Why I Pay For Content (And Why That Makes Me Feel Like A Sucker)

In 2001 I downloaded five songs by a now-defunct "folk rock duo" from the internet. The band was obscure, its albums not stocked at the small-town music stores nearby. iTunes didn't exist yet. Amazon was still a book store. So I fired up LimeWire and snapped them up them for free.

It was the last time I torrented anything. And more and more, it feels like the last time I wasn't the punchline to a bad joke.

There are people who see piracy as a right and people who see it as a crime, and it's those people who suck up all the air in a debate that's never going to be resolved. I'm neither. I'm a person who pays for content because I want to support the people who created it, but who's increasingly frustrated by how hard content owners make it to just give them my money sometimes. That may put me in the minority, but I don't think I'm alone.

The fact is, it's become so easy -- and, increasingly, necessary -- to pirate content that not to do so takes not just conscious effort but self-depravation. I waited nearly a full year to watch Game of Thrones, because that's how long it took to get from HBO to iTunes. If I had any interest in purchasing a Avatar 3D Blu-ray, I would have either had to buy a Panasonic 3DTV or wait three years just for the right to spend 30 bucks on Fern Gully with giant blue cat-people having tail sex.

Even content that's accessible doesn't often make much financial sense. Amazon's the most reasonably priced e-retailer in the world (seriously, they've got 1000 albums for five bucks each right now), but even it can be fraught with peril and annoyance. Ebooks that cost more than their paperback equivalents. The specter of DRM haunting every click. A layout so unnavigable you feel like you're being punished.

Want to comparison shop? Forget about it. Ecosystems aren't just apps and software anymore, they're movies and TV shows and everything you'd ever want to watch, read, or listen to. On any given day the best price might be on Amazon or iTunes or Google Play or Xbox, but if you want the simple comfort of knowing everything you paid for with your own dollars lives in one place? Expect to pay full freight for most of it.

Streaming services like Spotify offer some respite, but not if you're a Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin or Metallica or latter-day Radiohead or Beatles or Adele fan, or if you don't want to wait a week to watch the shows you love. We live in a time when there's no one outlet that's figured out a convenient way for us to give them our money in exchange for things we would like to own. And that's crazy.

All of which is to say that buying content has become, in this age of antiquated pricing and fragmented-to-hell retail structures, nothing more than an act of charity. I pay for albums and movies and ebooks for the exact same reasons I toss a buck in a street performer's open violin case. And I'm penalised for it.

Record labels and studios seem not to recognise, too, that it's always been like this. Before tormenting we would burn CDs for each other. Before CDs there were mixtapes. Before mixtapes... OK, well, I'm not that old. But for as long as music has been shareable, people with limited disposable income -- the uni kids, the entry-level wagers -- have been sharing it.

They're also, though, the ones who go to the concerts and buy the posters. They're the influencers, the people who give a band you've never heard of enough notoriety that they show up on the radars of people like me. If I were 19, I'd be one of them.

But I'm not. I'm an old guy who can afford to spend a few extra bucks each month supporting the bands and authors and actors and directors whose work he appreciates. Hell, I'm a guy who used to be one of those people. But it's hard to keep it up. It's hard knowing that so little of those profits actually go the artists themselves. It's hard that every single online retail outlet makes it, well, so hard.

I pay for content because I respect the people who make it. It would just be nice if I didn't feel so disrespected by the people who sell it.



    and here in lies the problem

    your rewarding the distributors and executive moguls making money off the artists and content producers

    the content makers arent disrespecting you, the ceos and lawyers are. their the ones dicking you around making it ever so hard for u to get access to your chosen content because they need to squeeze more money for their bonuses and shareholders

      Supermarkets make money, does that make it OK to steal groceries? Car makers make billions, does that make it OK to steal cars? Hell, the poor bloody Indian who runs the local convenience store down the road probably makes a decent living, maybe he deserves to have his business destroyed by shoplifters and armed robbers, too? These "moguls" are NOT simply "making money" - in the vast majority of cases they have made a significant investment and, because they are businesses, they are looking for a return on that investment. Do you think studio time is free? Should producers work for nothing just because you have a problem with the men that pay their wages? More importantly, is it OK to steal from someone you object to on principle, no matter who else gets hurt in the process? If so, you better hope I never find out where you live.

