Pirating or Profiting

Earlier this week I saw the typical “down with thieves” discussion going on via Twitter regarding peer to peer music and film sharing and other activities that fall under the catch-all header of piracy. I would disagree with the general premise that all piracy is bad for your bottom line, however.

There is always going to be that one jerk who downloads the entire discography of your band’s entire 30 year career, or the entire Al Pacino movie collection, etc., and never even thinks of paying. Luckily, those people are few and far between. The rest of the people who view online content for free fall into a category I like to think of as “potential enthusiasts”.

Think of it this way – most people find a new book, song, television show or movie to fall in love with by word of mouth. The most effective way to see if that word of mouth was right is to try a sample. Frankly, a 30 second song clip on iTunes, two paragraphs of a book on the Kindle or a one minute trailer doesn’t give enough information for most people. If you are willing to give more up front, and be less harsh when people look for it on their own, you will gain fans. Fans talk.

You also have to take it to the next level, however. Fans talking and sharing need direction. This is where a coordinated effort between your marketing team, your record label or film studio, your manager or producer, and YOU can make the difference between losing sales on a pirated piece of your creative genius and future sales.

When you make your web sites and landing pages, if you know you have a piracy problem to deal with, make them with pirates in mind. Give people branded things to steal, sample or borrow. Make sure these are easily found on one site. Even though it won’t get your content off of the torrent sites, it will make it easy for people to come back and buy the rest of your stuff, and they will like that you have applied this “freemium” model to enhance their experience.

Key to keep in mind here is that the things you give away should already have been released. You want people to want more of the things you make in future. You also want to rotate what you offer for free. Select a sampling of content, and limit the time it is available in the “free” rotation. This creates that sense of urgency, that need in us to not “miss out” on things. Make sure the content you select is worthy of download. These steps are just the tip of the iceberg – get creative in encouraging borrowers to turn into buyers. Make it easy for people to talk about your content with embedded links and widgets, as well as a well developed social media presence.

What do you do if you find someone torrenting your stuff? I’d recommend reaching out to them instead of suing them. Let them know you know, then find out WHY they torrent instead of buy. If it’s money, look at your pricing. You’d be surprised how often that’s the answer. A low cost subscription to your site and content might solve that problem, or a discount for first time visitors. You’d also be surprised how often being human helps solve the problem. If you don’t have the manpower to reach out on a one-by-one basis, consider an anonymous form on your site, asking people if, and why, they torrent, and what they’d like to see to become a customer. You can also go the Radiohead and NIN route (not yet done with film as far as I can find): offer to sell your wares at a customer-determined price.

The point is that piracy is a multi-sided issue. Can it impact your sales? Absolutely. Can you take steps to minimize that impact? You bet. Can you take it further, get a little creative, and turn those pirates into advocates and fans? Definitely.