Tony started his life of piracy sometime in the 1990’s working markets, car-boot sales and pubs in the UK, selling counterfeit PC applications/games and console discs for a fraction of the retail price. “The profit was amazing back then” he recalls “We were getting Â£25 ($48) for a couple of PSX games and Â£15 ($29) for a single CDR with the latest utilities on. We couldn’t make them fast enough.” Things were looking good for his little enterprise and before long he was clearing up to Â£1000 ($1,942) profit each week.
According to Tony, the first 2 hours of every Saturday and Sunday morning at the local flea market always proved the most exciting. “We’d take 60 cases of CDRs down in the van and as soon as we got there a crowd would swarm around us. We had no competition and it was obvious the punters had no other suppliers. Inside 30 minutes, 90% of the stock would be gone with some customers taking 2 or 3 cases each, presumably to sell on. After 3 hours we were cleared out and on our way home, always with huge amounts of money.”
By 2001, Tony was renting a factory unit and employing 3 people to operate duplicators 24 hours a day, 7 days a week but although business was lively right up to 2004, profits were being squeezed every year. Forced to increase the amount of media burnt each week to make up for the shortfall in profit, it became clear that the business was in trouble – demand was falling dramatically.
“In 2005 we shut down the factory unit” said Tony, “we just couldn’t keep going on that scale, nobody was buying anything in quantity anymore. So we closed up and moved back into a bedroom at home with my wife and her sister operating the burners, something they hadn’t done in years. They weren’t happy.”
Tony used to enjoy the finer things in life – a beautiful house, high performance cars, exotic foreign holidays, up-market restaurants and fine wine. I met him by chance, wearing overalls and sitting on a forklift truck, working in a factory manufacturing boxes. Sipping on a mug of tea he explained “We got to the point where we just couldn’t make ends meet anymore, I couldn’t even keep a couple of dozen burners going so that was that. I had to get a job and so did my wife. She’s gone back to hairdressing and i’ve come back to what I was doing before – warehouse work. We’ve moved to a smaller house and i’ve had to get a sensible car. Things have changed quite a lot.”
Tony is very clear about why his rags to riches story has gone back to rags again. “File-sharing, P2P – call it what you like. When you asked a customer why he wasn’t buying anything, 9 times out of 10 it was ‘BitTorrent this, LimeWire that’. Add that to the fact that huge numbers of PC users have burners and fast broadband and its obvious why I had to get out and earn a living another way. We had it good for a while but I don’t think those days are coming back.”
P2P is a very powerful machine and although Tony could see that his operation was feeling its effects, he admits that he sat back and did nothing about it and consequently, his business has paid the ultimate price. Other industries affected by P2P should take note: Don’t be a Tony. Overhaul your business model. Quickly.