But I Can Get All I Want for Free

Music, the Radio, the Internet, and Boy oh Boy do I Love Chillout Tunes

You would think that the publishing industry might have learned something from the music industry.

A few years back, not all that long ago, the music industry went through some technological growing pains because, quite frankly, most people don’t want CDs anymore. After all, why would they? If I want to carry a bunch of tunes around with me, which would be better, carry a stack of CDs in a binder in my car (which is actually what we all used to do), or grab my iPhone before leaving the house? I could have a massive black (yes it was black) binder containing all my favourite CDs in to a conveniently thievable form-factor, or I could keep my iPhone in my pocket.

The same is true with books. I carry a Kindle eInk with me wherever I go. Why? Because I like to read. I want a bunch of music with me, so I carry an iPhone and I want a bunch of reading material with me so I carry a Kindle. It saves me from hauling around 25 to 30 pounds of books. It’s not only a convenience, but it’s how I prefer to read. I still love books and I still read books, but I can rarely read a physical book while I’m out and about. The digital eReader is a precisely analogous device to my smartphone/MP3 player.

I have several music services on my phone, one of which is the Digitally Imported Radio app. If you’re into electronic music, dance, techno, chillout, or whatever — you need this app. There’s an Android version of it too, and I’ve got that on my Asus Transformer. On every computer I use on a regular basis, I’ve installed a free, open-source music app called Clementine. Sure, it plays MP3s and the like, but also has built in ties to DI Radio, Soma, and more. I’m writing this on my Linux laptop and Clementine is playing DI in the background.

Orjan Nilsen - It's not his fault that he looks like he's 12 years old.

Orjan Nilsen – It’s not his fault that he looks like he’s 12 years old.

A few days back, I bought some music by Orjan Nilsen, a trance and chillout producer/DJ from Norway. His work is amazing and I wanted some of it. (Heck, I want all of it, but let’s not break the bank on music.) How did I find out about him? I heard one of his songs on DI Radio at some point. I heard a song, loved it, looked around the web, found another great song, and listened to that for a while. Then I bought some of his music. I could’ve just been content to listen to DI, YouTube, and so on, but I wanted to be able to carry an album or two of his around with me. So I bought it.

Music has figured this out, finally. People will listen to radio, online radio, services like Spotify or Pandora, and then they will buy some music. There’s a project called Sleepthief I heard on Pandora, this song to be exact. I bought the album minutes after the song finished. (I was at work and had to dig around in my bag to find my wallet.) I’d have never bought Sleepthief if I didn’t hear it on Pandora. I wasn’t planning to buy music that day. The thought hadn’t entered my mind at all — until I heard the song on Pandora. After Pandora played that song, all I wanted do was buy Sleepthief.

Publishers Are Dense

This morning, I read this article, saw this quote, and it pissed me off. There’s no other way to say it. I wasn’t peeved. I wasn’t just angry. I was pissed. I mean, look at this:

If you could get every book you wanted free, why would you ever buy another one? That’s the question we had about it in our first meeting. … That is the danger. You could literally undermine the market for every author and for [the publishers]. … Obviously, there is some discovery through libraries. … We’ve always believed that the cultural contribution of libraries is important. But this frictionless ability for people to download books does make a sea change difference.

If you read my experiences above, you’ll see immediately why that quote is so stupid. It comes from Carolyn Reidy, the CEO of Simon & Schuster. Once again, she’s basically explaining why it has to be so difficult to get eBooks from your public library. Of course the publishing industry is worried about pirates and piracy, even though there’s no data or evidence to support the notion of a book piracy problem. There’s also no evidence to show that library patrons pirate books. The DRM  you’re forced to use to buy a book from Amazon is the same DRM you use when you download a Kindle book from OverDrive. It’s cracked the same way, but, in case you didn’t get this before, there isn’t any evidence to show that’s going on.

I’ve spent hours, days, teaching library patrons how to use their digital device to download eBooks from OverDrive and other library services. People have come to me with iPads, Kindles, Nooks, some weird Polaroid thingy that was kinda-sorta but not really running Android…. All of them wanted books. Books, books, books. Many of them had already bought books but they wanted to try the library too.

Wait, back up a tick. Did I say they’d already bought books?

Let me make this easy foryou. If it says Sleepthief on the cover, buy it.

Let me make this easy for you. If it says Sleepthief on the cover, buy it.

Yes, yes I did. Many of the students in my digital download classes already purchased books from their device’s preferred book store. They’d bought their favourite book and now they wanted to see what the library could do for them. Much like myself, they have shelves of books at home, but they use the library a lot to read books they want to read and eventually figure out what they want to buy.

I literally have all the music I could ever want for free. I can listen to Internet radio and music services all day and never pay a dime. Yet I still buy music. I can have it all for free, but I still buy it. Could I pirate it? Sure I could and, in the past, I did. But folks, I pay money for a Spotify subscription. My browser is almost always logged into Amazon.com so I can buy a tune or album or something. I can listen to anything I want, anywhere I want, and pay nothing. All I need is my iPhone and an Internet connection.

And yet I still buy music. So do a bunch of other people. The data says that music pirates buy more than non-pirates. But skip that for a second. I said I pirated music in the past, but I don’t do that anymore. Do you know why?

Because it’s so damn easy to get music.

I can listen to Spotify and  I can buy the song I just heard in seconds. I can buy it for 99 cents. 99 cents, people. It’s worth more than 99 cents of my time to find a decent sounding, high bit rate copy on the Net. I could search the Pirate Bay, various other pirate sites, maybe download it from YouTube or something. Or I could save myself the trouble and buy it from Amazon for 99 cents. My time is valuable, and I’d say two-thirds of that 99 cents doesn’t pay for just the song, it’s paying for the time I save not needing to look around for a decent pirated copy.

After being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital world, the music industry (for the most part) woke up and realized that if you make it easy to buy music, then people will do it. Piracy isn’t easy. You have to know stuff. You have to know where to look, you have to know what you’re looking for, you have to understand how the technology works, whether you might need a VPN, who could be looking over your shoulder, and what a magnet file is and while a magnet file is different than a torrent file, and how does your BitTorrent client work, and what is seeding….

Or pay 99 cents and you can have it now, and it will be high quality and sound great.



The Publishing Industry Has Delusions

The publishers seem to think that they’re in the same boat as the music industry was, and in some ways they are. Can I pirate books? Sure. Is it easy to pirate books? Not really. It’s not hard for me, because I’m a computer geek, but it does take some time and trouble. However that’s not the question. The question is “are people pirating books en masse like they did with music?”


No they’re not and you know they’re not, even if you don’t think you do. You know they’re not because I bet you know far more people who like to listen to music than those who like to read. Most everyone wants to listen to some kind of music, but there just aren’t as many readers. Music is easier than reading. You don’t even have to be literate to dig music. Music is more popular than books and people desire music more than books. That’s just how it is.

People have long had access to a community where they could get all the books they wanted for free, yet last I checked publishers, are still making money. As a librarian, and a savvy library user, I can get every book I ever wanted for free, and I still buy books. I buy eBooks most of the time so I can have it with me wherever I go but that’s a question of format and convenience. The people in music figured this out, I think it’s high time the publishers heard the whistle of the clue-train.


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