Capitalizing on Piracy: turning a bad word into a useful arsenal

Its been done for eons now. My first tryst with piracy was before I even knew it had a name or was perceived to be a bad thing. As kids in school we were always compiling music CDs for each other – the source was usually a friend with a speedy internet connection who downloaded it off a torrent.

Not too long ago, getting content to an audience slowly started to become more important than monetizing it right away. The shift began with independent artists streaming their music online for free and encouraging listeners to pay what they could to download it.

Cut to 2013 and the era of Content being King. In the music world, it’s fast revamping the business model. Piracy implies getting something through illegal means/without paying for it – well, what if you remove the ‘illegal’ tag? It suddenly makes the act less enticing. Amanda Palmer says it beautifully in her TED talk, where she states “Don’t make people pay for music,let them”. The industry is moving from making people pay for content to allowing them the choice. It’s the best way to disarm the monster. Justin Timberlake for example, decided to stream his new album 20/20 online for free before making it available for purchase in stores. The zeitgeist has forked the business model – there’s now the free and the paid. And free isn’t hurting anyone’s bank account. If anything, allowing people to have something for free is turning passive listeners into supporters who sometimes choose to buy an album to show support for the artistDonating = Loving

It isn’t just the music industry that has realised this. HBO recently publicly declared that they consider piracy a form of flattery. Game of Thrones is among Pirate Bay’s top torrent download and the producers of the show aren’t afraid of it harming sales.

The obvious benefit is effective marketing and spreading to a wider audience base, but it also ups the pressure on content creators to increase perceived value of their offering.

What does this mean for branded content in other categories? I don’t have definitive answers, but here’s a few points to ponder:

– Hustlers inc: When you put the illegal tag on something, the offering becomes that much more sought after and knowing how to get it gives you social brownie points. In other words, holding back makes the offering sweeter for those who find a way to get it.

– Free for friends and family: Giving away something valuable for free makes people feel closer to you…you’ve invited them into your circle and made them a friend. This isn’t the same as promotional chachka, the consumer can tell the difference.

-Vulnerability is in: How can you let people support your brand? Showing vulnerability is one way of humanizing your brand and connecting with people. Like Amanda Palmer,like reddit or wiki, it’s okay to let people see you’re vulnerable and could use the monetary support. What incentive are you giving people for them to offer up some scrilla? (without expecting it as a given)

What once started out as a barter system of money for content is slowly evolving into an honour system, one that encourages the end user to come forth, be part of the creation process and make a contribution out of choice. The traditional purchasing model isn’t going anywhere, and shouldn’t either but maybe accepting piracy as a parallel model and embracing it won’t be such a bad thing. Thoughts?

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