Jonathan Coulton has made a healthy living co-habitating with pirates. Good for him.
Every time a story comes out about an artist who has found a way to make money off NOT charging for music -- yes, we're looking at you, Radiohead -- it's accompanied by a flood of comments and conversations along the lines of: "See! Piracy IS GOOD FOR ARTISTS! When I steal, I'm actually HELPING the artist because I'm going to tell my neighbor about the band, and then she's going to steal the record and tell her bus driver!" So it was last week when Jonathan Coulton, an industrious freak -- and a very smart one -- told the public radio show Marketplace, that his career has been aided by piracy. Coulton's Tweets and blog post on the subject, too, were predictably met with proclamations like Techdirt's: "Jonathan Coulton Destroys The Rationale Behind The Megaupload Seizure."
First of all: Good for Coulton. But let's not pretend that because the man's made a business model out of piracy, it's going to translate to the rest of the industry.
One of my favorite claims made by Coulton is that: "Frequently, people are downloading things because there is no legal way for them to acquire it."
When it comes to music, that's just not the case. There are a few tracks that have slipped through the legitimacy cracks. But you can eat as many of Rhapsody's 14 million tracks a month for $10, and listen on your iPhone, TV, PC, and just about anywhere else you'd get your stolen tunes.
Today, there's an interesting OP-ED in The Wall Street Journal, "Internet to Artists: Drop Dead," from an economist named Stan Liebowitz, a man who has studied the effects of piracy. Check it out:
Contrary to an often-repeated myth, providing consumers with convenient downloads at reasonable prices, as iTunes did, does not appear to have ameliorated piracy at all. The sales decline after iTunes exploded on the scene was about the same as the decline before iTunes existed. Apparently it really is difficult to compete with free. Is that really such a surprise?
The whole OP-ED is worth a read. But, sorry, it ain't free.