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Whitey, JK Rowling and How Not to Operate the Internet

January 8, 2010

Un fucking good musician.

Whitey
Electro-rocker supreme and all-around good guy, Whitey has been producing high-quality music since 2004. Despite an appearance on the Grand Theft Auto IV soundtrack, this hasn’t caused him any sort of trouble in the “too much of it and what to do with it” sort of way.

In fact, he’s not even signed to a label at this moment, which is a damn shame. As Overconfident Orientalist astutely pointed out in the Heavy Rotation Vol. 30 comment thread, 1.) he’s “bleeding talent all over the internet,” and 2.) everything other than The Light at the End of the Tunnel is a Train is impossible to get ahold of.

This may be due to his lack of label support. But this may also be due to Whitey’s lapse of judgment.

Here’s the situation: Whitey’s follow-up, Great Shakes, was due to be released in 2007. However, some piece of shit publicist decided to dump his unreleased album on the internets well before Whitey was ready to release it. It’s a fucked up situation. The whole story (more or less) is here, along with a great interview, in which Whitey does not cease drinking or smoking once.

Whitey’s response was to pull the album and rework some of the songs, which would be released under a new title supposedly in 2008. As this is 2010, we all can figure out what happened. No album yet and most of his catalog is now only available in illicit pirate form.

Without a doubt, a fucked-up situation. But let’s take a look at things from another perspective…

Has also written under the name "Tits McGee."

J.K. Rowling
As the author behind the multi-million-dollar cottage industry that is magical, scar-faced teens, Rowling is also on the run from the spectre of piracy. According to an article at CNN.com, “J.K Rowling has thus far refused to make any of her Harry Potter books available digitally because of piracy fears.”

Basically, Rowling has decided that the possibility of piracy would damage her immense wealth and therefore, will not give her fans the opportunity to shower her with more money by purchasing yet another version of the same book they probably already have in hardcover, softcover and collected special editions.

This is a pretty typical response from most hugely successful authors and their respective publishers. They won’t sell e-books because 1.) they don’t like the price point, which is driven by intense competition and the lack of any real distribution cost and 2.) the pirates will win (again).

So by not providing an electronic version, Rowling has cut herself completely out of a market and wishes to lay it all at the feet of faceless, nameless internet thugs who only wish to take and take and take.

The Fancy Plans Art Department once again defines "adequate..."

“Lost Sales”
Here’s where both of these artists converge. On one hand, we have a truly talented artist who is underexposed and lacking in distribution “muscle.” On the other hand, we have J.K. Rowling. Both are concerned that their product has been devalued by being passed around the internet without a price tag.

In Whitey’s case, he decided to cancel the release of Great Shakes. Other artists have done the same when their albums were leaked. In Rowling’s case, she won’t even put the product out. But why?

Lost sales.”

Let’s say some die-hard Potterist decides to bust out the OCR software and scan in one of her books. After all the work of scanning and processing, they dump their labor of love over at the nearest Geocities LiveJournal Rowling fanclub site. Somebody else slaps it onto the nearest torrent site and the numbers come rolling back.

Rowling opens up her email one day and is alerted that 10,000 “illegal” electronic versions have been downloaded in the last day over at the Piratebay. In her mind (and her publisher’s), she has just “lost” 10,000 sales.

But she hasn’t. To assume that every one of those downloaders would have purchased a copy, if available is not just ignorant; it’s arrogant. Let’s be a little more realistic and say 5% would have purchased a copy. So she lost 500 sales.

Let’s repeat that together for clarity: SHE LOST 500 SALES. Read it again. J.K. Rowling, by not offering an electronic version of her book, lost 500 sales. She can blame it on piracy all she wants, but by not providing an e-book, all she guarantees is that she’ll never make a single dollar or pound or whatever from fans who wish to buy an electronic version.

Whitey is making the same mistake. Rather than just releasing the album and relying on interested fans to pick it up, he pulled it instead. This only guaranteed that the only version of Great Shakes available would never make him any money. His EPs are impossible to find. You can get a copy of the Individuals EP from a UK shop, purchased in pounds. That’s it. And that’s assuming the record store’s website and database are up-to-date.

He should have just released the album or sold individual tracks through Amazon or his MySpace site or pretty much anywhere that would host them (Beatport, etc.) Instead, he tries to create artificial scarcity by refusing to put his official Whitey stamp on the pirated material.

The Fancy Plans Art Dept. may now consider themselves on "adminstrative leave" pending their upcoming dismissals.

The Point to All This Rambling
The various media forces need to understand that they can’t stop or contain piracy. Thousands of small, unsigned artists are releasing their music for free and providing premium packages to earn money. Touring and ancillary businesses are the name of the game.

Authors are releasing free PDF versions of the same books they’re selling on Amazon and watching sales increase rather than disappear.

