Yglesias hits on what I think is the core driver of piracy of TV shows here:
One of the nice things about unauthorized downloading of your favorite TV show is that you don’t need to pay any money for it. But there are lots of other nice things about it! For one thing, you get your hands on the show right away and you can watch it. If your company isn’t offering a legal path for getting content as quickly and conveniently as the illegal path, then you’ve got a problem on your hands. The only thing I can recall “pirating” recently was Season 2 of Sherlock which I downloaded since the BBC had made it impossible for Americans to watch the show otherwise.
Exactly. When we’re talking about piracy of content, its important to remember that the type of content matters. For TV shows, the primary motivation for piracy isn’t financial, I suspect, but convenience. A Netflix account is cheap and because I have one I have no need to pirate all of the old seasons of How I Met Your Mother, I can just stream them. In fact, it’s more convenient for me to watch this legen – wait for it – dary show on Netflix than it is to pirate 6 seasons, because Netflix stores the files for me, rather than having them clutter up my own hard drive. But for the current season I have no convenient way to watch on my own schedule without signing up for an additional service, and so obtaining them legally is no longer convenient.
For movies (currently in theaters) the story is one of both convenience and cost. On the convenience side, it’s much easier to watch a movie in your living room than to drive to a theater, and the drinks are free. It’s also a lot cheaper. It costs more for one movie ticket than a month of Netflix.
For music, the motivations for pirating are a bit different. Cost of course stays in the picture, but the primary driver I suspect is a combination of bundling affects and risk aversion. You may hear a song you like on the radio, but because you are risk averse, you probably don’t want to buy the whole CD. What if the rest of the album sucks? Then you just spent a lot of money on one song. A simple solution is to pirate the album, and if you like it you can buy it later. In practice, of course, few get around to that second part. As for the bundling affects, say you find that your risk aversion was warranted and the rest of the album really does suck. You still like that one song, but not enough to buy the whole thing.
iTunes of course gets around these issues by allowing you to buy songs individually, but in many cases people like a song but they don’t like it enough to spend money on it. Enter piracy. Some bands are circumventing this by making their content available for free download, and providing their listeners with a convenient method to “pay what you think the music is worth”. And they’re finding that to be a successful model!
Or you can just take the Grateful Dead’s advice, and encourage people to record your shows and share the recordings as widely as possible. Last I checked, those guys were mildly successful.