      Of course, the other obvious issue is that not every record company is run by a "mogul", or even a cabal of moguls. So where do you draw the line? Will you only steal from companies whose CEO makes more money than you do? Because most of the music I buy comes from labels that probably don't even have a CEO. And when it comes down to it, do you think these "moguls" are going to cut their own pay packets because everyone is stealing music or do you think they are more likely to sack low-level staff, reduce their A&R rosters (which in turn makes it harder to find decent music in the first place) and generally make sure everyone except them feels the pain of your criminal activity? What you are doing is akin to firing a machine gun into a crowd in the hope of shooting the one person among thousands who might actually deserve it.

        im not talking about stealing

        im talking about consumer choice. while people accept what the current standard is and media moguls are making a fortune, of course they will be stubborn to change

        christ, i mean look at the state we are in.

        there appears to me to be a perception that if you make things easier for the consumer, they will stop buying - its crazy. if i want my back to the future in a digital format, give it to me so i can have it on my phone, my laptop and tablet, dont dick me around with your demands that i buy a copy for each one with some bullshit that i might give it to my grandfather in his wheel chair wondering how lasers are able to make picture movie magic

        content producers deserve returns on their investment, but it shits me that providers/distributors (think ea) dick you around in the name of piracy protection and year over year higher profits for shareholders - its bullshit - wheres penn and teller when you need them

          What state are we in? Music is cheaper today than it has ever been and if you know what you want it is easier to get hold of than at any previous time in history. DVDs are increasingly being sold with digital versions you can copy to any device you want and they are cheaper than they've ever been.

          If you're unhappy with the games industry, it is probably the perfect example of how hard it has become to make money. In the console market, small developers find it hard to compete and either go broke or are bought out by the big companies. There are pretty much none left here in Australia, where 10 years ago they were employing thousands of 3D artists. Several got bought out and closed down, others just went broke (Team Bondi being one of the most obvious recent failures). There will always be some, in any industry, who make a killing and they will always be the last to go under so the only way to get at those guys is to kill the industry stone dead. Anything short of that just hurts everyone else, the guys you probably want to support.

        I know pointing out flaws in MM's arguments is pointless, but what the hell.

        1. Piracy isn't stealing separate crimes, separate laws. There is no denial of enjoyment of the property in media piracy, so your analogy is utter garbage.
        2. Copyright is not supposed to enshrine a right to profit. It is meant to ensure no one else can profit on your IP without you getting your share. These execs do NOT create the IP, they manage the distribution mechanism for profit, and bastardise the law to maintain their stranglehold on it.
        3. If you think it is OK to threaten physical violence against someone because they hold a different view on the interpretation of intellectual property law than you, then YOU'D better hope I never find out where YOU live, because it suggests you're a dangerous nut who needs incarcerating far more than someone who downloads a few TV shows.

          1. Pointless semantics - manslaughter isn't murder but someone dies in each case. In any moral sense, piracy is stealing - you are taking something that you have no right to without paying for it, with the intent to keep it. "Enjoyment" is not a legal element of any crime that I'm aware of.
          2. Artists sign over their IP rights to the companies that produce their product, often for considerable sums of money. In the Halcyon days of the industry, they took huge risks and more often than not lost a lot of money. They relied on the relatively small percentage of acts that made it big to cover those losses and allow the industry to support a diverse range of artists. All that is gone, to the detriment of artists and consumers. Even our label uses the money it makes from the two successful acts on their roster to allow us (and others) to continue to release albums, despite the fact that they lost money on the last one (lots of money in our case). That's why I never begrudged INXS their success, because it paid for the first Hitmen album, one of my all-time favourites that would never get made today.
          3. Physical violence? Where'd you get that from? You had better re-read what I wrote and try to understand the implication, which is quite clear. (Hint: If...., then...)

            i like reading your comments because they show me how not to be. thanks again.


                Oh look, one of those air sucking, endless piracy debates! Don't see those everyday, oh wait...

              girls... girls... stop getting your panties in such a twist.

