Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter and illicit filesharing

The latest and lastest Harry Potter book is out, and the intrawebs have been buzzing about bootleg copies circulating around the net. Two things seem to be cited the most as the negative of that:
  1. Less copies will be sold, since readers can get it free online
  2. Early-readers were posting spoilers from the book

Let's deal with these in reverse, shall we? Spoilers happen every time any piece of highly-anticipated media is released early. Advanced copies are a normal part of the distribution process. Spoilers are easy to avoid -- don't read anything or listen to things that are likely to spoil. It's not 100% fool-proof (I'm guilty of one of the larger ones, but it was also funny), but it should keep almost everyone who doesn't want to be spoiled away from the offending content.

And to the first, that's a crock. Unfortunately, the debunkers are also off the mark. I have a lot of respect for most of what future-thinker Seth Godin has to say, but when he poo-pooed the power of freely available publics desire to read online books:
Books are souvenirs. No one is going to read Potter online, even if it's free. Holding and owning the book, remembering when and how you got it... that's what you're paying for. Books are great at holding memories. They're lousy at keeping secrets.
... he blew it. I agree that books are souvenirs and that holding a book in your hands is a great feeling. But to say that no one would read HP online, even if it is free? Seth, wake up. People *are* reading things online. And quite often, when they read things online, they then go out and buy those things in the store.

Strange as it may sound, there are folks who aren't reading the HP series. I'm one of them and I know countless others. I'm on the Cory Doctorow side of the fence on this issue. I know that putting something like HP out as a free digital download -- by the publisher or by enterprising readers -- will actually increase the overall sale of the hard copy by allowing folks who didn't care to give it a shot. Yeah, it's heretical. Yeah, it flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But I remain convinced that the group of folks who want to read it free were not going to buy the book anyhow. And more importantly, exposure to folks who weren't planning on buying the book can actually cause some of those to make the purchase -- assuming the material is good. And I'll bet you that last group will back up and grab the previous six books as well.

Let the fruit fly. 'Tis a brave new world when content wants to be freed.


  1. I'm sorry I didn't say what you imagined I said. As the first bestselling author to put an entire book for free online, I think have a fair amount of cred in this area. Why do you think giving stuff away online increases hard sales? Because people start reading online, realize they love the book but hate the format and buy the hardcopy. Really. Been there.

    So, if you want to take my post as something against sharing online, feel free, but you're making that up. Not what I said, not what I meant.

  2. Seth,

    I know you are a proponent of making digital copies available online. Where I take issue is your assumption (and that is what it is) that people only buy the dead tree version because reading online is a pain. I'm sure it happens some of the time, but I don't believe it's the primary motivator. People do read online. The 'inconvenience' factor often reported is a myth to many, IMHO.


  3. Why you, you new media iconoclast! Hmm, got Seth to come to the party. Ahh, divergent opinion thingies, gotta love them. Keep us from gettng bored.

  4. Yup. One of my friends read the illegal downloaded copy of Harry Potter. And I'm sure there were thousands if not tens of thousands of others who did as well. But it won't stop them from buying, or supporting the series in ways that will help Rowling sell millions more. The big problem for anyone marketer is it's not easily trackable.

    However, my entire career was built around free music downloads. Anyone can download 2-3 CDs worth of free music from my various websites. And I'll be giving way a LOT more music in my lifetime. Hours upon hours of hard work. And while the corporate types bitch, my career will continue to grow because I, too, know that every time someone downloads my music and listen to it on repeat, they are becoming a fan. They are telling more friends. And they ARE buying more CDs.

    Top two reasons why people buy our music online? Free downloads and podcasts.

    People know when you put your heart into something and they want to support you... IF they think that you are worth it.

    And maybe THAT'S the REAL fear. Corporate types are coming to the realization that people might not like what they buy. And they only want to buy what they like. I only bought one other Harry Potter book. But now I'm a big fan and I paid money to get my book yesterday and be one of the first to read it.

    Not everyone likes my music. That's okay. Where one doesn't, there's another ten who will fall in love and buy EVERYTHING I release, EVEN IF they already downloaded EVERYTHING I have ever released... No ESPECIALLY IF.

    Yes, it's scary to trust in the good will of people. And some are gonna never pay a dime. But they will find other ways to support you which will pay for itself in the future.

  5. [...] Read the entire article here. Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

  6. I love the downloadable content. I would NEVER have discovered Scott or JC or Tee otherwise. I love listening to their books but what I love even more is the signed copies of Scott and Tee's books....I'm still waiting for JC's to be in print but I know I'll buy them and that he'll sign them. :)

    Regardless of the Harry Potter stuff - and whoever thought that illegal downloads wouldn't happen is living in la la land - I think it's done more good than harm. More people I know now are turned onto the podcast novel and wouldn't have it any other way.


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