The Economics of Content

By: on July 6, 2011 in Advice, Annoyed, Book, Piracy

Hello everyone! Long time no speak. I’ve been pretty heads down working with a customer and finally have a moment to breathe. Today’s blog post should hopefully spark some debate … or maybe not. We’ll see.

On a newsgroup I’m part of, the topic came up that the previous SQL MVP Deep Dives book was up on a torrent site for all the world to grab. That generated some interesting comments, especially since that book’s profits are for charity. However, what it boils down to is this: unless the author and/or publisher intended on that being out there for free, it’s illegal. I first tackled one aspect of this topic back in January with the post “IP, You P, We All Want Some Free IP”.  I already pointed out how the music industry has been affected by illegal downloading there and won’t rehash that. As authors or publishers, we can’t ignore the fact that physical product is slowly harder to move, and eBooks are on the rise. You have to offer it in different formats to appeal to different audiences. This blog post, unlike the last, is not talking about copying blog content here as I did in that post. I’m talking about  taking a copyrighted work and blatantly putting it out there with no regards to the fact it is a copyrighted work.

We all know about warez sites. I’m sure many of us as kids (whether we started on 300 baud modems or with the Internet) downloaded software for free. As I got older and then became part of the industry, I saw how doing that can hurt the bottom line. As a musician, I know the pain of paying $600 for a piece of software, but if it keeps me getting new versions and the company afloat, I’m for it. A company is not a charity. Sure, things like USB dongles and other software protection can get annoying, but they wouldn’t have to resort to such measures if people would stop trying to circumvent it and place it on some site for all the world to steal.

A book is no different. With eBooks being so popular these days, it’s not difficult to get one in PDF (or similar) format. However, buying it once and sending it to all your friends is not cool. Neither is posting it up to a site for everyone to grab. Digital rights management (DRM) makes things harder (and less portable), but vendors wouldn’t have to go there more often than not if people paid.

Think of this another way. What would you do if your boss came to you one day and told you that they loved your work, and they assume you do too, so they just won’t pay you because why pay for something you enjoy doing? I’m sure that would go over like a ton of lead bricks. Or what if you were a consultant, delivered 6 months of work only to be told, “Thanks, but we don’t feel like paying you.” Again, lead bricks. I’m sure many of you already face some economic hardships due to the economy and may have even been asked to take pay cuts just to keep your job. You want to be compensated, so why shouldn’t a content author?

Now put yourself in the author’s shoes. Most of us make very little to nearly no money on books as is, and you’re going to take that away from us, too? Come on. And in the case of the SQL MVP Deep Dives book, you are affecting charity recipients. The authors donated their time and writing efforts (as will be the case with the SQL MVP Deep Dives 2 book which I contributed to). That literally is stealing for all the wrong reasons.

I know I’m not going to sway many of you. I’m sure I’ll hear comments like:

  • I can’t afford to buy it, so isn’t it better that I have the right information than not?
    In theory, yes. In reality, no. I know even $30 – $50 US for a book is a lot for some. I’m not blind to that. But why should I then spend months writing a book that I will see very little to no return investment on? As is, I can tell you I didn’t come close to getting rich on my other books (most I lost money on if you really work out the hourly wage). I want people to have the right information, but at whose expense? I’ve got plenty of other work on my plate that I don’t need to wrtie another book, but I do. I write books for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is I can get everything in one place and expand on things I can’t always expand upon in a 60 minute talk. It’s also much more satisfying to me than a blog post long term. But why should I do it when I get nothing in return – even if it is $.01?
  • It’s just one copy. How am I harming anyone?
    I truly hope no one is that naive. ’nuff said.
  • If it’s out there, it’s out there.
    True, but it doesn’t make it right. Just because you didn’t put it up on some torrent site doesn’t absolve you. One person commented that they saw some contractors who could clearly afford a book going up to the Internet and passing around copies of a book like it was candy.

As a fellow professional – whether you are a developer, IT admin, DBA, etc. – you should have some respect for not only the authors and their efforts, but know right from wrong. You know that downloading it for free (unless it’s intended to be free) is illegal. Period. Maybe you don’t give a rat’s behind. I can’t be your conscience. I consider people like Kalen Delaney and Brent Ozar friends, but I actually purchased their books (Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Internals and Professional SQL Server 2008 Internals and Troubleshooting) . I actually bought them more than once – I’ve got electronic and physical copies. I didn’t ask for a free copy as a friend.

This post won’t stop piracy of content, be it books, music, movies, or software. But I hope it gives some of you a pause before you steal content, especially if that content’s proceeds are for a charity.

All of this is going through my head as I embark on my Denali book … or maybe not. I really am doing the math in my head to ensure the large effort will be worth it.

A thief is a thief, as one friend so eloquently pointed out. Don’t be one.

9 Responses

  1. Hi Allan

    These are great comments, thanks! I will definitely be passing on the link to this post …. I especially liked this thought:

    “What would you do if your boss came to you one day and told you that they loved your work, and they assume you do too, so they just won’t pay you because why pay for something you enjoy doing?”

    Keep up the good work!


    • Allan says:

      Thanks, Kalen.

      I don’t think anyone can live on peace, love, happiness, and kudos alone. That doesn’t pay the bills.

      In the case of the SQL MVP Deep Dives book, no one who authors a chapter benefits individually. It’s the charity, so someone taking the content winds up hurting those who arguably need it the most.

  2. Steve Jones says:

    Interesting comments, and while I somewhat agree with you, I also think this is a good article to read:

    A pirated copy != a lost sale

    As a content creator and publisher, I struggle with this, but I have come to believe it’s true. Piracy does impact some sales, but not as much as I think most large companies talk about. Apple and Amazon still sell a ton of music. Many people go there because it’s just simple and easy, and they’ve removed DRM so we can transfer our purchases to various devices. I think books need to get here as well, and movies are trying to make the transition.

    I think part of what we are also seeing is that a younger generation, who often don’t have the $$, are pirating, but I suspect as they get older, most of them won’t bother to pirate stuff when they have the income. It’s easier to just buy it legitimately.

    We also have to change the notion of how we do business in some cases, and adapt to the idea that the cost and price of producing and distributing digital goods is not the same as the physical ones.

    • Allan says:

      Sometimes it is a lost sale, sometimes it isn’t. I know this – it’s not a black and white issue. I think people looking for a book on SQL Server high availability or failover clustering will buy it legitimately more often than not. With music, sometimes hearing a song will get you to buy an album (physical product or digital download). Other times, not. The music side of me is very different than the technical content side of what I do. I know doing content does other things for me personally and as a consultant, but I weigh that when I embark on a project or decide to not do something. Piracy often does not enter my thinking, but with my new book where I’m looking to self-publish, it literally is money out of my pocket.

      Having said that, having no money is not an excuse for right or wrong whatever the age. The people on the thread were adults who knew better. But even if you can’t afford it, should I just give in and say, “Well, hey, just pirate any of my books”? I’m sorry, but no. I hate DRM (including password protection) as much as anyone. With the publishing industry, they need to standardize on a format long before we have a DRM discussion. .mobi? ePub? PDF? Kindle? You splinter the market that way.

      I don’t trawl or set alerts (such as Google) for my content. I’m not that paranoid. It could get too exhausting and waste a lot of time I could be spending in much more productive ways – like creating new content. I don’t want to seem like I’m going to personally track down everyone who has put my book out there. Like I said, I think people buy my book (eBook or paper) more often than not, and hope those people who pirate will buy it eventually because they like it.

      But to speak to the music side of things for a moment, until the major digital delivery content providers offer lossless, it’s useless. MP3 is good enough for many, but definitely not at least CD quality. I’m not even asking for high bitrate (96/24 or 192/24) stuff, either. That’s a big part of the music issue right now, at least for me. I know when my album is done I will offer it in various formats, and lossless will be an option.

  3. Geoff Hiten says:

    The proper term is Digital Restrictions Management. It does not grant or acknowledge any rights on the part of the user. Publishers use DRM to lock you into the device, not to grant you any fair use rights. Music piracy dropped when the copyright owners made the “buy” experience as good as or better than the “steal” experience. If we can provide a quality product at a fair price, most honest people will buy it. Right now, publishers are trying to protect an obsolete business model rather than trying to find new ways to make money serving customers.

    • Allan says:

      Honest people will generally buy, period. No one said this is easy. I remember the copy protection they used to put on old C64 and Apple software and the stuff used to get around it. Long after we’re gone this debate will still be raging.

  4. Kevin Kline says:

    Great post, Allan. I wish people would consider what piracy does to the creator of the IP.


    • Allan says:

      Thanks, Kevin. It’s really a tough thing. There’s loss leader kind of stuff where you give part of it away as a teaser, but doing a long project such as a book (or an album – both familiar territory for me; my new album is already 2 years in the making with studio time, etc.), you have to hope you’ll see some of what you put in back. Like any other relationship, it’s give and take. If it’s just take, it’s not worth doing.

  5. Sal Young says:


    I found your blog entry from a tweet by Kevin Kline and I agree with your opinion. Not only because the individuals who download the book are stealing but the person making the download available has very low or no moral values by giving something away that is not his/hers.

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