Common Sense Often Misses the Mark

I often hear people promoting the virtues of common sense, or lately, the wisdom of crowds. These concepts seem to follow the logic that if enough people believe something, then it must be true. I beg to differ! I still remember my mother’s response, “If everybody jumped off a bridge, would you do that too?”

Just because a lot of people believe something doesn’t make it true, or right. I offer one exception: When EVERYBODY believes something, then it is as good as fact because everyone will act accordingly. My favorite example is when everyone believed the world was flat. For all intents it was flat … until one guy stopped believing and did something that broke the spell.

So, I come to my point. Many executives in industries that are under attack by the rapid digitalization of everything (music, television, movies, books, magazines, newspapers) believe that they can beat back the onslaught by way of copy protection and lawsuits. What if that’s the wrong approach? What if, in reality, they can increase their sales by allowing the copying of their material? It turns out that’s what happens in most of the instances where the idea has been tested. Letting people experience your work for free will expose it to some who would never have paid for it — no revenue loss there. Some of those people will like it enough to buy it, or a future work by the same person — new revenue there. It turns out, this new set of buyers is generally large enough to offset the handful who took the work for free but might otherwise have paid for it if it weren’t freely available.

Stop fighting the urge to follow your “common sense” executives. Quit making it hard for those of us willing to buy your stuff to use it in a meaningful way. Get rid of copy protection. Stop suing little old ladies. You’ll survive. Just like that guy didn’t fall off the edge of the world.

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