              +1 mrjezza

            AMEN to you. Said perfectly.

        Supermarkets don't make it difficult to walk into the grocery store, don't assign a super secret spy to follow you around and tell them what you do and when you do it, and don't put special "Helpful" addons onto your milk bottle so you can't actually use it. What's that? Got a new mouse? Obviously you can't listen to this song any more because you're not on the same computer. A credit card number? Let me forward that back to HQ.

        The more difficult it becomes to acquire and use content, the more likely people will simply pirate it. Radiohead's manage released an album at 128kbps MP3 telling everyone that there would be no other release, then a month later releases a physical edition and says it's okay to lie "Because they're all pirates anyway". Sony puts a rootkit on CD's, DVD releases have special software that detects if it's on a computer instead of a DVD player and refuse to play, iTunes releases a select few songs from a double CD (32 down to 14 songs) and call it the full product, stores refuse to stock specific genres (avant garde would probably be the best example although most jazz/blues/folk bands never get on to a shelf), etc, etc, etc.

        That line "What you are doing is akin to firing a machine gun into a crowd in the hope of shooting the one person among thousands who might actually deserve it.", is the attitude of most CEO's these days who perceive everyone to be pirates and put as much effort as possible into making their products harder to access and use. That in turn feeds "piracy" (downloading an mp3 is possibly the best example of a "victimless crime" that you'll ever find) which gets CEO's even more antsy... You see how this is going? Why do I need to sign up to a website, download an application, give that application all my personal information, and only ever use that application or associated hardware in order to watch a movie? Download a torrent program, download a torrent, run, enjoy.

        Simple wins, every time.

        I generally make an extra effort to legally purchase media I enjoy because it's generally of small time artists/authors/etc who could use the money. Big time IP owners though? They're the kind of people who copyrighted Waltzing Matilda as an original composition after Banjo Patterson died, and they can go to hell.

        They also charge me extra because of where I live, and most of their legal services aren't even available here. Life sucks then someone rips you off and calls you a thief whilst doing so. Joy

          Who does that? I buy music from Zune or from Blackberry Music or from Bigpond Music and I can copy it, move it, put it on my ZuneHD, on my phone, on my Tonium Pacemaker and onto a USB Flash drive (for the car). It's all just mp3s. Same with all the videos I've bought through Zune, they are just WMVs and don't seem to have any special DRM. You may as well complain that you have to install the DivX codec to watch DivX movies or that you need a turntable to listen to a vinyl record.
          Sure, there are stupid things like DVD regions that definitely stop me from buying things I might otherwise buy but there is no way that gives me any moral or legal right to just take it instead.

          "downloading an mp3 is possibly the best example of a “victimless crime” that you’ll ever find" Really? You don't think the artist who made that song will miss their royalty? It might only be 19c but it all counts and the fact that it is so prevalent means that it adds up very quickly. I'd use bee stings as an analogy - one sting isn't lethal but 1000 can be. So you might think your 19c is meaningless but if 1000 others feel the same way, that's this week's rent, just as if it was stolen from the artist's pocket. And the knock-on effect of it might be that he/she/it gets dropped by their label and has to go back to a proper job and never gets to release anything again. It happens all the time.
          "Why do I need to sign up to a website, download an application, give that application all my personal information, and only ever use that application or associated hardware in order to watch a movie? Download a torrent program, download a torrent, run, enjoy." Your choice. You could just as easily walk up to the shops and rent the film on DVD, probably just as cheaply and definitely in much higher quality. Personally, I'd rather give some company I know and can trace all my information than give the whole world access to part of my personal storage (not that I've ever had to do either).

          BTW, Banjo Paterson freely sold the rights to Waltzing Matilda to Angus & Robertson. Carl Fisher Music's claim to it was only valid in the US and has never affected you. Like all the rest of it, it is just an invalid excuse to attempt to justify your criminal behaviour. Generally speaking, publishing companies work really hard for their artists and are very often instrumental in any success they might enjoy. If we could get a publishing contract I'd sign it in a heartbeat.

