but we DO steal cars

12 September 2005, 7:02 pm

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Add value. Don’t reduce value.

Once you realize re-education can’t work, you need to think about what could. You can’t be cheaper than free, so you need to provide value to legitimate customers that pirates don’t get. The music industry tried systematically reducing the value of its products instead. That strategy hasn’t worked out very well so far.

Adding content (badly) reduces value

The DVD of Standing in the Shadows of Motown includes the short BMW promotional films (starring Clive Owen and shot by hot directors like Ang Lee and John Frankenheimer) that screened with it in theaters. It’s a good idea for adding value, but it actually subtracts value from the DVD package. Why? The short films won’t play in a consumer DVD player. Instead, they require using specific software on a personal computer. They make the customer jump through hoops in order to watch BMWs promotional material. It’s as if moviegoers were required to walk into a different room to see preview trailers, then return to their original seats for the feature. Many of the customers who bought the disc — with the expectation of a bonus — feel ripped off because they can’t take advantage of it.

  • The music industry couldn’t figure this out.
    Warner/Reprise and Capitol (for example) made similar mistakes with free “download-only” EPs for customers who bought discs by Wilco and Liz Phair. Great idea, but in their eagerness to keep out customers who didn’t purchase physical CDs, they made it too hard on the fans who did.
  • You can fool the grown-ups, but you can’t fool the kids.
    Right now, DRM is a geek-only issue. Not everyone accepts that it reduces value.This will change. Unless the software industry reverse direction, the kids — who are always going to be ahead of you, techwise — are going to become less and less trustful of their computers and software. You need to accept these truths, and the sooner the better:

    • Locking content to specific software (like Windows Media Player or RealPlayer) decreases its value.
    • Asking users to provide an email address to access content decreases value unless you first establish trust that the address won’t be misused.
    • Hiding some of the content from basic consumer players decreases value.
    • Providing content in reduced quality format reduces value.

continued. . .

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8 comments on “but we DO steal cars”

  1. 2fs

    As always in your commentary on these issues, your thoughts here are lucid, clever, and compelling. I’d add one suggestion: if your bonus content includes a script (for an episode of a TV show, say - several Buffy and Angel DVDs include those), make sure the damned thing’s legible. DO NOT use a “cool” distressed typewriter face, as if the script ever existed on anyone’s actual beat-up old typewriter. Make the script a nice, large, legible typeface, and hopefully scrollable onscreen (is that possible? I don’t even know). I might be interested in a script bonus under such circumstances - if I have to strain my eyes to read it, and click to “turn the page” every ten seconds, I’m not going to bother.

    And: I’d guess that the “bonus” Wilco and Liz Phair EPs are among the most fileshared out there: something about making people who’ve already paid for something jump through further hoops enrages them enough to encourage them to violate the law. Worse yet, at some point, the bonus EP with YHF was no longer accessible - even to people who entered in the required info.

  2. summervillain


    I’d add one suggestion: if your bonus content includes a script […] make sure the damned thing’s legible. DO NOT use a “cool” distressed typewriter face, as if the script ever existed on anyone’s actual beat-up old typewriter. Make the script a nice, large, legible typeface . . .

    Excellent call, 2fs. Actually I think this is a special case — TV screens are very poorly suited to script-sized chunks of text — it’s not even comfortable for most people to read something that long on a computer monitor. And DVD players completely lack a good interface mechanism for moving around in a large body of text.

    So, Hollywood, if you’re going to include a script, that’s probably a good use of a DVD ROM portion of a disc, rather than trying to make it work in a consumer DVD player. I’ll also make an exception to my no-proprietary-software rule, and suggest PDF would be a good choice — make it easy for people to read it on screen if they really want to, and easy to print it to curl up with away from the computer. Just make sure it’s really obvious in the external packaging that you need a DVD-equipped computer.

    If you want to score extra points with me, you could even include all the DVD ROM content on a separate CD-ROM for not-so-up-to-date-users. (Or at least mail a free CD-ROM version to anyone who sends you a request for one along with their UPC or other proof-of-purchase. Or make it available for download. Make it really free, though — don’t hammer customers with a shipping/handling charge for what they already bought, on top of making them wait 4-6 weeks for your fufillment folks. Provide your privacy policy with any redemption coupon, and don’t automatically subscribe anyone to marketing mailings they haven’t explicitly selected.)

    Obviously, you should license the Acrobat Reader installers from Adobe and put them right on the discs for anyone who doesn’t already have them installed. Thanks.

    Oh, and yeah, despite being a long-term fan of the band and purchaser of the requisite CD, I’ve yet to hear the Wilco EP in question. Such is life.

