Read/Write Web manages to stay off my “To Unsubscribe” list once more with a gem titled “The Flipside of BitTorrent - Why Some Musicians Still Hate It.” In it, David Lowery pops up again (you may remember him from such rants as the Emily White Thing) to debunk the supposed rosiness of not-paying-for creative works. Just a few thoughts about his response and a link to some more debunked myths follow:
“You really think there are no lost sales in BitTorrent activity? Can I have some of what you are smoking? Why would you search for a song called ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling’ unless you heard the song?”
A common misconception of old-time publishers is that every download represents a lost sale, and to contest that premise is akin to denying the holocaust. But, just as radio plays did more for selling songs than not-radio ever did, piracy doesn’t always mean someone had $1.29 in hand for a single, then pirated it and bought an ice cream cone instead.
While songs cost less now than ever before, the audience for a given format is spread exponentially thinner than it was 10 years ago. That is, it seems the cultural zeitgeist is much less specific. This is a good thing, because it means that the artists that could rise to the top today tend to be more niche-y than 20 years ago. And if there is too much sameness, discovery becomes a far larger problem for you because your audience is not telling your story.
Lowery had previously praised the RIAA’s corporate members as a valuable selection process that elevates the best music above the rest. That’s probably somewhat true, but the overhead they introduce into the process now looks really wasteful as the margins tighten. The artists still have to spend quite a bit of time building their brand and differentiating themselves. After all those publisher loans are paid off and management/production costs are accounted for, it’s really the rare artist that comes out ahead.
“I’ve not met one [middle class artist] that is honestly cool with people sharing files instead of buying them.”
This is a hard one to tackle. Collectively, we have put ourselves in this position where we have permitted limited monopolies based upon intellectual property to grow and grow. Along with that, we’ve developed ways of easily circumventing those monopolies. And we’ve made it nigh unto impossible to detect and enforce the breaches of those monopolies. It’s not entirely the fault of the Constitution’s copyright clause, as I mostly disagree with much of the interpretation of “limited times.”
The reason why it’s hard to grasp this is that, we have come to accept that the US Constitution represents what are really just natural rights to personal liberty that everyone in any country should have. I tend to look at intellectual property laws as unnatural laws, which is why I favor more limitation than most probably do.
But does it matter what I or the middle class artists think? Imagine you are setting out to make great music today and you have no legal pretense, but you’re savvy enough to know about the internet’s realities. Would you price your music album at $18 right away? $15? $12? Remember that at the beginning of this millenium, $18 albums were the norm. This was uncoincidentally when Napster was invented.
I firmly believe that any artist can ask for whatever amount they want for their work. But my prerogative as a customer must be that I can choose to not buy it for that amount. I can buy nothing at all or I can buy something else. Without piracy even entering into the picture, you lost a sale of your $18 album.
Now, returning to the internet realities argument for a moment: if YouTube exists in this reality, how much value relative to the upper quadrant of YouTube music do you need to add in order to have me give you attention (not even money, yet) for your work? I’d say that it’s very high (even subtracting VEVO videos).
So those YouTube folks are getting attention that you don’t get because you’re obscuring your product behind a pay wall. Probably a pretty reasonable pay wall, but it’s still one that keeps that 14 year old with $5 from hearing your stuff. Did YouTube just lose you a sale? Yes, just as much as piracy does (and we’re still not talking about piracy yet).
OK, fast forward a year and you’ve managed to convince some teenagers to purchase your album. And one of them liked it so much that they bought a physical disc of it (hypothetically… just go with it). This customer of yours has played the CD every day for two months straight, and this week he’s finally lent the disc out to his friend who he thinks would like it. His friend listens to the album on repeat over and over and over again. He really likes it! Great! Another sale, right? Nope. Not as we measure lost sales in RIAA world, it’s not.
That was just shy of piracy, actually. Were it not for the fact that the physical piece of plastic exchanged hands, this would have been an illegal transaction (what with all those 1s and 0s flying around inside of both’s music players). In fact, who knows how long that music player caches the data… might be illegal anyway.
As ridiculous as this sounds, it’s this type of specious argument that prevents the artists of the world from moving past the roller coaster of what is a lost sale and into the real business of building a tribe.
As I was writing this post, the always excellent TorrentFreak blog posted a fantastic article titled “It’s Time To Debunk The Myth That Copyright Is Needed To Make Money – Or That It Even Makes Money.” It’s a great companion to this post, so go read it!Source: readwriteweb.com