One of the reasons digital content customers turn to file sharing services like BitTorrent is that content providers are often not meeting customers where they’re at in terms of their expectations. This fact was brought home to me over the past couple of weeks through both personal experience and an encounter with hilarious content on the Web.
First, the personal experience. Last week I lent a classmate a Kindle book for class. This being my first ebook loan, it never occurred to me that when I lent it out, I lost all ability to read the book until the loan was returned. And why would I? Why would I assume that Amazon would choose to replicate one of the worst characteristics of a physical book in digital form? I understand that if I had lent a physical book to my classmate I wouldn’t have been able to read it again until she returned it, but nothing of the sort occurred to me when I lent her the ebook.
When I realized this, I became exasperated, perhaps to an unreasonable degree, because it seemed so ludicrous. Granted, this is a First World Problem if there ever was one–although not as tragic as not having WiFi on the plane–but within my socioeconomic bubble, I believe I was within my rights to be mad.
Then I took the more constructive step of examining my annoyance. The reason behind it was the expectations I had of my digital content. To the extent I thought of it at all, I had no expectations that I would be able to make indefinite loans and still be able to read the book, but I certainly expected my ebook to be able to perform the proverbial walk-and-chew-gum trick. It turns out I expected much more from my digital content than Amazon and book publishers are willing to give.
On to the hilarious Web content, provided by the always reliably funny Oatmeal. In his comic “I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what happened,” Matthew Inman tells the story of a Game of Thrones fan who, having just finished reading the book, wants to see the TV show as soon as possible. Unfortunately for our fantasy fan, the series isn’t available on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime or Hulu. Throughout his search, the fan has a devil on his left shoulder urging him to just download the series through BitTorrent, while an angel on his right shoulder urges restraint. In the end, frustrated by his inability to find the series anywhere else online, our fan downloads it via BitTorrent in just a few minutes; by this point even the angel is on board. Once again, the expectations of a digital content consumer–even if it’s just a cartoon consumer–were dashed by its providers.
Those of us with access to high-speed Internet in one way or another have come to expect a certain level of flexibility with our digital content that providers are often loathe to provide. Digital content delivery services that have sprung mostly from outside the traditional mass entertainment industries, such as iTunes or Netflix, have done a decent job of giving customers some flexibility at a reasonable price, but clearly they have a long way to go to meet their expectations. Customers expect not just instant access to content, but also greater flexibility in how they use this content that they have paid for and rightfully own.
Regardless of how you feel about file sharing, the fact is that for the savvy user it does offer a level of flexibility that is currently unmatched by providers. Content providers that refuse to give customers the instantaneity and flexibility they want from their digital content only give them another excuse to run to the Pirate Bay for the latest season of Game of Thrones. Even the saintliest cartoon angel can’t resist that lure.