The music industry is in flux, has been for at least a decade since the heady days of Napster and Kazaa. A lot of things have changed, the old model of consumers draining their bank accounts to simply consume plastic disks is essentially defunct. File sharing really has put paid to that, but perhaps not in the way you might think. Last.fm, Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, Bit Torrent, Kazaa, Limewire, eDonkey, AudioGalaxy, allofmp3.
There’s a whole spectrum of choices for anyone who wants to listen to music these days. You can at one extreme, pay the exorbitant price expected by the download sites to have limited rights to do with the music you pay for what you will, you can buy at a lower cost from the successors to the allegedly dodgy sites like allofmp3.com or you can search for the music you want, download for free and share it with the world into the bargain. Depending on where you are in the world and in which part of the audio spectrum you sit, you may or may not be breaking or complying fully with the local laws.
As such, we’ve seen hearings, witnessed the advent of three-strikes then six-strikes, this week French “pirates” are being hauled up in front of a judge to explain themselves. We’ve had ISPs being threatened to threaten their customers with disconnection. We’ve seen reports that show that so-called music pirates using the likes of Limewire actually spend more money on iTunes than anyone else. We’ve seen concert ticket sales skyrocket and many acts simply abandon the idea of selling “records” in favour of the huge profits of live performance and merchandising. It’s a complicated scene. We’ve even had musicians giving away their music and still making a profit without a record company in sight.
At one end of that audio spectrum, the old record company business model, would have them pay a band to record an album and then have us gullible consumers pay for the same musical data again and again and again. Half-way down the spectrum, there’s the likes of Spotify, which we’ve had in the UK for months, if not years, but which has finally brought its ad-supported virtual radio model to the US. And at the other extreme, there’s just plain old free to download file sharing. I say free, but I suspect the biggest file sharers are paying for mighty broadband download speeds at quite a premium price.
Anyway, the record industry (and the movie industry, come to that) is in flux, it’s all fluxed up, as Elvis might have said.
Computer information systems experts Vishal Midha, Punit Ahluwalia and Jerald Hughes of the The University of Texas – Pan American in Edinburg reckon that flux needs to be greased by the music industry itself which should incorporate versioning (standard quality, ad-supported, ad-free and high quality formats, for instance) of their music products to target different types of consumers. That way, everyone gets their music in a format they want – basically free or paid for.
Their analysis of the potential market value of such a versioning approach shows that the industry would significantly reduce so-called piracy and simultaneously boost its profits. Like I said, the biggest pirates on Limewire are paradoxically also the biggest iTunes consumers. Just make it easy for people to get the music they want, on whatever audio equipment (portable mp3, hi-fi, computer, smartphone, whatever) without any restrictions or DRM BS, and piracy will, if not disappear, simply become a trivial artefact. Alternatively, let’s see the musicians and artists (Metallica excepted) rip this industry apart of the sake of their fans and rebuild the business model and the copyright law to benefit the creators rather than record company shareholders and litigious attorneys.
Back in the 1980s, they said home-taping is killing music and the response was home-taping is skill in music. Back in the 1880s, we had the same arguments over copied sheet music…plus ca change.
Vishal Midha, Punit Ahluwalia, & and Jerald Hughes (2011). A new revenue model: a different approach to reduce music piracy Int. J. Electronic Finance, 5 (3), 249-260
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