Coming Clean About “Stealing”

When I was growing up, my parents bought vinyl. They would take the record home, put it on their turntable, and record the audio onto a cassette tape to listen to in the car. My parents’ generation were the original “pirates”. And now, it’s time for me to come clean.

I’m not an honest person. And, quite frankly, I’m tired of not being honest.

I download stuff from the internet. Music, movies, TV shows, books. (Although I do purchase music from my favorite artists. You know who you are.) I consume an incredible amount of media. It’s amazing how much media I consume, and I don’t even think of myself as a couch potato. I spend large amounts of time working, cooking, cleaning, running, lifting weights, and doing laundry. Yet, I’d estimate that I consume more media in a year than my great grandparents had access to in their entire lives.

We own 3 HDTV antennas for watching NBC/CBS/FOX/PBS/etc. We subscribe to Amazon Prime with access to “thousands of choices”. Our family shares a Netflix account. But I’m not defending myself anymore.

The truth is that media doesn’t have a cost structure that makes sense to me. You could argue that it’s stealing, and I could argue that it’s not. For instance, every day I make coffee at home, in my kitchen. I bought ground coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, and rather than go there every day to buy a cup for $2, I just make it in my kitchen. Am I stealing money from Dunkin’ Donuts? Of course not. Stealing is when I take something that doesn’t belong to me, and the original owner no longer possesses it. If I steal your car, you no longer have a car. If I download some songs, the artist who wrote them still has them.

I do, however, pay for media in formats that I like. My wife and I regularly attend concerts, go to the movies, attend Broadway plays, and buy books. The problem is that media I consume on a personal level is rarely usable or priced fairly. For instance, e-books on Amazon are typically more expensive than their hardcover counterparts. As an example, one of my favorite authors is Gary Vaynerchuk. His recent book, “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook — How To Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World” sells for $14.99 in the Kindle format (when I first wrote this post it was $12.99), but I can buy a brand new copy on Amazon for $6.35 plus shipping. The difference is that hardcover books can easily be resold, while digital books cannot. Add to the fact that Amazon Kindle books cannot be easily read on my Barnes and Noble Nook, and the frustration level increases. Don’t forget that if I ever meet Gary, I can’t ask him to sign my digital book.

Here’s the reality: I’m waiting for a pricing model that lets me buy things and then use them the way I want to.

In 2013, Amazon realized that many people buy CDs, so when someone buys a disc from them, they provide links to download the MP3s for free. Great concept. Now, what about books? If I buy a physical copy of the book, why not include a digital copy without DRM? Sometimes I read on the train on my Nook, sometimes I read on my phone in a waiting room, and sometimes I read the physical book while at home. If I bought the book, I should be able to read it wherever and whenever I like, regardless of the format. If I own the book, I own it.

The problem is that this concept is not encouraged by the media distribution companies. Why would they? That’s lost revenue. To them, I’m a paying customer who needs to buy my favorite movie, Star Wars, as many times as possible. To be clear, I own the Star Wars VHS Digitally Mastered Versions AND the Star Wars Limited Edition DVD boxed set. I’m not paying for those films again on Blu-Ray, digitally, on my mobile device, or in any other format. I own them. If I want to watch them on my mobile device, I’m going to either rip them from disc to an appropriate file format, or download them. Imagine if I were to buy the same movies again in a mobile format; that would be akin to Dunkin’ Donuts selling me ground coffee and then charging me per cup to brew it.

This system needs to change. It won’t because there’s too much money involved, and the media (and the RIAA/MPAA) has conditioned people to thinking that not paying for every iteration of a products is “stealing”. It’s not. Rather, our mindset needs to change. Buy once, own forever.

Buy once, own forever.

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