3rd Mar 2011 by Sudara
In one of my favorite videos from recent weeks, author Neal Gaiman explains how he was initially paranoid and “really grumpy with people” when they put up his poems and stories on the web. After some time, he realized that the “places where I was being pirated, I was selling more and more books, people were discovering me.”
Why should a musician or author allow their work to be copied and shared without freaking out over potential losses? Gaiman explains:
“I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question, which is I say: “Ok, do you have a favorite author?” And they say “Yes.” And I say “Good, what I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book, put up your hands. And anybody who discovered your favorite author by walking into a bookstore and buying a book, raise your hands.”
Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it.
The Gaiman Principle
I have started to refer to this phenomenon as “The Gaiman Principle”:
In Gaiman’s words:
Nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free. What you are actually doing is advertising, you are reaching more people.
In other words: Piracy is advertising.
The underlying assumptions:
1) Creative work has value.
2) People want to spend money on art they love and enjoy.
3) People need to find the creative work that they value
4) Trusted recommendations are the best path to discovery.
5) The only thing stronger than a trusted recommendation is a trusted recommendation combined with actually experiencing the creative work. This is the royal flush of recommendations. As a producer of creative work, it’s what you should be dreaming of.
The Ultimate Recommendation
The biggest thing the web has done for creatives is to not only allow personal recommendation to be quickly broadcast, but the actual work that is being recommended can often also be broadcast.
Let’s say you tell a friend you love a song. It is a strong personal recommendation. If you tell them you love it and also give them the song so they can hear it, perhaps they become hooked on it, and celebrate it’s awesomeness with you - that’s the power that sharing (or piracy) provides.
To reject this opportunity and instead focus on what the artist might be losing in this recommendation process is a tangental, fear-based waste of time at best. It completely disregards the fact that by sharing the music/writing/etc, a fan is essentially marketing on the creator’s behalf. The person he or she is marketing to - they probably hadn’t checked you out before. They were not an existing fan, reading to spend money. Now they have heard of you, and tasted your work, and possibly acquired a taste for your work. The fan sharing the creative work should be thanked.
Sharing online (or piracy) is not something for authors or musicians to fear, to blame when they don’t sell well, to use as a scapegoat for not having been profitable, etc. It sure is tempting to think that way if things aren’t going well. But don’t. If you are being pirated, you are doing it right.
Just remember the Gaiman Princible: When people are sharing your work, it is advertising, even though the work itself has monetary value. It’s the highest form of personal recommendation available. Embrace it.
Ramen Music: Built on the Gaiman Principle
Ramen Music was built from the start to encourage sharing. Our issues have value. I work my butt off producing them. The dozen or so artists per issue worked hard on those songs. Ramen Music pays these artists for their hard work. And our paid subscribers are how we survive.
But people want to share things they love. Why would we get in the way of that? Our subscribers bought our music. They are people that value what we do. Should we be telling them not to give the ultimate recommendation to a friend?
What about potential new subscribers? They are human like you and me. They probably want to check something out, listen and play with something before spending money. I do. So lets make that easier to do that. Not slam a gate in front of them and expect them to still be interested.
So, we made Ramen Music issues easily shareable. We even remind our subscribers that they can and should share them. We have daily proof that this works. People on twitter or facebook recommend us to their friends and followers and include a link to a full, non-crippled, high quality issue. Even just a few minutes later, new subscriptions from friends come in. And we lose nothing.
So artists and labels: Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that the world is black and white and filled with evil pirates stealing your wares. It’s more complex and positive and wonderful than that. If your music is being shared and pirated, celebrate! The word is spreading to people who don’t yet know the value of your work. Let it spread. For the love of god, let it spread.
EDIT: Money where my mouth is! My gift to you for putting up with so many words is the latest copy of Ramen Music Issue #03. Feel free to share, of course.