Dieser Artikel ist ein Leserbeitrag im Rahmen der Open-Spreeblick-Aktion.

If you sell it, they will buy

There is much to love about the story of the fake Apple store:

For one, the sheer boldness with which these people simply went and recreated an entire Apple store. The level of detail they went to in order to replicate an almost perfect experience. The fact that they managed to not only make the customers, but the employees themselves believe it was the real thing. They even referred their customers to other, real Apple stores1 when something wasn’t in stock! What a beautiful example of the increasing blurriness between original and copy; the genuine article and its imitation.

In a previous blog post about imitation, individuality, and identity I looked at the history and philosophy of copying as a fundamental part of creativity and being human.

„But what about the artists, who should be paid for their efforts?“, the copyright-holders (who often are not at all the same as said artists) ask indignantly.

Regardless of where you stand in this debate, one thing is clear: The internet is a giant copy machine, and it is, and will continue to be, used for that purpose. This is not going to change. Moreover, copying isn’t limited any more to just digital files.

If I wanted to build my own Apple retail store, I would start with an image search (156,000 results on Flickr, over 20.4 million on Google Images) and go from there.  And it’s just a matter of time before 3D scanners and printers can do what’s envisioned in Makers, where any object can be captured, adjusted as necessary, and recreated in minutes.

Does this mean that creators have to resign themselves to having all their work stolen and never making any money unless they retrain as IP lawyers?

Not at all.

A couple of months ago, we learned that in the US Netflix‘ paid movie streaming service now accounts for more bandwidth than BitTorrent, meaning that „perhaps the first time in the internet’s history, the largest percentage of the net’s traffic is [paid] content.“

And last week, a report revealed that users of pirate sites such as the recently shut-down kino.to also spend more on movies in theatres and on DVD. Similar reports have come out showing that music pirates buy more digital music than the average music consumer.

So here is my advice for people who would like to make money from their work:

  • If you sell it, they will buy2. Let everyone, anywhere, pay you money to purchase the things you offer. Get rid of distribution regions and recognise that today’s audience is global. Artificial shortages3, especially of digital goods, are inappropriate in the 21st century. Just sell it to me – I’ll pay.
  • Make it easy for me to buy your stuff. This means accepting multiple forms of payment, a well-tested, trustworthy and easy checkout process, being upfront about other costs such as shipping. All the obvious things.
  • Don’t be greedy. Charge me a fair price. If I feel I get good value rather than ripped off, I may even buy more of your things! And don’t make me pay $50 for shipping of a $10 item.
  • Offer options. Many musicians and bands4 have become very creative with this: For example, download a few songs for free; pay a small amount for the whole mp3 album, pay a bit more for the album in lossless format with a PDF booklet, even more for a physical CD, and a steep collector’s price for the signed Vinyl edition, etc. Usually, the high-end options sell out in no time. And those freebies may very well convert those who can’t afford it now to paying customers later on.
  • Have excellent customer service. If you treat your customers well, not only will they spend more money with you, they’ll also tell their 300 Facebook friends. As they will if you don’t treat them well.5
  • Give me a reason to buy from you. It might be that extra authenticity6 that sets your product apart from others‘, or your friendly, quick, and helpful support, or simply the fact that your thing is better than theirs. I will compare; price is just one on the list of criteria, and definitely not the most important one.
  • Adjust your business model to the realities of the 21st century. „Policy making is continuing as if there was no internet,“ I quoted Lawrence Lessig in a previous post. The same is true for many businesses. It doesn’t have to be that way: Work with the new systems, not against them. This is not going to go away, but you might otherwise.

And remember: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

(1) „Do you have a Web camera for my MacBook?“ asked one customer. „No, but our other store in Lujiazui should have it,“ said the sales representative, referring to Apple’s genuine retail store in the heart of Shanghai’s financial district.“ (Quoted from the above-linked Reuters article found on stuff.co.nz)
(2) I can’t believe I made a baseball reference. This has to be the first time ever. Although technically, it’s a „movie about baseball“ reference. A movie I haven’t seen. And won’t have to, thanks to Wikipedia.
(3) New Zealand is feeling this particularly badly, because a lot of content from overseas is simply not available here, or only years after it aired in its original country. And it’s not just movies and TV shows: When I moved here, I cancelled my paid Audible account because none of the audio books I was interested in were available „in my region“ once I didn’t have a US-credit card any more.
(4) There are a lot more than the two I linked to – they simply came to mind first.
(5) Point in case: One of the fake Apple Store’s customers is quoted saying, „The prices are the same as the real store but the service is better here.“
(6) As this cartoon poignantly states, „the more similar the copy and the original, the more important it is for one to be real and the other to be fake, pinning their marketplace values on the theoretical existence of authenticity in a consumer culture.“ Read the whole thing – it’s actually really funny. Cos it’s true.