Fun with fake USB flash/pen drives and MP3 players

Ten things I assume you know about me

2008-01-07New media and paying for digital content


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Prompted by the question 'What makes an online story "work" for you?'

Well, for starters, I tend to read in shorter sessions on a monitor, as regardless of settings and being a stable image on a TFT it's still a backlit device. eInk will bear watching once prices come down. What determines whether I buy physical books is re-read factor. There are lots of paper comics I'd pay a buck a time to read as they came out, but as that's not an option I tend to read them through other channels and decide which ones to pick up when printed as trade paperbacks. A lot of things I don't have an interest in re-reading and wouldn't miss if they weren't there, but there's definitely more support in my mind for musicians/writers/etc. who acknowledge and don't condemn that type of previewing or who explicitly offer some material directly; most books/comics/albums I've bought have been because of prior reading or listening.

As for the webcomics paradigm... I'm more likely to buy cheap electronic editions of stuff than I am to outright donate* — though will buy books of collected webcomics occasionally if I think they'll get leafed through. Web distribution allows for thorough, immersive previews — a few pages are a nice gesture, but it'll generally take a story arc to interest me. Then the choice is for book (for stuff that'll get re-read or lent out to skeptics) or paid download if available (stuff that might not get looked at again, but still feels like a product because someone has done the work of parcelling it up in a convenient bundle, and isn't taking up any space if it doesn't get re-read but I've chipped in for what I already liked.)

*I think this is because there's still a reasonably firm "you pay [x], you get [y]" association there, and few webcomics where I'd be bothered if they disappeared.

eBooks (and files in general) with DRM — at least, DRM that isn't trivial to work around — don't get a look-in unless they feel like a bargain and I'm overwhelmed by curiosity. There's precious little content I'd be willing to jump through hoops in order to get working on the computers I use, particularly when the chances are it's already out there in an illicit format that doesn't have the restrictions: why would people pay for a book they can't copy-paste a quote from, or print a page of, or carry around with them easily? Inconveniencing customers more than freeloaders is a bad idea.

On a related note, I'd like to see more comic and magazine back catalogues as digital media, priced to sell (i.e. as large blocks of) in the way TV series are nudging towards with discount DVD sets of old stuff. Material that doesn't warrant much storage space and won't be delved into in depth but might be interesting to flick through occasionally. Print quality not in any way required as long as it can be clearly read on-screen.

Yes, for novels I'd generally rather curl up with a paperback rather than a laptop, but digital media is a secondary revenue stream for most publishers and they need to twig what makes it attractive to customers of publishers who use it as a first revenue stream — that the content is easy to use and works on anything. No revenue accrues from second-hand book sales, but a couple of bucks to download a novel (that the publisher may not even be keeping in print) is instant and the publisher already has the novel in digital form for most titles from the last decade or two.

Infrastructure costs, but more to initially set up than to maintain once in place. I understand that publishers want to move on to shifting new full-price material, and fear detraction from their sales — but they can either monetise the market that currently buys secondhand copies, or places such as eBay and Amazon Marketplace will.

Slight change of subject to music — Trent Reznor just did a breakdown of a "free download" album for an artist called Saul... album is at

My experience: I've just had a look at the site, and there doesn't seem to be any streaming media on there to listen to before being handed a choice between "I want to directly support the artists involved in the creation of this music." ($5, card symbols) or "I'm not concerned about that. I just want the music." ($0) — direct site quotes.

It's likely there's some stuff on Myspace or wherever, since there's a link at the bottom of the page. What the website doesn't incline me to do is look — I don't even want to grab the 192kbps files as a trial listen because I don't want to click the second option.

How many other people felt similarly, I wonder? Actually, how many people downloaded it, didn't like it enough to go back, and thus get counted in the ratio of freeloaders versus paying fans?

On the other hand I downloaded albums by Harvey Danger and The Crimea and bought the CDs after a few listens. Neither present their downloads as a guilt trip; in fact, The Crimea don't even put a donation link next to theirs, which I thought was a bit silly. The CD is ten quid, and since the pound is so strong versus other currencies the rest of the world is unlikely to buy direct — whereas they might chip in $5-10 bucks.

Presentation matters, Trent. Make it easy to preview (in full) without any hard sell, and make it easy to pay more than $5. Just a couple of common-sense suggestions.


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