Q: How stupid is the RIAA? A: Very.

by Suw on September 10, 2003

I don’t know how many times I can say that I believe music file swapping will ultimately be good for the music industry and that I think the industry has its collective head shoved so far up its own arse that its eyes are brown before I start to bore myself. But when I read that the RIAA is suing 261 people over file swapping, and that these ?offenders? include a 12 year old girl and a 71 year old man, I wonder just how far up their own arse their head can get. Colon maybe? Small intestine?

I commented about this very issue on Joho The Blog a while back and as I haven’t changed my mind since then, I’m just gonna copy and paste what I wrote there, with minor edits for typos.

I've just had this exactly discussion [about file sharing] over on Zoetrope.com. Thing that annoys me is that you get all these trite responses, such as “Downloading is stealing. Stealing is wrong” or “Downloading is destroying the music industry” or “How would you like it if it was your intellectual property being stolen?”

Most people seem to miss the point that the most important aspect of this is sales. Those who equate every download with a missed sale are making a huge assumption with very little evidence.

People will download a song or album to see if something they've heard about, but not heard, is any good. They almost certainly (especially in the UK where prices are so high) wouldn't take that risk with real money. So no lost sale there, because there never was a sale there to be lost.

If they like what they hear, there is the chance that they may buy the real thing – nothing beats ownership, after all. So what's that? A gained sale that might not otherwise have come to pass.

Of course sometimes people, in particular skint people and students, will download without buying, but these people would have been taping off the radio or copying their mates' CDs anyway. So I'm not sure that they are a large source of lost sales either.

Thing is, with the music press in the sorry state that it's been in at least since I stopped writing for the Maker, :-), p2p file sharing is a great opportunity for the industry to communicate with buyers using the one thing that buyers are really very interested in. The music itself.

Most of the new albums I buy now come from recommendations from friends, or music I hear on the radio. I haven't bothered with the music press for years, because most music journalists can barely string a sentence together, let alone recognise decent music when it bites their arses. Instead, someone will mention and artist or band, I'll go download a few tracks or the album, and if I like it I'll buy it. This way I've discovered gems like The Shins, Jeff Hanson and Tom McRae, none of whom I would have discovered any other way.

Indeed, it appears that the idea that downloading could be *good* for an ailing industry is being born out. The Guardian recently reported that album sales are up 3% on last year. This minor fact appears to be deliberately ignored by the naysayers.

If the music industry could only embrace the downloading culture, without ripping us off, I think that in the long term they'd be better off for it.

Of course, I'm not sure that they can resist trying to squeeze every single penny they can from us. Muse recently put a single from their forthcoming album, Absolution, up for download. It cost ?1.50 which, for one track, was a little bit pricey. I bought and downloaded it anyway, just to support the concept and because Muse are one of my favourite bands.

But if the industry is going to charge us that much for a single song, or limit the number of plays, then the whole thing's going to fall flat on its face. People aren't used to having their actions restricted when it comes to the number of times and manner in which they can enjoy music that they have purchased and they won't take kindly to the licensing business model.

Digital Rights Management appears to be less about protecting the rights of the artist (read: the rights owner, usually not the artist) and more about restricting the rights of the consumer and wringing every last possible penny from them. Consumers won't wear that.

Finally, downloading is not the only problem that the music industry has. Again, this seems to be soundly ignored by the doom-mongers who prefer to blame p2p for every last problem. I'm not going to go into the causes and cures of the industry's ills, because I think I've ranted long enough already.

P2p is just a scapegoat, in my opinion. But it remains to be seen if there's anyone with the intelligence and nerve to embrace it and make it work for the industry, instead of against it.

I think it’s a real shame that bean-counters of the worst kind are dominating the music industry these days, and that they are so concerned with short term profit that they can’t see that there might just be a way to improve the long term health of the industry.

This idea that *every* download is a lost sale is ludicrous. And the idea that damages of between “$750 and $150,000 for each song” should be claimed from some 12 year old is just gobsmackingly stupid.

Sadly, I think the music industry (and the movie industry too, as it makes noises about moving in the same direction) is going to have shit-coloured eyes for a long time.

Ember September 10, 2003 at 7:46 pm

Well said. That was great!

Apparently, Universal Music may be trying to fight lost revenue due to music downloads by reducing the retail price of their products. Maybe that is the answer? (Sounds like it might be an effective way to increase sales in the UK.)

Maybe they should try offering bonus items along with the purchase of a CD, such as coupons on their next purchase? In other words spend a dollar to make several dollars? Who knows?…

In any event, the music industry was certainly happiest when it was in control. But now the fate of the industry lies in the hands of the people and the moguls aren't happy.

Of course, had they been doing their homework, rather than sitting back counting their money, they might have been better prepared for this eventuality, instead of scrambling to reprimand and alienate the very consumers they are so desperately trying to lure back.

Visit me @ http://fallenember.blog-city.com

Suw September 10, 2003 at 8:52 pm

Thanks Ember!

Yeah, it's about time that music was more reasonably priced. More people would risk more money on a CD if they could afford it. At the moment, even committed music fans are careful how they spend their hard-earned.

I agree also about the bonus items idea, the added value. I see no reason why record companies can't put together DVDs that provide the band's videos as an extra. That would *certainly* encourage more sales as every fan wants a chance to drool over their favourite bands and DVDs aren't (at the moment) quite so easy to rip/share for your average person.

Definitely there's a value for money issue here that needs to be addressed in a sensible manner.

There's also the problem with promotion. Here in the UK, it's not at all unusual for singles to be getting radio play weeks, if not months, before they are released. This is done in the hope of hyping the first week's sales so that the single jumps in to the chart at it's highest possible place.

Trouble is, often when I hear something I like, I want it there and then! If I can't buy it then I'll download it. Other times, I'll get so fed up of a song that by the time it comes out as a single, I've had enough of it. I don't think I'm alone in that reaction.

The charts mean absolutely nothing now – if, indeed, they ever did – and this sort of marketing is not doing the industry any good, in my opinion.

Why torment the public with something they can't buy and then get all narked when you find out that they've found a different way to get their hands on what they want?

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