- posted by Sudara on August 17, 2009 - 73 comments -
For those short on time, here’s the news: We have a new blog, hopefully more enjoyable to read.
For those with a few minutes, I want to tell you a bit of a story.
The other day, I crawled into bed and was flipping through the New Yorker magazine when I ran into an article by John Seabrook about the Music Performance Industry. (full article text requires login)
I began to read, comfortably getting drowsy and enjoying the article until I hit this quote:
With the collapse of the record business, as a result of piracy (album sales are almost half what they were in 2000, and, according to some surveys ninety-five per cent[sic] of all downloaded music is stolen), the business of selling live music has become the main source of revenue for the popular-music industry.
I sat upright in bed. I was very disturbed. For those who haven’t had their coffee yet, this is what just happened in that sentence:
- The record industry collapsed
- The collapse was due to piracy
- The collapse is proven by dropping album sales
- Piracy is the cause of this collapse because up to 95% of downloaded music is “stolen”
- Because of these industry-killing pirates, live music is now the #1 revenue source
What disturbed me the most is that the author is not (that I know of) a shill for the record industry, but an established writer from the New Yorker. I expected more.
So, I pulled my laptop in bed and began to write a letter to the editor. I couldn’t say all that I wanted, nor could I really get into details (you only get a few sentences), but here is what I ended up sending to them today:
I was disappointed that despite John Seabrook’s insights into the music performance industry, when it came to the recording industry, he seemed content to play the same broken record that the major labels play - attributing its collapse to piracy. Major labels largely failed to recognize the value and opportunity that the internet provided (it rendered the cost of distribution close to nil). They fell into a state of panic, suing customers, crippling their digital products (DRM) and generally acting in a protective manner hostile to their audiences. Definition of piracy aside (can you share what you own?) and the true effect of sharing music on record sales (many studies show it is has either no effect or a positive effect), the failure of the industry is more simply attributed to greed and lack of innovation in the face of a new technology. Fortunately, an increasing number of Artists see the changing landscape as an opportunity and have decided to bypass the industry altogether in favor of connecting directly with their fans.
If one were to take Seabrook’s quote and replace “piracy” with “inability to address the changing market due to the internet”, then everything would have been fine. Instead, audience members around the world apparently shoulder the blame for the poor poor industry and - oh, and anyone who shares music is a criminal. (Read up here for more history on the subject)
The author of this article should have gone to the trouble of googling “music sharing studies sales” and reading any of the studies that have been done that prove that “piracy” has either negligent or positive effect on sales, such as this, this or this.
Furthermore, album sales, though perhaps lucrative in the past for record companies, were rarely lucrative for the artist, even pre-internet. Another google search would turn up classics like Steve Albini’s early 90s article “The Problem With Music”. The Riaa testified to congress that 2 million records need to be sold before an artist would break even. Does this sound like a healthy business model, where less than 1% of artists in the system have a chance at making a decent living, and the rest are left in debt to their labels? And what about the tens of thousands of artists considered too risky?
People like music. Music is social. Sharing music with our friends is a deep part of our culture, and could never be controlled by corporations, even if it was contributing negatively to their bottom line, which it wasn’t. Music is simply too important to people. I’ve turned on countless people to new artists(as I’m sure you have), both on major labels and here on alonetone. Heck, when I turn on a friend to a new artist, I’m basically marketing on behalf of that artist - I’m converting my friend into a potential fan who will now/later be a recurring revenue source for that artist. Not many folks will drop $10-16 to buy an album from an artist they’ve never heard, but most folks (given that they have money) will spend the money at the drop of a hat to support an artist they like.
How could the record industry not see that digital distribution was one of the greatest marketing opportunities that they could possibly posses? I have no clue, but what I do know is that major labels have spent over 10 years fighting against their audience, their artists and technology itself. Simply put: They caused their own collapse. Musicians and Music lovers around the world deserve better.