Friday, April 17, 2009

On Music Pirates and Business Paradigms

Gary Holt's comments about downloading killing the music business - combined with the announcement of the Pirate Bay verdict - got me thinking a bit about the contradiction that Gary has in his thinking. Specifically, after talking for several paragraphs about how digital copying is the problem, he finishes with:
"When it comes to live bootlegs or rarities and stuff like that I'm all for people going and doing all the trading that they want," [Gary] continues.
He then tries to back off the trap he just walked into by differentiating between tape trading and the downloading of albums -
"People ask me how I compare tape trading to downloading — some people have actually said, 'Oh, it's kind of the same thing, isn't it?' And I said, 'No, it's not.' A tape trader loved the band. He had to physically copy that tape. He had to go down to the post office, address it, send it to his pen-pal friend across the world at his own expense and time, so he put love and effort into that. Now you just click a mouse and, 'Ah, I don't like this album, I'll delete it.' Those guys were helping the band by spreading the word.
- but he doesn't realize he's already made the point: we live in a world where downloading the music is spreading the word, where the old paradigm of locking down the product by trapping it on a piece of media like a tape or CD is dead and gone. As Bob Lefsetz never tires of pointing out, the guy or gal who downloads your album and keeps it is a fan who - with the right inducement - can pay you back for that one download in spades by going to your concerts, buying your merchandise, ponying up for special fans-only offers, and so forth. Personal examples aren't great proof of concept, but still: I can't tell you how many bands I've seen over the past three years multiple times because of a recommendation from a friend, supplemented by an album download.

The people who download and delete, or the ones who never get around to paying anything? They weren't on board to begin with and they certainly aren't going to thank you for charging them for an experience they ultimately did not want to have. Besides: wouldn't you rather have a crowd of people at your show who want to see you?

Finally, even if you're not comfortable with giving away product for free - which is fine, because if nothing else you may very well need that revenue to get your merchandise made and your tour off the ground - if you think people are going to gravitate back to the complete out-of-whack pricing models the CD represents just because you hit them with a lawsuit you're as out of touch as the dying newspapers. People have tasted the future in music as much as they have with movies, pictures, and the written word, and the result is the same: we enjoy having as much choice as possible as often as possible. The people who figure out how to make money and make the art they want to make in this new world will be the ones who survive - and no amount of bitching will change that. Downloading isn't killing the music's reinventing it.

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