The best thing you can do in this day and age is put out a cheap (or free) electronic version of your creations as soon as possible. Sure it will be pirated. But it will also get your name out and your talent in front of eyes and ears you’ll never reach in the local brick-and-mortar store.

And please don’t give us an inferior product. Big media pushers are always tainting their electronic products with crippling DRM, bullshit EULAs and limited transferability. Why would anyone want to pay more for an electronic file that is more limited and less useful than the one they can get for free?

Why would I spend $1.29 to get a song that I can keep on only one hard drive and transfer to only one mp3 player (if that)? If I get the pirated version, I can dump it on all the mp3 players and computers in the house. I can stream it to my PS3 or move the file there as well. I can burn it to as many CDs as I want.

These industries need to stop presenting litigation and legislation as a business plan. If your future efforts in the digital market consist mainly of suing grandmothers and holding bitchfests on Capitol Hill, your industry can’t die fast enough.

Stop treating your fans as thieves and stop wishing you could turn back the clock. Make the most of what little time your industry has left. The more you attempt to wrest every dollar out of every person out there, the more animosity and contempt you earn from the next generation of disposable income.

Good luck in the future, Whitey. If anyone deserves a big break, it’s you.

J.K.: Just go count your money somewhere out of the limelight for a while and refrain from issuing ill-informed opinions. People liked you better when you were a surprising success story, rather than a petulant millionaire.

What Makes It Worth Reading All the Way Through
Another kickass track by Whitey, which can only be found on YouTube. (Case in point…)

-CLT

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20 comments

  1. Good points, CLT. Artists need to adjust their business models to reality.

    A book worth reading, somewhat on the above subject is The Starfish and the Spider. It covers Nabster, Pirate Bay, et al, from the perspective of leaderless networks (it is also worth reading if you are interested in modern counterterrorism and counterinsurgency theory). One of the book’s central points is brute force attacks against diffuse, leaderless networks are ineffective. You can’t stop pirating with traditional methods because no one is in charge. It doesn’t have an Al Capone. Likewise, it is tough to defeat Canada’s BOG (Bunch of Guys [Canadian law enforcement officers gave them this name because, near as the officers could tell, they never bothered to name themselves]) because there is no hierarchy. They’re just a group of pissed off Muslims connecting on the web.


    • Thanks, O/O.

      I’ll have to check that book out. Sounds interesting. There is no “pont man” in piracy. It just happens because the technology is there.

      The artists affected need to be realistic about this, especially when digital distribution keeps bringing product costs down to near zero (obviously studio time, personal time, etc. is not factored in to this equation, just the product itself).

      Whether you have one copy or a million copies, it doesn’t matter. Bandwidth and storage are cheap enough to give away.


  2. Thank you for the lesson CTL! I learned a lot reading your post. Very informative and interesting. Let’s see, you can create, compose, convey, critique (covered the ‘C’s), poeticize, enlighten, disseminate, (occasionally) pontificate, and last but not least, teach. I’m off to score you all 5s on ratemyprofessor.com (sorry, I can’t rate your ‘hotness’ factor [there really is such a category] as I have no idea what you look like…just keeping it real).


    • Thanks for the “5’s”, elizabeth. I’m not sure I’m listed there, but I should go check it out. One can never have enough professorial ratings, especially now that “hotness” is being factored in.

      Thanks for the visit and comment, elizabeth. Always great to see you.


  3. I’ll give it to you from my kind of unique perspective…..

    There are no Blockbusters over here. As a matter of fact there are no video stores at all. For the first time in my life, I don’t own a television. There is no point; they don’t have ‘normal’ cable anyway. Without a satellite, I’d pick up three, horrible Spanish channels…with one, I’d get SKY TV. Have you ever seen British TV? Have you? Well, fuck that.

    So for the first time in my life, I use the torrent sites, watch my couple shows and some movies. There have been a ton of movies that I never would have rented, but being free….I downloaded and watched them. When I have really liked them, I’ve raved about them on Facebook or wherever, and made probably at least 5 or 10 people who otherwise never would have rented them, go out and pay money to rent them.

    If I were back home I wouldn’t bother with downloading anything, because it takes awhile, uses up your memory and can be a pain in the ass. But here, I have no choice. So my opinion is that it actually helps these artists, writers, and everyone else more than it hurts them.


    • Yeah. You’ve kind of got a fucked situation of your own out there, Scott. At least the neighbors are quiet and unassuming and not slaughtering pigs or whatever at all hours of the night/day.

      The great thing about all this information is that millions of people can try new things, whether they’re movies, books or songs. Word-of-mouth has more power than ever, especially considering it’s usually accompanied by a video or a track or whatever.

      Think of all the music and movies you wouldn’t ever think to check out if it wasn’t for the big bad internet. This can only help the indie labels and bedroom producers.

      Thanks for the insight, Scott.


  4. ClT,

    Only you can successfully combine two opposing personalities (who would otherwise never be mentioned in the same calendar year, let alone the same sentence), and bring them together to make a logical and valid argument.

