‘In the future everything will be free’

The digitization of all media means that more and more organizations are coping with difficult times. Including the book world. The book world is just experiencing the transformation from analogue to digital, where the music and the film industry have for years. From record stores to video rental services, from big record labels to film studios, they have all had to change their businesses in some form to stay alive, if they were able to. And now it is our turn.

An author of mine wrote a blog post earlier this week about those industries blaming the pirates for losing income and destroying their businesses. The blog post featured an image of the Cult Video Store that posted a note on the window saying ‘The pirates have won. We fought bravely but it was useless.’ He stated that this is not how you should look at it. The reactions on this blog post (but also to these events in general) can be split in two sorts: the one that says that free downloading can’t be stopped and the one that says that the will to pay for digital in the future will come, but only when it meets several demands. 

And that made me think. What if the current trend (more and more illegal downloads, all digital formats suffering from piracy) continues? Where does it all end? A future where everything is free? Or a future where it's not free but for the large part illegally downloaded? The internet then becomes one big free ride? I don’t think this is possible. And for one simple reason. If the trend of consuming without paying keeps on growing, the content owners and creators will lose (even more of) their income. This can only continue till the point is reached were the costs can’t be covered anymore by the money that is made with it. And if we reach that point, ‘nothing’ new will be made. Because it simply can’t be afforded to create anymore. Of course there are sites like YouTube, were people can upload their own creations. But tell me honestly: would you like a world with only homemade media if this means there will be no more blockbuster movies, TV-series or other professional works? I don’t think so. And this also applies to books. Would you only want to read self published titles? Again, I don’t think so.

There are of course very good examples of self publishing in movies, music and books. Some of them from big artists who have chosen this route, some of them from geniuses that are still undiscovered or don’t want to be part of such an industry. But I believe that creations made with care, professionalism and knowledge are highly underestimated by the group that believes that everything will be free in the future. I know this is very black-and-white, but I do that to clarify why I believe this can’t be the future. In the end people do want quality. But it is very possible that at first this will need to disappear (to some extend), before people realize this.

The second type of reaction is one I’ve also caught myself on in the last years. I think that something made with care and professionalism represents a value and that you should pay in return for consuming it. Because I think that the prices of CDs are far too high (at least in The Netherlands), I’ve only bought a handful of albums. But instead of downloading all the others (that I do want to listen, but don’t want to buy), I found a legal alternative: Spotify. A small fee, everything I want to listen to and on every location and device I choose. In short: a small fee, large amount of titles and no hassle. The fun thing is, I now spend more money (on a yearly basis), then I did in the last few years on buying CD’s. In the US you also have the movie equivalent of Spotify: NetFlix. Enormously popular and a good alternative to movie rental services and DVD sales. I myself still buy DVDs, because again, I believe it represents a value that you should pay for consuming it, but only when they have dropped in price. Why I don’t download them? Because I want quality (yes, you can find that on torrent sites) and no hassle (torrent sites are not user friendly if you want high quality images, sound and subtitles. Let alone if you want this all to function on your TV with a home cinema set). I think my movie consumption will explode when (a sort of) NetFlix would be available over here. And if you draw this line further to the book world, I also believe that this is the way it could go for us. A large availability of titles, for a good price without any hassle. And looking to Spotify and NetFlix, the trend of going from ownership to unlimited access and use, this might be a business model for all digital media, including books. And then it will surprise you (publishers, authors and critical consumers) how many people are willing to pay (again) for their media consumption.