero shoots wildly at rampaging undead as they close in from all sides, hitting a few along the way, but doing nothing to slow down the attack. It may seem like a good idea in the short run—may even be cathartic up to a point—but is ultimately fruitless. If you want to deal with the advancing hordes, you've got to come up with a smarter strategy.
For Aldea, that smarter strategy involves using the power of social media to leverage the interest and enthusiasm that leads people to want to share something they like. Content sharing—even when unauthorized—brings fresh publicity and followers. "That community can be marketed and sold to as a pre-qualified group in some cases more effectively than [if] a book [was] just sitting on a shelf," he says.
It also brings good vibes—which, in the brandscape, is no small thing. "DRM technologies frequently prevent users from exercising rights they would otherwise be entitled to under copyright law, which is why many user groups consider DRM to be aggressive and overreaching," professor David Wiley notes in an article appearing in the next issue of Book Business. The same could be said of singling out individual users, which alienates your best potential audience and creates potentially disastrous publicity (think of how fast the "nastygram" sent by Cook's Source magazine to an author went viral on the Web last year). These type of negative associations make people feel no qualms about hacking DRM controls or copying content with impunity.
Wiley is writing about the textbook market, but his words resonate in all segments of publishing: "... the restrictive philosophy of 'all rights reserved' and DRM is contrary to the philosophy of education and sharing knowledge ... consumers demand access to information anytime, anywhere, on any device."
The most commonly cited example of how not to deal with piracy is the music industry's response to electronic file sharing in the late '90s and early 2000s, but before the Internet, there was the mix tape. Back in the '80s, the music industry was obsessed with the "problem" of home taping—a practice which introduced legions of listeners to new music they would come to love and purchase. The tape sharing was going to happen no matter what the industry did; the money and energy spent on lawsuits and other forms of intimidation would have been better spent finding ways to understand and market to those new fans.
If today, it's even easier to pass data around, it's also easier to find and market to online enthusiasts. This is the promise of social media and mobile connectivity. You may lose some sales in the short term, but the longer-term relationships built could be far more valuable.
What's the alternative? Going the music industry's route of suing the customer—and we all know how well that worked out. In what other business would a seller want to piss off those who have a passion for their product? It's more than just incoherent and scattershot; as a strategy for managing digital rights, it's kind of nuts.