The other day I was thinking about who matters–a company that created a set of products sells it to their customers. By some chance or reason a lot of non-customers end up with the same products and it took off, generated a scene. What should the company’s response be?
Do the voices and activities of these uninvited third parties matter? I’m thinking it does in some cases, and it does not in others. The very obvious use case of this is in media piracy when you have a niche, expensive release of something (like a galge) and it is then widely pirated (perhaps even fan-translated) and enjoyed by a lot of people, perhaps even more people than the number of legitimate purchasers of the game.
In this case, the people who pirated the game should only have a say as someone who has played the game in the way they did. For example, if most people who bought the game prefers one particular way (for example, physical releases over digital) and most people who did not prefers another way, it would make little sense for the game company to change their ways that would isolate the people who buy the game to satisfy those who didn’t. Ideally, you want to satisfy both groups, and satisfy those who didn’t buy the game on the promise that it will lead to those who didn’t buy the game to buy the game. And outside of that promise, it’s hard to say what and how would motivate the example game company.
I mean, I suppose there are examples like societal pressure (eg., Rapelay incident) which influences how game companies behave. Government regulation and stuff like the Tokyo Nonexistent Youth ordinance, too. The government is not a consumer, a customer, or a player (typically), so I’m not sure how it fits, but the government reflects the general public (typically) so it is an instance where non-buyer of a game would influence the game company almost in a direct way.
And then there is the topic of this post. Relevance.
To actually talk about anime now, one major pet peeve I have is when I go google the title of some show, way too often the results end up being illegal streaming sites or download sites. I realize you can actually issue DMCA takedown requests for google search results (and I invite license holders to do so, if anything, just to improve Google’s search results). It’s even worse when it comes to manga, but at least in those cases a lot of these semi-legal or illegal sites are actually the best sources of information on the material.
WSJ today posted the story of a US Federal Government sting operation that painted Google as a criminal organization of willingly advertising illegal activity, specifically of pushing ads of foreign illegal pharmacies to US customers. And as an ex-Adsense customer I know I have served ads, on occasion, that advertised these kinds of sites. It was hard to fish for them because it comes and goes, and 99% of the time I was on an ad-blocking browser, but I saw them.
This stuff is a real concern. Granted, it doesn’t really matter in the big picture, but better SEO and fluency with Google search from a marketing perspective will deliver a better experience for everyone who wants to work with your title, even if they are not buyers.
The real question is how does non-purchaser’s web activity increase the relevance of these illegal sites. That is what I mean earlier by relevance. As you might know, Google rank its search results by how “relevant” a particular link is to the search query. Loosely speaking (since nobody but Google knows how it works exactly) it means how pages link to each other, and the “quality” of a web page adds or removes credence to the things a page links to. So if a very popular forum links to some DDL sites, those sites will get props. There are companies out there that create content on the web to “game” Google search ranks that is the basis of “SEO” or search engine optimization. And that is beyond the less controversial stuff, like developing your webpages in a way that is friendly to Google’s web robots that index and discover your page’s contents and display them the right way on the search results page.
Of course, it’s not to ignore the “real relevance” of non-purchasers on purchasers, let alone the content publisher. That is why copies of things are given to press to review, and why word of mouth is a powerful advertising tool. Similarly it can lower sales in such a way. I think one example that shows up statistically is how piracy-before-purchasing can change some potential buyers into non-buyers, after they have sampled the thing and found it not satisfactory [which says nothing about such an effect being, in my opinion, a very good thing] or otherwise undesired due to some other reasons [which could be a bad thing].
The responsible thing to do, in light of this, is actually police the things you link to. As a blogger it is clearly one venue where it could happen (and I profess linking to at least a couple sites where wholesale copyright infringement was at hand, despite the quality and legitimate information it provided). Other places include twitter, Google+, forums, and lots of other fixed web media. You know what? If you manage the online presence of a brand, the least you can do is make a website that is informative. So many companies fail on this in the anime/game/manga sphere it is incredible.
For companies, it is to monitor relevance and get people to realize the impact, both as purchasers and non-purchasers. But also to respect people who don’t buy your stuff, to the degree that it facilitates people who do buy your stuff. This is a vague statement to put into practice, but that has to be the overarching goal, I think. What I invite people to do is storyboard specific use cases. I think the better you are at this, the more likely you will be successful at niche markets like for anime, manga, and bishoujo/otome games.
I mean, if I want to find a download link, I’ll add the search term “download” to the query :p