SOPA: supply and demand doesn’t work anymore

There’s an interesting article on SOPA, and a protest Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing and others will engage in tomorrow about it. While I’m all in favor of, and in fact have a vested interest in protecting intellectual copyrights, SOPA wants to empower Hollywood to control the internet, not just get rid of piracy.

One of the commenters makes an interesting point:

The main problem here is that these industries do not want to adapt even when the general public does not value their product. People are telling them that their movies are not worth what they are charging for it and they are saying that they only want that one hit song on the CD because the music studio figured they could just fool people by including 10 other tracks of junk. Most people who download wouldn’t pay for it anyway and if these industries are loosing money, how do they explain paying record amounts of money to their so called stars? People are just fed up.

Now, of course, one argument presented against this is that you can just buy one track of music at a time, and that’s true. But I think this person’s larger point is dead on: movies, TV and music cost more than the market will bear, but instead of bringing down prices and, you know, competing like a business should do, the industry is focused on piracy as their sole competitor instead of… well, audience disinterest.

I don’t steal content. I don’t download stuff I haven’t paid for. But a few years ago, I learned a dirty little secret: even after paying for international shipping, most DVDs are cheaper through Amazon UK. Even US titles are usually cheaper in Region 2 than Region 1 (region free DVD players are very affordable). Why? I’m not sure. My first assumption was that Americans are just stupid and will pay that much for crap entertainment, and maybe the British just won’t pay that much, but will pay something.

So maybe it’s not that Americans are stupid. Maybe we’re not paying Region 1 prices, or buying movie tickets like we used to, or any of that… and the industry refuses to consider any alternative but that we’re getting our entertainment for free, illegally. The obvious alternative – the one that would occur to some dude who opens up a hardware store and wonders why everyone shops at Home Depot instead – is that they’ve simply priced movies, TV DVDs and music above what people are willing to pay. So who’s stupid? Or rather, who’s just being a stubborn asshole who refuses to think or admit the truth? The entertainment industry.

They seem unaware that “free downloads” aren’t their only competition. We don’t need movies, TV and music. It’s not like food. You can’t assume that if we’re not buying groceries from one store, we must be getting them from elsewhere. I haven’t been to a movie theater since 2003, because of the cost, the policy of theaters in Los Angeles to allow cell phone users to disrupt climactic scenes of blockbusters on opening days and Hollywood’s sheer inability to make anything I want to see immediately rather than when the DVD comes out (if then – usually not then).

The entertainment industry needs to realize that it’s just not making us want to pay anything like what it wants to charge. Either the product needs to get a lot better, or the prices need to come down.

Comments

  1. DM says

    Maybe the stereotype that Stateside Americans are rich (yeah, about a handful of us these days) keeps our prices jacked up too high. The average person hasn’t had a huge disposable income for years, but you wouldn’t know it from the prices on leisure technology and activities. And now there’s tons of perfectly legal ways to avoid paying ridiculous prices for products that we don’t need. I swear by streaming and freeware and trading with friends, I have no problem waiting months for a DVD or CD to show up at the library. Even if I did have a problem with it, I have no money. All the strong anti-piracy measures in the world will not actually give folks more cash to spend on bullshit, which is the great hole in this brilliant plan.

  2. Raeka says

    If it weren’t for friends and family, I wouldn’t go to the movie theatres at all, for exactly the same reasons as Jennifer. Not worth $10 or whatever for a crap plot with crap characters, minus the convenience of being at home.

    I have to say it’s a shame that Blockbuster is closing down so much. I like being able to rent movies on a when-I-want them basis –I don’t want to have to wait two weeks for them to be mailed from Netflix (Also, I just don’t watch enough movies to make Netflix an reasonable expense).

    Just want to say it’s the same with cable –if TV shows were available on a subscription basis, I might get them (when I have some disposable income, and I think Hulu does something like this?) but I’m not going to pay a billion bucks a month for a package of trash with a few semiprecious stones thrown in.

  3. Sabrina says

    What’s depressing about this is that this discussion is already more than 10 years old. And that’s just taking internet piracy into account. Before that it was copying CDs, video-tapes and what have you – AND THE INDUSTRY STILL HASN’T LEARNT A THING! From what I can see people are still willing to buy anything they like just enough and can afford. Hell, plenty of people are even spending money on pretty shitty entertainment! The industry literally makes millions and millions of dollars with a minimum of creative effort and catering to the lowest common denominator.

    Until now there have been quite a few artists that found great ways to promote their products without the big industry. For example: NIN provided different download options for their albums – including one for free! Going by industry logic they’d be broke by now cause everyone would just get the free version, right? But what happened instead what they they go filthy rich within days. People just love to support their favourite artists and they love it even more when they are taken serious as customers.

  4. Fairfield says

    SOPA and other bills like it terrify me. I can’t help but think that in a few years time we will be looking back and reminiscing about the ‘golden age’ of the internet and lamenting how it all went so wrong.

  5. says

    Sabrina,

    It really is the same song, different verse. In ebooks, the “Big 6″ of publishers have so-called agency pricing, in which retailers must sell ebooks at the price publishers set. (An arrangement that is being investigated by the Justice Department for price fixing.) That’s a self-confessed attempt to artificially increase the price of their product, beyond what the market had been bearing. Most publishers also put DRM (Digital Rights Management; it prevents the consumer from making backup copies) on their ebooks and claim piracy prevention. I suspect the real reason in many cases is that DRM may prevent customers from transferring their ebooks to a competitor’s ereader, thus locking them into one market.

