oh Uncle Rod...is it wise to tick off 90% of your customer base, to protect 5% of revenue? I think not...
If I'm out in the field, with no wifi/connection and want to access a S&T article, I can't with Zinio. That's a major usage issue that having locally stored PDFs corrects.
Yes, it's S&T's product and they can do whatever they want with it. And, it's MY money and I can do whatever I want with it. Since I've cancelled my subscription part way through the year, I expect a pro-rata refund from S&T, and if they won't do that, I'll be instructing my credit card company to do a chargeback. I'm pretty confident that my credit card company will side with me on this.
You're both right, of course.
Rod is right that it's silly to compare internet piracy with shoplifting. Shoplifting can never be stopped, but there are various was to discourage it strongly, and make it not worth anybody's while unless they're desperate.
By contrast, it's exceedingly difficult to discourage internet piracy unless you have the resources of a multi-billion-dollar company at your disposal, and even then you can only make a minor dent -- never recovering as much as you spend on countermeasures. Internet piracy costs nothing and is very nearly risk-free. To steal something from a store, you have to physically walk inside it, risking arrest. To steal something on the internet, you sit at a desk in some remote country that has tenuous relations with the U.S., risking nothing.
I haven't asked anybody at S&T, so I don't know whether this whole affair was initiated by the parent company, or stemmed from an incident right here on Cloudy Nights. But I was pretty shocked when someone here blithely posted something to the effect, "Wow, cool, here's a site where you can download PDFs of S&T issues." It should have been instantly obvious to the poster that the site was illegal, and that it was unethical at best to bring attention to it on Cloudy Nights. But now the cat is out of the bag ...
Having said that, I don't see any way to stuff the cat back in the bag. I was pretty startled when S&T first started digital publication in a way that allowed PDFs to be downloaded. It is indeed a very nice feature for the digital subscriber, but very few publications provide it, precisely because it makes piracy essentially effortless. It seemed rash to me at the time, but I didn't want to call attention to it, because I benefited from it too. (I was working at S&T then.)
The irony is that if S&T had never provided this feature, then nobody would have come to expect it, and nobody would resent the fact that it's now unavailable. But it's quite true -- once you have provided a benefit for free, no matter how rashly, you can't take it away without alienating a lot of people. Sort of a darned-if-you-do, darned-if-you-don't situation.
In fact, the internet is a darned-if-you-do, darned-if-you-don't across the entire journalism profession. Every major news organization needs to have a website for credibility, but nobody makes money from it. There's no way that advertising revenues are going to cover your costs unless your name is Google, Amazon, or Facebook.
No doubt Sky & Telescope's days are numbered. It's a pity, because it is a venerable organization, and still provides a standard of consistency and quality that has no counterpart on the free internet. But it's impossible for an organization with a paid staff to compete forever with information provided by large numbers of highly competent volunteers. Especially in astronomy, which was the second area (after particle physics) where the World Wide Web was applied. All things considered, it's amazing that S&T has held on as long as it has, and continues to provide such high-quality content while still making a profit.
Edited by Tony Flanders, 16 July 2018 - 05:02 AM.