Saturday, March 24, 2007

To allow downloads or not to allow downloads?

The whole downloading issue is a tricky question. CBS and Viacom were the same company two years ago, now they come down on somewhat different sides of the issue. CBS wants to use YouTube to gain exposure for its programs, Viacom wants to sue YouTube for the exposure the users insist on giving its programs. Which one is right? It probably depends on where you are standing at the moment and how far into the future you look. My first thought about the whole Viacom suing Google thing is actually that it's scary that between an entertainment giant and a search engine, the first is the underdog.

Anyway, one man asks downloaders to please buy his comic instead. Now I've seen a few of those downloader types since I've been known to hang out in a manga scanlation channel on IRC. There are a lot of different kinds of downloaders. The music business thinks of every downloader as lost revenue but the rest who can look at it more completely notice that there's a give and take.

I see people who download comics because they are very expensive for them. Some of these are people who actually can afford their habit, they just can't quite get their head around what their own priorities are and may actually represent lost revenue. Some of them have a genuine case about the worth of a product and what they actually pay for it. At least one has to face that the peso just isn't that strong against the dollar and shipping just isn't cheap so the real cost of a comic is more like four times what it says on the cover. Apparently there's a whole world out there.

I see people who download because they compulsively collect. They have gigs and gigs of stuff they'll never read but it was there and they grabbed it. This is not lost revenue. But they do read some of it and have been known to buy it when they like it. This is revenue gained.

I see people who want to try it out first. They heard of something new and are interested but want to know more. Some would have brought it to try, but I doubt this is a significant number. Mostly, to get something into these hands it has to be free. And mostly they won't be interested enough to buy it, but sometimes they are. This is more revenue gained.

I see people who think it's their right to be able to download everything under the sun. They like to insult people allowing downloads if they know the provider has something they want but won't give it to them. They don't see a difference between what can be purchased around the corner and what can be purchased from overseas and can't even be read in that form. (Both are illegal to download.) They get kick/banned when they express their "rights". They may or may not be lost revenue.

Mostly I see the guy who downloads because it's in English rather than "scribbles". Just the nature of the beast.

I have been known to download a few things. Even stuff originally in English. It has generally lead to me buying stuff. Ultimately the fact that I buy any comics at all can be traced back to a subbed copy of Tenchi's Universe episode 5 on Usenet. Later viewings of a few dubbed episodes show it was lucky it was subbed because Tenchi is just annoying dubbed. This episode finally got me to look at anime, which was mostly downloaded. Now I buy anime. The anime lead to manga. The manga got licensed, so I went to the shop to buy it too. I went ahead and looked at the Batman on the way past to the manga, an action helped on by seeing (and being quite impressed by) the animated series (watched for the price of seeing ads) and the first movie from the early 1990s. I finally read my sister's Sandman volumes and noticed maybe there's more than Batman on those shelves. There's a fair bit of gained revenue there.

Meanwhile poor Tenchi's Universe, the catalyst, has gotten no love. I've never bought any of it. I actually haven't even seen more than a few episodes.

Most downloads don't lead to anything, especially not as much as that one particular download. But a few do. I have all of Pretear which was originally downloaded. There was some disappointment that the editing by the fans was higher quality than that by the company making money from it. I never actually read my downloaded Monster, the result of reading and loving 20th Century Boys (downloaded), because I found out soon after it was licensed and would be out in October. Which turned out to be February over a year later, but I waited all the same. The list goes on.

Sometimes I've watched the anime but purchased the manga. I don't think it's ever gone the other way. Sometimes the artist or writer will catch my attention more than the actual piece I am reading, so I go searching for (and buy) other things that that artist or writer has done. In these cases someone benefited, but not the people on the exact thing that was downloaded.

There probably is no right answer.

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