  3. Flasshe

    Hear hear. This should be required reading… everywhere.

    Let’s not forget about paying for a theater movie and overpriced snacks, and then having to sit through 20 minutes of commercials before the trailers even start. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic. Hollywood… sheesh.

    Speaking of “exclusive content”, here’s something that really bugs me. The iTunes music store has a bonus track for the new New Pornographers album. However, you can’t download it separately. You can only get it if you purchase the whole album from iTunes. What’s up with that? So if you’ve already done your duty for the band and purchased the actual hard CD, you are penalized. You can’t get the one extra tune without paying $10 and purchasing the entire thing again in an inferior format with copy restrictions. Even once you have that track, you’re limited to what you can do with it.

    It’s like there’s no motivation to buy the actual CD, which is maybe what the record company and the band want. Why not have something on the band’s website that lets you download the extra track if you’ve got the CD in your PC’s drive, or something like that? It just infuriates me.

  4. Ezra

    *Bing*. What you said.

    The only thing I’d add is that I’m not sweating this issue. I really believe that the day is coming when people will realize, not only are the “content creators” making it hard for us to enjoy their stuff, but, you know, really, most of it just sucks. It’s not really worth the trouble. I, for one, would rather watch Magical Trevor over and over for two hours than, say, “Must Love Dogs” once. In fact, I have done this. (Why? Because everyone loves Magical Trevor!)

  5. summervillain

    I dunno, I’m just not as sanguine. You and I may not be going to see Must Love Dogs but somehow it grossed over 42M$ without our help (and without video/foreign markets/merchandising in the figures). Most people buy what’s put in front of them, rather than making an effort to find something else, and I’m not sure why I should expect — rather than just hope — that will suddenly change.

    I do think the generations that grow up post-Internet will be more tech-savvy, but they’re not un-foolable, and (so far) considered en masse, they choose paths of lesser resistance. Consider ringtones: there are plenty of freeware tools for converting any clip you want into the appropriate format, and easy-to-follow directions for using ‘em — but folks who won’t spend a buck to download a full song will spend a couple bucks to download a fragment of it.

    I keep thinking the next intrusive piece of tech will be the camel-back-breaker, but they keep doing down the übermaw with only mild grumbling. This program won’t work unless you let it pass arbitrary data over the Internet through backchannels you can’t control? Um, okay. You have to call a software company to reauthorize your application software after you put in one interface card too many? Cool. Hey, it’s an 800 number, so at least it’s on their dime. This CD crashes your computer if you put it in a CD-ROM drive? Well, just don’t put it in the drive. (patient: “Doctor, my arm hurts when I do this.”)

    And yeah, sure, there’s a vocal minority of technophiles that complain about these sorts of things, and some of those boycott certain products, and maybe at some point it becomes a genuine groundswell that affects the powers of commerce. But I think the connected elite tends to over-estimate its importance. Cf the campaign of Howard Dean, frinstance.

    Trevor: cute. Is Mark Bodé involved somehow? (I couldn’t find credits.) The drawing style of Trevor and his desert milieu remind me a bit o’ Cheech Wizard.

  6. Ezra

    But see, the Must Love Dogs example backs up your thesis, and gives reason for sanguinity. If something can gross $42M with nothing more going for it than it just being easy and “there”, if the distribution co.s make it harder, people won’t bother.

    Put another way, if you’re serious that you hope people find something else, you should be *encouraging* Hollywood to be as annoying as possible, and start your own distribution company.

    Re: Trevor, I do not know who’s behind it, other than that they are also behind badgerbadgerbadger.com

  7. 2fs

    Flasshe, thanks for mentioning the New Pornographers dealy. Of course, it’ll probably come out on some comp or other in a year or two (a la A.C. Newman’s “Homemade Bombs in the Afternoon” - which at least you could buy separately on iTunes). But in the meantime: don’t those folks realize that the resentment created in people by such bullshit (I paid $12 for the actual CD - now I’m supposed to pay another $10 just to get one track that I can’t otherwise get, and get a redundant album on top of it?) simply encourages people to do things like, oh say, if by chance they did buy the album at iTunes, de-DRMify it using something like JHymn, and then post the clean mp3 online somewheres? Not that I’d actually suggest anyone do such a thing - I’d be shocked, just shocked - nor that I’d rather pay that person a buck than pay $10 to iTunes for the privilege of getting the one track. Just sayin’…

  8. summervillain


    you should be *encouraging* Hollywood to be as annoying as possible,

    Well, but my whole conceit here was that I had my schmarketing hat on to offer sound advice to Hollywood execs. Even hatless, though, I think draconian intellectual property protection measures are bad news for everybody.


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