One of my very favorite record albums of all time is Sgt. Peppers. I bought it in the fall of 1967 and played it until the vinyl groves melted away. Eventually I had to buy the record again. When I got my first car, I made sure it had one piece of optional equipment, an AM-FM radio. However, I soon found out that what I really wanted was to listen to Sgt. Peppers. So, I bought an 8-track tape player and among other tapes, I got Sgt. Peppers.
A few years went by, I got a new and car that had a cassette tape player in it. Of course, I still wanted my Sgt. Peppers during my commute so I bought the cassette tape for it. I think that car stereo was the first time I really heard the songs properly. Then a few years later I bought a car that had a CD player in it. The sound of a CD in an enclosed space like a car was an amazing thing. The vinyl record, the 8-track, and the cassette tape were still in the box with the rest of my music, but CDs were much better.
With the turn of the century came the resurgence of Apple Computer and the introduction of the iPod. Along with that came iTunes as a convenient place to store all of my music. Then one day not long after I had loaded all of my music into iTunes, I got an error. “You cannot access this music because you don’t own it.” Say what!? In the early days of iTunes, Apple had assumed that if you didn’t buy your music from them, well then you didn’t own it. They cited the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as the driving force for this opinion. Eventually they got that all ironed out and I went back to enjoying Sgt. Peppers again.
As my children were growing up and the number of computers in our household was increasing, I wanted to share this wealth of music that I had collected with my family. I knew that the kids were listening to the latest music but I thought it was important for them to hear some 50s and 60s rock-and-roll, some jazz, and some classical to help round out their musical tastes. Then I got an error, “You cannot share this music because of Piracy Laws.” That was when I really started to lose it. Eventually, Apple said that I could share my music with a limited number of computers within my household, but that was it!
Now, I’m a pretty easy-going guy. I’m not fan of rules, but I try to stay within the lines as much as I can. So far in my life I had purchased Sgt. Peppers in vinyl [twice], 8-track [once], cassette tape [once], and CD [once], for a total of five times. The music had not changed, just the format through which it was delivered. So when someone comes along and calls me a pirate, meaning I’m stealing their music, after I’ve bought the same music 5 times, my BP starts to rise. I understand that the artists want to get paid for their work, but I begin to wonder how many times they need to get paid by the same person for the same work, over and over and over. I began to ask, “Who’s the real pirate here?
Recently I became the author of “Uphill Both Ways.” Now I’m the artist wanting to be paid. I looked into a wide variety of ways to publish my beautiful piece of soon to be classic literature and I decided to self-publish it through Amazon. Without any delay, you can now get an e-book copy of my masterpiece for $2.99. However, there are other choices if I wanted to make them available to you. I could publish a paperback version for $5.99 and I could publish a hardcover version for $11.99. In every version, the words and pictures are the same; only the format through which it is delivered is changed.
I realize there are many reasons why someone would want to buy a masterpiece like mine in hardcover. First, it’s difficult to get a signed 1st Edition with an e-book, I get that. In addition, there are many people who are just stuck in the mid-20th century and that’s just where they are most comfortable. They already have an impressive library of hardcover books and adding my piece of literature would enhance their ability to brag to their friends. Lastly, production and printing costs are such that a 400% price increase for this work of art seems justified. Then there are many people who just love carrying around a paperback. Nothing says you’re a well-read scholar like having a few dog-eared paperbacks sticking out of your backpack. At only a 100% price increase and with the ability to still get my priceless signature on the first edition, this option seems like a good one. Lastly, there is still a large segment of the worldwide population that doesn’t own a computer, or a tablet, or a Kindle or a Nook, or a whatever. You poor people will never have the joy of carrying around that delicate piece of highly breakable glass that could hold your entire reading library. You will have to pay the higher price to receive the intellectual enrichment that my masterpiece provides.
Therefore, I had to make some decisions early in my publication process. Nothing raises my BP faster than having to pay for the same thing, over and over, just because it’s in a prettier package. Am I not falling into that same RIAA conundrum that raises other people’s BP? Therefore, I made two very important decisions. First, I am only publishing my book in the cheapest possible format to keep the price to a bare minimum. I realize that this will restrict the number of people who can read this great work of art, but perhaps someday they will get a Kindle for Christmas and the grandkids can show them how to use it. Second, there is no Digital Rights Management (DRM) software attached to my book. You can copy it, give it to Grandma, give it Great Grandpa, or share it with your kids or your kid’s friends. It probably would be a bit rude to sell it to anyone, but you can share all you want.
Why on earth would I do such a thing? Well, the DRM doesn’t work is the best answer. The next best answer is that the more people who have my book in their hands, the more people will be talking about it. There’s nothing worse than “Catcher in the Rye” sitting on the shelf gathering dust where no one knows it exits. Books need to be read and if someone goes to the trouble of making a copy and sharing it with someone who wants to read, I’m not going to stand in their way. Maybe a conversation will get started about some dweeb who wrote this cool book about his life and everyone will have a good laugh. The third best answer is that you bought it, you own it, and so you should be able to do what you want with it. My dad bought my oldest sister a Schwinn bike. Then my next oldest sister rode it for a while. Then my dad gave it to another family that had a girl who needed a bike. Neither F.W. Schwinn nor the Bike Manufacturing Association of America (BMAA) ever showed up to complain.
The point here is there are 7 billion people in the world. Of those, 1.4 billion speak English. Even the entire Harry Potter series only sold 450 million copies. I think there’s plenty of room out there for one more masterpiece without my telling someone they’re not allowed to read my book. Moreover, just how many books do any of us realistically expect to sell? Some number less than 1.4 billion? Fine, I’ll price my book as cheaply as possible and let the others have it free, they might not be able to afford it otherwise. That’s just my philosophy; you do what is best for you.
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