The Rambler :: blog

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Download schmownload 

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Just wanted to add my two penn'orth to Woebot's download ethics dilemma (without getting lost in the growing list of comments, natch). Really, the thing to remember when having discussions of this sort is that it is always the artists who we should be thinking about. They're the ones who do all the work, they're the ones who do stuff no one else can or has thought about; they're the ones who excite us. But it's almost always the record companies who do the complaining: we have to be absolutely precise about distinguishing the two. The problem that the record companies complain about is one entirely of their own making, I believe. They made fatal errors of judgement 5 or so years back when they decided that the net was the enemy, and not potentially their greatest asset since the 7". By doing this, they made enemies, and put a potential 'conspirator' tag over the head of every using the net who likes music; which is ah, everyone. So now everyone thinks 'sod them', why should I listen to someone who would rather call me a criminal than a listener who gains enormous pleasure from their products. And isn't everyone, twinges of guilt notwithstanding, secretly happy to be getting one over on the bad guys by listening to free downloads, right?

Of course, people can, and do, pay for their downloads; an industry initiative (quick! bolt that door! the horse has only got 5 years' head start on us!) that simply takes the mick. I mean, c'mon. Aside from the fact that these sites are working on an exchange rate that means 99 US cents = 99 pence (er..., anyone else feel loved?), since when did an MP3 cost the same as a CD track? You have negligible storage, shipping, marketing, packaging, manufacturing, sales costs to consider, you can put your entire back catalogue up for sale at once, and yet somehow it still costs the same to get the raw data direct from the source as it does to troop down to Tower, where you also get a nice inlay booklet and something to read on the tube home. So, incredibly, while trying to catch the wave of people who'd rather buy virtual than buy real, they've actually made MP3s look the less attractive option, since you actually get less for your money. If they were serious about selling MP3s, they'd cost maybe 20p a track. Half that could go straight to the musicians (and they'd still be better off than they are), and the record company would still make money. And then, people would start to download tracks in huge numbers. I'd take an album a day probably - about 7 or 8 times as much music as I buy at the moment, and about 20 times as much as I buy new, rather than from MVE, or charity shops, so they'd make a killing off me for a start; and I can't be the only one.

And those twinges of guilt, anyway. Look at what people feel guilty about: they feel guilty about hurting the artists' pockets. An argument that is the record companies' own first line of defence - and a pretty flimsy one at that. Of all the artists with records available at the moment, how many really make a decent living from them? I mean really? 1%? Less? Even the really big guns, like the Stones, say, make all their money from touring. Those who make proper money from royalties must be minute - and then most of them through advertising/film/TV syndication. Album and singles sales put practically nothing in the pockets of artists themselves; and look at the size of the industry they support. Hmmm. Is criminalising millions of people around the world really the only way EMI, Warners and the rest of the majors can think of to support their artists better?

Not paying artists for what they do is bad, downloaders are not the ones doing the real damage.

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