            "You could just as easily walk up to the shops and rent the film on DVD, probably just as cheaply and definitely in much higher quality."
            The DVD rental store at my shops closed down years ago, oh and by the way this is 2012. Content on the internet is now much higher quality than DVD. Even the 700Mb mp4 files these days are far superior to any DVD disc. Blu-ray? Most places aren't renting it (those rental places that are still in business) because most people don't have the hardware required.

            Just give us the content without DRM at a reasonable price. Is that too much to ask?

        Mate I agree 100%, theft is theft. I can however see the flawed thinking that leads people to think "Well if the corner store charges too much for milk, I'd get milk elsewhere and the piratebay is my elsewhere".
        I pay for content but people are cheap and lazy and no argument is going to convince them to be otherwise!

      Oh for heaven's sake, if you want anyone to read or care what you write, LEARN TO WRITE. Capitalize the first letter of sentences. Use "you're" not "your" when stating "you are", and "they're" not "their" or "there" when stating "they are".

      Alternatively, don't learn, but also don't post and expect to be heard or valued.

    I totally agree. As an older person, I also like to pay my way - it is the honest and decent thing to do. My concern is the continual format changes.. We have already seen this with the movie industry.. We purchased seven years of star trek deep space nine on video - $25 for two episodes on each video.. Then came the DVD, and then the remastered DVD and now I see that the Blu-ray edition is coming out.. We also saw this with music - vinyl, cassette, MD, Cd-ROM and now DVD.. (I passed on the 8-track)..

    I like the Kindle. It is much lighter to hold, when reading a book than the iPad, but I can't buy all books through Amazon.. Different providers require different devices..

    How many times do we have to buy the same thing? Surely, we could licence content for any media?

      It would make so much sense would it not? I bought DS9 on VHS back in the day. An endless bookshelf of VHS tapes like you said, 2 per tape. Now its down to 7 dvd box sets, now I'm getting the blurays when they eventually come out. Or I'll download it *sigh* I dunno. Like you said, licensing content for media would make so much more sense wouldn't it???

        No. What it would see is no remastering, no Blu-Ray release, nothing. Why would they go to all that trouble if they are not going to recoup the investment? Do you have any idea how much is involved in restoring/remastering stuff like this? e.g. DS9 was originally made for a 640x480 NTSC TV screen so making it look good on a full HD Blu-Ray - 1920 x 1080 - would require all the original film, which the studio will have stored in climate-controlled conditions for decades at great cost. They would take that and, frame by frame, re-scan it all at high res. Then they would have to re-edit the whole thing so that it was exactly like the original TV show. From there they would then apply modern techniques to make it look better than it did originally. A similar process would be followed with the audio, which would require a lot of work because it would be stored magnetically on the film and would have degraded much more over the years. I'd estimate that it would cost in the thousands per episode, possibly as much as ten grand to do a top-notch job. That's 24 grand a season for something that is so old now that the potential market is tiny. It means that it only gets done for shows like Star Trek that have a loyal fan base. Very few of the shows I'd want to buy would ever be considered because they would never be able to recoup the enormous cost (or, more likely, there were originally shot on video and could be up-rezzed successfully anyway). The bottom line is that if the changes you are after occurred, I reckon they would just stop going to those kinds of lengths to keep fans of shows like that happy, in the same way that big record companies have abandoned diversity in the pursuit of profit and TV networks increasingly spend money on pirate-proof programming like Big Brother and X Factor instead of quality drama.

      "Surely, we could licence content for any media?" I'm sure we could if everyone could be trusted t do the right thing with it but the companies that invest millions, or billions, in creating the content in the first place have every right to protect their property. i.e. Don't blame the record, TV and movie companies, blame the arseholes who steal from them.

      As for all the different versions of DS9 or whatever, why do you need to keep buying them? OK, I can see the VHS to DVD change, but VHS was a standard for 20 years or more before DVD overtook it, so I think that is perfectly justifiable. But DVD to Blu-Ray is not an issue, because your DVDs will still play on a Blu-Ray player, so it is only something you would do if you really, really wanted to. That said, I often buy several versions of my favourite albums, just because a remastered version might improve upon something I already love and even if it doesn't, buying remasters helps encourage record companied to keep doing it. And remastering is only viable because of new technology that wasn't available when most of this stuff was first released, so it's not like they were holding back previously.

