I met an old colleague, Malcolm Dick, for a cup of tea this morning, and he pointed me towards a story that’s been going around for about five years or so.
It’s about Frank Zappa, and about an article he is apparently credited with writing in 1983, headlined A Proposal For a System to Replace Ordinary Record Merchandising. You can see a copy of the article here.
Did he write it? I don’t know. I’ve ordered a copy of the book it is meant to be included in, so that I can tell for sure. In the meantime, whether he wrote it or not, it’s worth reading just for the sentiments in the article.
It matters to me because I’m intrigued by all manner of things to do with piracy: the arguments, the characters, the rumours, the downright lies, the posturing and gaming.
Take Rolex watches for example. Not the ones you buy from Rolex, but the ones available in China and Hong Kong and Singapore. The ones that cost you maybe $20.
Let’s figure this out. First, let’s take the person that pays $20 for a “Rolex”. Does he think he’s really buying a Rolex? Come on. So now think about Rolex the company. Does Rolex think that a buyer of a $20 “Rolex” is really in the market for a Rolex? I hope they’re smarter than that. So a person buys a product which he knows is not a Rolex, at a price which he knows is not a Rolex price, from someone who is not Rolex, and all the time Rolex knows that the buyer is not ever ever ever likely to become a customer for a real Rolex.
There’s even a replica Rolex market, selling stuff like this, for pretty stiff prices:
The kind of fakes sold by Fancy Fakes retail at around 3-4 iPhones; that’s real money in any language. But it’s not Rolex money.
Sometimes I’ve thought that people like Rolex should take a leaf out of Paolo Coelho’s book (pun intended):
Paolo is a great guy. Not just a great read, a great guy. The first time I met him, he told me all about Pirate Coelho, the “pirate” site for his blog. How he got into trouble for helping people run the site, and for recommending the site to people. In fact, he goes so far as to link to pirate download sites from his official site.
Somehow, I don’t think that Rolex will try and quantify each fake Rolex sold as Rolex revenue lost. I think the same is true for a lot of “pirate” films. People pay for quality. Does someone who pays $5 for a pirate DVD really count as being in the market for a $40 version. Perhaps, but I’m not that sure. I’ve never bought a pirate DVD. Nor do I intend to. I can afford to pay the going rate, and if I don’t like the rate I won’t buy it. Full stop.
When film piracy takes place in the Far East and in India, at least part of the reason for the piracy may be the economic one; a false market created by a false price. But I tend to think there’s a deeper reason, one of “artificial abundance”. I have maintained for some time that every artificial scarcity will be met by an equal and opposite artificial abundance. I have, similarly, maintained that the most retrograde and fundamentally stupid invention I have seen in recent years is the region code on a DVD. Which customer was that for? Which customer finds that useful? Puh-leese. Nothing more than a futile attempt to extend the life of a yesterday geographical business model at the expense of the customer.
Which brings me to the kernel for this post. A few days ago, I read an unusual article on BBC. Headlined Top 40 faces new digital shake-up, it contained the following chart: