Pirates In The Family

Posted September 23, 2011 by Meoskop in Opinion / 0 Comments

Among a certain class of race and income, E-Readers are becoming the new normal. Your grandmother might have bought herself a Kindle at the warehouse club, your Little League coach might have a Kobo tucked in the gym bag. Suddenly, almost overnight, seeing a paper book makes you stop and do a double take. These are not people who frequent the blogging community. Sites built by people who love books educate consumers on the market. I talk about a book, you buy it, you suggest it to someone else, they buy it. Blogging is one of the few places that trickle economics really works. (And I know people are buying. For some reason they like to email or tweet that sort of thing instead of leaving a comment. Tokidoki thread? Plenty of views, no conversation. Half a dozen “Hey, I bought that print after reading the review” private messages.) So you and I, we understand DRM and Agency Pricing and all the things that a new Kindle owner does not.

Suddenly, Grandpa is a pirate. He has no idea. He’s dead certain he isn’t. He will argue with you six ways from Sunday that he most certainly is not stealing books, in fact he’s paying for them! Grandpa does not understand the currently legal price fixing game that is Agency. He sees a toaster for $8, he searches until he finds it for $6. He buys it, he’s happy he got a deal. He sees an ebook for $8, he searches until he finds it for $5 or $3 or maybe even free. He’s happy he got a deal. He has no idea if it’s legit or not. Grandpa thinks the big names are just trying to rip him off. Getting Grandpa to understand he’s stealing is a lot harder than you may think. 

For the last nine months I’ve had a running argument with a Grandfather Of Five that I know socially. He loves his Kindle and he loves this search engine his friend showed him that lets him find books for free or even half price. It’s great. He hardly ever buys from Amazon directly anymore, because these guys beat the prices! He used to be able to get good deals, but then Amazon ‘got greedy’. I’ve been telling him he’s either giving money to pirates or reading freeware. I tell him there are lots of very reputable booksellers out there whose names do not start with A or end with N and yet he is probably not doing business with them. “Listen, I know my buddy and you do not. No WAY this guy would lead me into anything shady. These are all legit things. He even gave me 1200 books to get me started from his personal library.” And there was the opening.

I have told him about Agency, I have told him about DRM, but to him I am The Kid and this guy is The Buddy and The Buddy always trumps The Kid. Especially in New York. Prove me wrong, I say. Show me what I’m missing. Let me in on the deal. He knows I’m wrong, and he’s going to show me. He brings me his computer. “He bought every one of these in the starter package. Take a look. You’ll see, it’s all stuff he bought. Some of this here is stuff I bought.” I ask a few questions. I poke around. Most of the books are bestsellers. Fully half are Tea Party Patriot tomes. I can see why he and his buddy think it’s impossible they’ve been dealing shady.  I tell Grandpa of Five I can not only prove he’s been giving money to pirates, I don’t even have to look hard to do it. A complete ebook library of J.K. Rowling’s books without DRM created in 2010? “I paid ten bucks for that!”

To a pirate. 

When buying content is easy, when prices are fluid or make sense, Grandpa is not motivated to seek out his deals. He’s not part of the die hard pirate culture, he’s a sale to be captured. The more roadblocks put in Grandpa’s way the more likely it is that he’s going to go looking for an easier, cheaper source. His money and he are going to part ways, it’s just a question of who gets it. Grandpa of Five does not believe that his Harry Potter proves the point. I’m putting some articles together for him on J.K. Rowling and a few other authors I found on his system. He’s not going to be happy when the truth dawns on him, but he’s going to be even less happy when he realizes his choice is abandoning the big six or breaking the law. Because if there is one thing Grandpa won’t do, it’s pay full retail. He’s the reason God invented the Early Bird Special.