    Such a good insightful story. Well done, and so true.

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.


    Fantastic story. Agree 100%. Give us content and a pricing model that works for everyone.

    I started to read some books of a well known scifi series on my kindle . After a couple I felt they were so good that I decided to go legit for the same reasons as you and some books ebooks from amazon later, looked for the last one to read. It wasn't available in my region (aus) because some obscure non ebook scifi distributor had purchased the rights instead of the local branch of the worldwide publishing house.

    I obtained by other means then contacted the still living author via his website and wired him full rrp directly using PayPal. Bit harder with movies and music I know, but I felt the whole situation was jus as equally ridiculous as you are writing.

    Agreed. I insist on paying from content as I have a sense of wanting to compensate the producers of content.

    I have to agree. I've basically stopped watching TV shows here because there is no sensible way to consume them that i find acceptable.

    Atm spotify is the only one to get my money each month as so far they are the only service I feel actually makes it easy and gives me what I want (the few content they don't have I still torrent yes), and as soon as HBO or other american networks let me stream content for similar setup/fee to spotify they will get my money as well, i've torrented a lot over the years and would happily pay, and as soon as spotify launched in AU i signed up instantly, give me the opportunity to pay per month for unlimited access and I will, otherwise I will continue to torrent as I refuse to wait > 12 months to see the same thing everyone else has already seen via torrents anyway.


      I'm about to go on the 11.99 plan. Just cannot make up my mind. My Mozart isn't the fastest phone. I wish Spotify worked on PSPs. I only use my PSP for music now...

    Agree with it all except the HBO part. There is an easy way to access HBO content already (for Americans at least). It's called subscribing to a satellite or cable service that carries HBO.

      "for americans at least" this is an australian website, clearly this doesn't count.

      Meanwhile, everyone else is bent over a table and screwed.

    I pay for content. I work in IT and feel I should have the right to determine how I distribute my own works and whether I want to put a price on it or not. As such, I feel it only reasonable that I respect other people who provide content.

    Thats certainly not to say I like the way many media companies go about their way, having shows be released here 12 months after other countries, inflated cost of Blurays over DVDs etc but it's something I've learnt to deal with. Also, while I don't like to pirate myself, I'm not one to get especially upset by others doing it. Most of my friends have no issues downloading things. In the end it doesn't impact me and I feel no need for a moral crusade to convince people otherwise.

    It would be nice if you could pay the artists directly. Then you could cut out all the middle men overheads and bullshit DRM.

      Whilst I agree with this sentiment, sometimes these middle men are necessary. A lot of artists wouldn't be where they are without other people promoting or helping them, even if they do get ripped off in the process. And how do you do this with movies? Movies are a team effort. How do you send money directly to the gaffer, to the caterers, to the dude that drives the truck to pick up the wigs? How do you breakdown where your money goes?

      Surely the artist wouldn't use middlemen if they didn't need to have them as part of the distribution and creation process.


    I pay for all content. I work in IT. 25 of my collegues consider it their right to download this stuff and rip everyone else off. I see it as theft. If you can't afford it, don't steal it.

    Age does not seem to be a factor. There are as many older people at work downloading as younger ones.

    I pay for content, and I don't criticise people (in general) if they decide to pirate things. It just bugs the hell out of me when people try to justify theft by going to a supermarket and scanning items at a lower price than they are, and then claiming that morals are subjective/the prices are too high. Nazi and Japanese doctors would have said morals are subjective, and look at what they did. I'm a student and I'm usually short of cash; I can't afford anything but the specials and the cheapest, but I suck it up.

    "I pay for albums and movies and ebooks for the exact same reasons I toss a buck in a street performer’s open violin case."
    -The difference is the street performer actually gets the dollar, whereas if you buy an album the artist gets a few cents on the dollar if anything. Often every cent goes to the record company, and the artist really does get absolutely nothing. Musician/producer Steve Albini (Big Black, engineer/producer for Nirvana, etc, etc) explains how this works: http://web.archive.org/web/20070928182458/http://www.negativland.com/albini.html (dated I know, but things are no better now). I say if you want to give the artist some money then give the artist some money, and leave the "industry" right out of it.

