It’s 2022. How Do People Still Think One Download Means One Lost Sale?

We thought this long running myth was finally dead. Yet, somehow, it still crops up in the media.

There’s a lot of myths surrounding file-sharing. One such myth is the myth that it alone took the entire music industry and movie into the cleaners. Another myth is that the music industry won’t last much longer if piracy continues. The latter was repeated throughout the years and no collapse ever occurred. As I said back in the day, “If piracy is going to kill the music industry soon, it would have been dead by now.”

Another myth is that one download means one lost sale. This myth was used by the music and movie industry to, in part, grab headlines and pretend that there is an urgent crisis when none actually exists outside of the industry’s control. It’s why through the 2000’s and early 2010’s why you occasionally saw headlines that said that the industry experienced “[x] Billion Due to Piracy”. A large chunk of that came out of this myth. It’s also the origin of “Hollywood accounting” where losses are tallied based on download count and multiplied by how much it would cost to purchase said product commercially. It’s basically a clear and concise response to this myth.

Of course, the myth had been debunked, re-debunked, and debunked again for good measure over the years. As a result, these days, we don’t see a lot of it making appearances. In fact, we hadn’t seen it for months now. As a result, we thought that this myth was finally dead.

Sadly, we are wrong on that assessment.

An article on Deadline is once again using Hollywood accounting to suggest that piracy is killing a method of selling movies. From Deadline:

  • Following Black Widow, it was clear that day-and-date leads to a freefall at the box office in the subsequent weekend of a Marvel Cinematic Universe title; the Scarlett Johansson movie weathered the worst second-weekend drop for a Disney-distributed Marvel movie at 68%. The crimping in windows, which of course impacted the star’s bonus, led to the twice-Oscar-nominated actress suing Disney and settling for a reported $40M+.
  • Adding to the further erosion of box office for any theatrical-day-and-date release on streaming is the fact that these movies are pirated promptly, with clean 4K copies in several languages spread around the world. By the end of August, sources in the know informed us that Black Widow had been pirated more than 20M times. That’s close to a $600M estimated loss on Black Widow in Disney+ PVOD revenue alone.

Please refrain from punching the monitor. It hurts and it costs money to replace said monitor.

There could be a number of factors that could go into these drops in ticket sales. Maybe the fact that there is a global pandemic where disease spreads like wildfire in closed off area’s where people are packed together maybe? We’re only two years into this pandemic after all. Some people might think that it is unwise to subject themselves to such conditions in the first place. Could you really blame someone who either has a lung infection already or is immunocompromised from staying home and not choosing to go to the movie theatre?

Another possibility is that maybe the movie wasn’t that great to begin with? There are certainly plenty of reviews out there that panned the movie:

Jul 17, 2021
Marginal. Terrible acting. 10/10 for Florence, but everyone else was just off. The plot is hard to follow and isn’t too exciting once you catch on. The special effects and stunt maneuvers were some of the worst I’ve seen for a Marvel movie.

Jul 12, 2021
I didn’t like it. I did not live up to the hype and did not deserve the 2 year wait time. The new director clearly should not work on anymore marvel projects, and should probably go over to dc, because that’s what she made. She didn’t make a marvel movie, she made a low tier dc movies.

San Francisco Chronicle Mick LaSalle Jul 2, 2021
Black Widow is what happens when movies abandon human values for the emotional deadness and emptiness of the superhero movie.

Could that have played a role in this? Probably.

To make one thing clear, this isn’t Disney making these comments that piracy cost the movie $600 million. This comes from the Deadline author instead. Nothing in the article we saw attributed those numbers to Disney. So, this really is a story about the media getting something really really wrong yet again.

Breaking this thinking down into its key components, the logic quickly falls apart. In one debate I had with someone else, the other person absolutely insisted that one download means one lost sale. So, I proposed the idea that maybe said person downloaded that movie, liked it, and bought it. In that scenario, that person wouldn’t have otherwise bought that movie in the first place. That is actually an increase by one sale. In response, the insistence continued. This person responded by saying that, nope, that lost sale is permanent and that money was lost forever. It quickly became apparent that this was a classic case of personal belief overruled reality and no amount of logic or reasoning was going to change that.

Of course, taking these imaginary losses to their conclusion (and partly why this myth was largely debunked) were the increasingly outrageous numbers that were being pumped out. In 2006, it was once, by extension, concluded that one month of piracy costs more than the entire GDP of France. In 2013, INTA (The International Trademark Association) opined that piracy costs more than the entire GDP of Australia.

For my part, in 2012, I published a 20 part meta-analysis of the various studies that looked into file-sharing. The conclusion was, in part, that piracy wasn’t really to blame for all the losses experienced in the entertainment industry and that the one download means one lost sale myth was little more than a massive lie.

Sadly, with the media, getting the facts wrong really is nothing new. Sometimes it is by mistake that wrong information gets published. Other times, misinformation gets published with intend. While we do try our best to debunk some of the myths pushed by the media, it is still a headache to this day that bad articles get published with information that misleads the reader. It’s a huge problem that the media tries to pretend that only exists on social media. Yet, here we are, yet again, getting annoyed when media outlets publish bad information. What’s more is that we get the fun duty of playing janitor and doing our part to clean things up.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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