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THE MORNING BUZZ: All That Entertains Is Not Movies or Games

7 May, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

Hi, My name is Holly and I am an eBay trader.

I am confessing an addiction, after a fashion. Last week I was relating my experiences with marketing my junk – uh, stuff – on eBay. My auction experiences have only strengthened one of my theories about online entertainment: that all that entertains is not movies or games.

I think that's true in a way studios may underestimate.

Sure, file trading copyrighted material is a problem, if you measure it by download volume (then again if Morpheus used the DirecTV method of customer counting, all those software downloads may be no threat at all). But there is not, at least today, any organized way of finding out how much of that downloaded stuff actually gets played.

Now I'm sure this idea makes studio folk scratch their heads. “Why…” they must be thinking, “would anyone download a copy of Shrek they would never watch?” (That's surely what I thought when DirecTV announced its customer figures included people who bought the dish but never subscribed to the programming.)

Well, now I know. It's partly my fledgling eBay addiction that brought this lesson home to me; it was partly from observing file traders and their comments on a variety of electronic bulletin boards.

I never thought I would make a fortune selling on eBay. Of course everyone dreams of finding some incredibly rare item in the garage that will make them rich. The Publisher's Clearinghouse prize patrol hasn't pulled up to my front door yet, either, but life goes on. Getting rich was never the point.

Throughout history, men have been the hunters and women have been the gatherers. I think this is why I and many of my female friends don't have the patience for file trading. It seems so very low yield.

Stephanie Prange, our executive editor, made a similar comment about my eBay adventures. “You probably spend more time than it's worth to do it,” she sniffed critically.

But to a hunter – and I am partly guessing that most of the file traders are male and somehow genetically hardwired to hunt – it isn't always about what you get. It's about the hunt.

I think a lot of file traders never watch the movies they trade, at least not all the way through. They just want better copies, or faster downloads, or whatever prize wins the chest-beating rights. They don't actually care what movie it is, as long as they can get it better or faster than the other guy.

I swear, I think I could tell a file-trading guy friend that The Way We Were is incredibly hard to find, difficult to download or some other ruse and he would spend days – weeks, if necessary – pursuing a quality copy for me. Never mind that I could still rent it at some mom-and-pop stores for 99 cents. Men swap files for the same reason they don't ask for directions. It's not about the destination or how long it takes. It's about the conquest, the victory.

That makes file trading both more and less of a problem than studios think. Less, because much of what is being swapped or downloaded is probably never getting viewed, or is spurring sales of better (legal) copies.

What studios should really be afraid of is that to people engaging in file trading, just like I spend weekends selling stuff on eBay, it's an end and a form of entertainment in itself.

The real threat to the studios isn't that people are trading copyrighted material, it's that they would rather trade it than watch it.

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