Friday, February 11, 2011

Neil Gaiman understands how filesharing helps artists

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I haven’t much heard of English author Neil Gaiman before (blame my perennial cultural/literary retardation, as usual), but if this is any indication, he’s certainly earned my respect by being one of the tragically few artists who actually get it regarding filesharing (ie. “media piracy”):

Transcript: (click the [+/-] to open/close →) []

NEIL GAIMAN: When the Web started, I used to get really grumpy with people because they put my poems up, they put my stories up, they put my stuff up on the Web, and I had this A) a belief, which was completely erroneous, that if people put your stuff up on the Web and you didn’t tell them to take it down, you would lose your copyright, which actually is simply not true. I was very grumpy, because I felt like they were pirating my stuff, that it was bad.

And then, I started to notice that – two things were very – seemed much more significant. One of which was places where I was being pirated – particularly Russia, where people were translating my stuff into Russian and spreading it out into the world – I was selling more and more books. People were discovering me through being pirated. And then, they were going out and buying the real books. And when a new book would come out in Russia, it would sell more and more copies. And I thought that was fascinating.

And I tried a few experiments. And some of them were quite hard – persuading my publisher, for example, to take one of my books and put it out for free. And we took American Gods, a book that was still selling and selling very well, and for a month, they put it up completely free on their website, and you could read it and you could download it. And what happened was sales of my books, through independent bookstores, ’cause they were all we were measuring it through, went up the following month 300%. And I started to realize that, actually, you’re not losing books, you’re not losing sales, by having stuff out there.

And when I give a big talk now on these kinds of subjects, and people say, “Well, what about the sales that I’m losing through having stuff copied, through having stuff floating out there?” I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question, which is I say, “Okay, do you have a favorite author?” And they say “yes”. And I say, “Good. What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book, put up your hands. And then, anybody who discovered your favorite author by walking into a bookstore and buying a book, raise your hands.” And it’s probably about 5–10%, if that, of the people actually discovered an author who is their favorite author, who’s the person they buy everything of, and they buy the hardbacks, and they treasure the fact that they’ve got this author – very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it. And that’s how they found their favorite author.

And I thought, “You know? That’s really all this is.” It’s people lending books, and you can’t look on that as a lost sale. It’s not a lost sale. Nobody who would’ve bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free. What you’re actually doing is advertizing, you’re reaching more people, you’re raising awareness.

And understanding that gave me a whole new idea of the shape of copyright and what the Web was doing. Because the biggest thing the Web is doing is allowing people to hear things, allowing people to read things, allowing people to see things that they might never have otherwise seen. And basically, that’s an incredibly good thing.

Of course, his experience is his only subjective and all that, but add it to the overabundance of evidence demonstrating the accuracy of his conclusions and the only logical conclusion is that filesharing is one of the best things any artist could ever hope for. It’s a mechanism guaranteed to expand their audience, thereby inevitably leading to increased sales. Those who claim that piracy represents lost sales aren’t only demonstrably wrong (one doesn’t lose money when someone pirates material that they never would’ve purchased in the first place) – they’ve got it exactly backwards.

(via @BadAstronomer)

EDIT: 01/10/13 9:27 PM ET – Added a transcript.