    I've heard this argument over and over again and what's really frustrating is that the people controlling the release of media and those that acquire it still can't get it through their thick skulls!! We live in an age of fast access to just about anything at high speed and expecting to see a show like 'Game of Thrones' when it's released, isn't being selfish or impatient, it's quite simply put, available! There is no technical reason for it not to be shown. FTA stations need to stop counting pennies, they need to spend money to make money. Until they can understand that I will watch my shows when they go to air in the US, my way.

    Absolutely 100% agree.

    Great write up, but i think you put in tormenting instead of torrenting

    People will pay for convenience. Torrenting is a pain, spending all that money on extra storage, big internet plans etc.

    At the moment, if you buy music through say iTunes it is very convenient. But if I want to dump Apple and go with a sexy Samsung Galaxy iPad Tab 10.1 then all of a sudden it's hard to get my iTunes music. Apple makes it easy to buy from them but hard to leave. I hate being controlled.

    Until we have a system where I can move my licensed content from one ecosystem to another, I think it will always be unnecessarily hard for the consumer to do the right thing.

    Set my music free and let the market compete for my business. I'll pay for content AND convenience.

      Its piss easy. Pay .99c for iSyncr. It'll move your itunes library to your tab. Its fantastic.

      +1 I am hoping Google fulfils their potential with this.

    i love how this site just posts fictional rubbish, starting a story with "In 2001 I downloaded five songs by a now-defunct “folk rock duo” from the internet...... . iTunes didn’t exist yet"

    but iTunes was released on the 9th Jan 2001

      itunes may have been released in 2001 but I can most assuredly tell you nearly noone used it at that point. Napster was prevelant around that time, itunes came into being big when the ipods gained windows support, opening the up to the general public and not just the very very small mac community at the time (in 2001/2002 the mac community was miniscule compared to what it is now). After 2002/2003 itunes was updated to run on windows and took off. Around itunes 3.0 it became much more user friendly and useable and people started to use it a lot more. Winamp was still the preferable media player for a lot of people. Around 2005/2006 or so itunes hit its stride and more or less became the dominant media player for the PC as well. It's not rubbish, you just weren't aware. Control your ignorance.

        iTunes is dominant but still rubbish software on Windows :P

    Oh and btw, if it was released on the 9th, that still gives you a 9 day window technically for him to download those songs... if we wanna be pissy.

    YES!!! Hit the nail on the head there with my own thoughts. I still go down to a retailer to buy Movies /TV series on Blu-Ray. I'm sooo sick of waiting esp TV shows to get released. I don't expect immediate content but I do once the series wraps up. I prefer sitting and watching a series over a weekend with back to back episodes. Being a New Zealander living over seas I have to add I hate having to searh for illegal streams of sports events for my home country just because it isn't on the broadcast TV here in Australia or anything I can access as I'm not in one of the big market countries.
    I would happily pay per game that I could time shift and only have access online in the cloud. So basically providers would get money they wern't getting already .

    While I am truly loving my first proper paid-for media streaming/download service (I've paid for others in the past but never really liked them for various reasons and stopped using them) in the form of "BBC iPlayer (Global)".. there is still a lack of content there with them only putting online bits and pieces of the shows they are making available. With no statement on when future episodes or missing episodes of those shows will be made available, if at all, where does this leave the consumer who is paying for premium content? Back to Free-To-Air channels? Back to regular life without TV? Well those are two fine ideas.. but at some point, whether it is hours, days, weeks or months; the consumer wants more... and where does that more come from?

    I'm not condoning the use of Usenet or Torrents but I am saying that if content is something that a person wants, there comes a point when there is no choice given that the choice of "no content" has run its course. Not that this gives people the right to go illegally downloading.. it's still illegal, however media in general have created a monster in that people are wanting more, more and more.. now, nower and nowest (yes.. made up words to make a point). This is a behaviour they have nurtured and now that they can't keep up with the demand they have created, things are starting to spill over in the black markets.

    It's simply the state of things we find ourselves in right now.. just the way it is. When the "media" get their acts together and start bringing the world to our doorsteps like they promised, then the black markets will dry up (to a certain extent of course).

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