    Those pirates sure make handy scapegoats!

  6. sbg says

    I guess I just don’t understand how shutting down – taking away from the people who use them currently – in a protest will do anything to affect the people behind SOPA. They want us to not have access to those sites. I know, they’re presuming people will read the pop up message and sign the petitions. I hope that happens.

    I don’t NOT support it, I’m just not sure this form of protest in this particular scenario is going to be effective.

    I said it before and I’ll repeat: Removing free/bootlegged/downloaded streaming won’t make people be able to afford a $12 movie ticket every time there’s something they want to see. Cost =/= value.

  7. says

    Raeka,

    I too have dumped cable! I think it was about two years ago, and I totally have not missed it.

    sbg,

    I hear what you’re saying, but I think the intent of blacking out these sites that millions of people visit daily is to raise awareness. Lots of people still have no idea about SOPA, or why they should be concerned. For that purpose, it may be highly effective.

    And ITA with your last paragraph – the problem is that the entertainment isn’t worth what they’re charging. It’s also that they won’t put out about half the DVD titles I’ve been eagerly awaiting for years – so many TV shows, they put out one season, complain that too few people bought it, and that’s that. Amazon has a system for printing these titles on demand for those who want them – that’s a great way to serve a niche, but the title holders won’t let them do it. Why? Because they would owe the talent residuals. See: MGM screwing Richard Dean Anderson over for $1.2m.

    http://blogs.babble.com/famecrawler/2010/11/13/richard-dean-anderson-macgyver-star-lands-in-a-predicament-not-even-duct-tape-can-fix/

    I ask you: who are the real criminals here?

  8. says

    sbg,

    LOL, I didn’t notice it either – and it’s not the case on most of the blackouts. I think I like how Craigslist did it, because the blackout screen asking you to envision a world where the site couldn’t exist is quite powerful… but then providing a way to get in means visitors aren’t being punished for the point to be made.

  9. I.A. Scott says

    It’s a bit funny, given Hollywood’s painting of the USA, that a law about near-arbitrary censorship needs so much fighting in the USA, and is backed by the same people who paint it as a bastion of free speech. Also terrifying.
    Also it baffles me how for example EA, a video game manufacturer that makes games allowing user-created content, could possibly think this is a good enough idea to put money into supporting it.

    Given the national media love of the phrase “rip-off Britain”, it’s pretty surprising that DVDs might be cheaper here. That said, I know video games are cheaper here than on the continent.

    Sabrina,
    This copyright/new media handwringing has been going on at least since they started making automatic pianos, and yet a lot of the biggies are still around.

  10. says

    I.A. Scott,

    I just realized that even though I buy my Region 2s from a British site (Amazon UK), Region 2 covers all of Europe, doesn’t it? (Wiki’s blacked out, LOL). It’s bigger than Britain, at least, so there may be factors from a number of nations and their laws impacting the cost of Region 2. Region 1 DVDs are for all of North America, I think. (Definitely Canada and US, at least.)

  11. says

    I.A. Scott,

    It doesn’t surprise me in the least. EA has packaged their products with root kits (malware which can destroy computers) before, in the name of preventing piracy. This is just the next logical step for them.

  12. says

    sbg,

    If they can do that under current law, it just proves SOPA would be a ludicrous and frightening extension of the rights they already have. One commenter on that link compares it to shutting down a whole Holiday Inn because some of the guests were breaking the law. Sheesh! What about all the people who were sharing a collaborative original work or something? I’m guessing their files are just gone, without warning, and they may not even be able to recover them (based on what happens when an internet host suddenly shuts down on you without warning).

    In better news, SOPA’s lost considerable support on Capitol Hill: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2012/01/sopa-blackout-sopa-and-pipa-lose-three-co-sponsors-in-congress.html

    Since the 90s, I’ve been off and on monitoring the split between artists who say “Download, please!” and record companies who insist it’s evil. I think there’s SO much more to this issue. The LEGAL copyright holders, without whom the artists can’t get very far unless they also happen to be three time lottery winners, seem to be damaging artists’ rights and livelihoods just fine without any help from piracy. There’s a long history of that in the entertainment industry.

    What strikes me is this: the industry justifies its profits by the fact that it provides a needed service, i.e., getting media distributed more widely than individual artists and even small co-ops could do on their own. That’s fine, and they certainly deserve some profit. BUT if a kid with a decent computer can churn out downloads for free, doesn’t this kind of suggest that distribution just isn’t as expensive/valuable as it used to be? And yet, where is that reflected in price drops? *Maybe* legal downloads are priced close to right – dunno, since I have nothing to compare to them. But DVDs, CDs, movie ticket prices – those have never come down.

  13. says

    I happened across this, which is about musicians screwing record companies that are screwing them. The best one is Trent Reznor advising fans to steal his new album that the company had overpriced hugely because they thought his fans were stupid enough to pay it. He uploaded it himself to help them download it, LOL.

    Very enjoyable read: http://www.cracked.com/article_19647_the-6-most-elaborate-f-yous-from-musicians-to-industry.html?wa_user1=1&wa_user2=Music&wa_user3=article&wa_user4=feature_module

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