Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Free Samples -- a model for copyright

One of the things everyone subconsciously looks forward to in going to Costco is the abundance of free samples. It is always a little bit of a disappointment when you arrive and find out the sample people have closed up shop for the day. Most of the stuff I sample are foods that I would never buy, even if I had all the money in the world to spend. On the other hand, once in a while something is so good and still within the purview of what we would normally buy, that we get a package or case of whatever. Do people buy the stuff Costco gives out as samples? How long do the different products stay in the store anyway?

Think about it. Costco, Walmart and other huge multinational retailers are really models of current marketing practices and highly pertinent to copyright. Why do you think the vendors at genealogy conferences (and all other conferences) give away stuff? Do you think that FamilySearch, by giving you a pen with its logo, really is trying to sell you pens? Do you really think Costco is trying to sell energy drink?  No, Costco is selling Costco. The vendors at conferences are selling the conference experience and hoping that they will also sell enough of their own product to break even at having come to the conference.

Think of two-for-one sales at supermarkets. Do you think they give stuff away to benefit mankind in general? No. They know that you will buy a bunch of stuff at their regular price if you come into the store to buy the sale item.

Why do writers and book publishers and other media sales people seem so entirely ignorant of this process which is so fundamental to retail sales of all kinds? Enter publish on demand and eBooks. Now, anyone who is a writer or creator of media, can also be the publisher. If you write books, you can publish them on Kindle Books or Lulu for basically no cost to you. If you are movie maker, you can post your movies on YouTube for basically no cost to you. But what about copyright? You say, think of all the money I am losing because people are copying my writing or movie and I am not getting paid one red cent! Oh, why don't you sit down and cry for a while.

Let's look at a very highly competitive market, the software industry. Nearly any program of consequence is either free or has a free demo, either a disabled version of the program or a limited time full version. How else are you going to get people to buy your product? Programmers realized that if they wanted to make a name for themselves, they had to either land a job with a huge company or put their programs out into the freeware world and hope they got some attention. They soon learned that virtually the only way people will buy their product is if they are upgrading from a free version.

This whole scenario is the antithesis of copyright. Copyright is copy this video and you will have Interpol and the FBI sending you to jail for years and fining you $250,000 for one lousy DVD. At the other end of the spectrum you have someone who writes a barely readable history of their family, with mostly stuff they copied from other publications and offline and they expect to sell copies to relatives at a hugely inflated price and in additional are paranoid about someone violating their copyright! How many boxes of unsold and undistributed genealogy books do you think are sitting in basements and garages around the country? I have a couple myself sitting the garage gathering dust.

We are starting to get stories of self-publishers making the big time with book sales into the hundreds of thousands and ranking near the top of bestseller lists. Isn't it about time that the writers of the world get the message. Free sells. If you want people to come back to your store, or conference, or read your books or whatever. Think Free. Get over this copyright thing. Stop think about all the money you are losing because people copy your stuff and realize, like the programmers, they will have to come back to the source if they want more.

Think about it. Why do you think I blog. There must be a reasons besides compulsive writing. Have you read my book?

1 comment:

  1. The problem with the comparison is that at the supermarket, if one week there's a deal for buy one apple, get one free -- you might like the apples so much you come back the next week and buy them at full price.

    However, if you download a movie, song, or book for free...are you going to come back the next week and pay full price for the same book, song, movie you downloaded for free the week before? You've already got it.

    Time-limited software demos also don't translate well, as you only need a few hours to watch a movie. It might work with e-books if the time restriction is one day, though that's long enough for some people. If it's software you want or need you will be using it for years.

    The media industries do understand the marketing idea, and they have an equivalent to the disabled version of software. Movie trailers, sample chapters, and the song fragments you find on Amazon and the like give you a little free taste beforehand.

    Most authors and musicians today have a blog, or other web presence, and readers will often find free samples there as well. But usually it will be short fiction that has already been published in a magazine for payment (or the blog posts themselves) Sometimes musicians don't mind giving away free music if they make most of their money through touring, but not all of them do.