    You bring up a great point re: J.K. Rowling losing 500 sales as opposed to 10,000. The truth is, the people who can afford computers and such technology to do the downloading, can also afford to pay full price for her books if they were so inclined. And probably already have.

    If her books did end up in cyberspace and you were to ask a downloader “Why didn’t you just go out and buy the book?”, I’m guessing the majority of the people would say “Because I didn’t really want it that badly.” I mean, come on…do you really consider these people to be your “fans”?

    If only she could stop people from borrowing her books from friends, or talking about Harry Potter to those who haven’t read it.

    First rule of Harry Potter- You do not talk about Harry Potter

    Second Rule of Harry Potter- You DO NOT talk about Harry Potter

    Greed/Ego-1,000,000
    True sense of Self-Worth- 0

    Fantastic post, CLT. If only people would stop asking “What would Jesus do?” and start asking “What would CLT do?”, the world would be a better place. For real.

    (Sorry for rambling. As Don would say, this just really “gets my goat”.)


    • I’m going to be the first to sport WWCLTD bracelets.


    • Let me be the first to say that I’ll be the second to sport “WWCLTD” bracelets.

      B:
      I would imagine that if JK could stop people from borrowing her books, she would. The libraries must be irritating the living hell out of her, what with all their free copies available anytime someone wants them.

      Good lord! Someone’s probably reading this book out loud to another person who doesn’t actually own their own copy!

      No need to apologize for the ramble. As rambles go, it was amazingly coherent, even with all the “goat getting.”


  5. Hey CLT, you said I was astute. Take that, 2001 UC Berkley admissions office.

    An example of the middle way is Radiohead’s release of In Rainbows, first a name-your-price (including free) internet download and then as a traditional CD release. The CD sold well, despite the internet release.

    Granted, this wouldn’t work for everyone. Radiohead no longer had a contract “as such” with EMI and they have name recognition and sales record that pushes record companies to meet the band’s demands, not the opposite. Bands cannot defeat piracy, but they can manage it through techniques like this.


    • I did say you were astute. Take that indeed, 2001 UC Berkley. In fact, your comment was the impetus for this post.

      The Radiohead release is a great example. Yeah, it doesn’t work for everybody, but it does work much better than the naysayers claim it does. It won’t work for any un-recouped artists still tied to major labels, but that’s a whole ‘nother set of fuckedupness that I would need 4-5,000 words just to get started.

      Suffice to say: when was the last time the phrase “major label artist” made you want the sentence to continue or the song to start?

      Here’s a great story about pay-what-you-want from 2D Boy, which offered indie-gaming hit “World of Good” up for a week under this new umbrella:

      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2009/10/20/world-of-goo-sale-provides-fascinating-results/

      Long story short, about 16,000+ got the game for free, but on the other hand, they made nearly $100,000 in seven days, which was much better than any previous week.


  6. Very damn good points, CLT, and thanks for some education. Being a guy though — during a long cold winter here — I gotta know, what’s the story on that picture. I’ll google it now because that’s what I do best, google fast to know now. It’s a drive thru, supersized nation, and if Harry Potter’s creator gets groped and likes it in front of camera, I have to know how, why, and WTF (break for national anthem).

    Great blog! Thanks again!


    • No problem, Dan. It’s the tit photos that drive the business. Hopefully, it’s the writing that keeps them coming back.

      And thank you for the compliments, Dan, and for returning.


  7. Three taps and I’m in. Supersize me and I’ll take fries with that google meal:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-558510/JK-bust-nearly-got-away.html

    Thanks J.K. Rowling and her groping publicist! Too bad it wasn’t the Spice Girl! [Caution: Male chauvanist pig rooting around, leftover from the seventies].


    • Thanks for the link, Dan. So it was yet another wardrobe malfunction. Makes you think twice about giving up that publicist position shortly after college.


  8. Nicely explained CLT. Evolution happens. This genie is not going back into the bottle. Adapt or be ignorned.

    And greedy bastards can fuck off!!

    Rowling gets a Clive Cussler Lifetime Achievement Award from Fundamental Jelly (called a Jelli from here on). Awesome man.


    • Thanks, FJi.

      We’ll provide her with the CCLA at her next big press thing. If we shoot from three or four rows back, I’m sure we can land the trophy (shaped like a typewriter made out of a boat) safely in her cleavage. If not, oh well. At least she’ll have an interesting facial bruise to explain.


  9. Does this mean I can have my ‘Fancy Plans’ membership dues back? I’m not unsatisfied, but all this talk of free makes me wanna go buy something…


    • You can have back all the dues you’ve paid. We’ve always been 100% refundable. Except for the time. We can’t give you back all the time you’ve wasted here. That’s ours. We have it in a special time bank collecting interest. It all involves Einstein somehow.


  10. Relativity… and all that.



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