So someone told me that it’s more interesting when I talk about myself than when I talk about something else. I don’t know, though. These pages are just whatever’s going through my mind. I can’t say there’s a particular pattern or theme to it.
The cover story in Newsweek a while ago was about Napster and all that. Salon also had a story about it. I don’t know, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about Napster and the like.
First of all, it just makes me angry when the proponents of Napster and DeCSS (the program that lets you rip DVDs) defend themselves with the arguments of free speech. Hogwash. Whether or not it falls under “free speech” is arguable at best. But that’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is how they wrap their ignoble motivations in something truly noble, which free speech is. They could care less about free speech. They just want music and movies for free, and that’s all it comes down to.
Anyway, Dave and other people constantly say how the current strategy of the music industry, that of suing Napster, MP3.com, etc. is the wrong one. In their view, the industry is being shortsided, trying to stop something that can’t be stopped. What they should do instead, is try and find a way to work with it, maybe develop some new encryption standards for downloaded audio/video or whatever. That is, try to work within the new paradigm, instead of trying to destroy it, because that’s impossible.
I think that’s wrong. I’m convinced that this new paradigm, if it goes unchecked, will pretty much destroy the music industry. There is absolutely no way this new model will benefit the majority of artists. The standard line of MP3 and Napster is that it will actually bring more visibility to artists, so they’ll actually sell more records.
I don’t buy that. Artists don’t either. For the most part (do a search for stories about this on Salon), artists are against MP3 and Napster and all that; it’s taking away their livelihood. No one is using these things to learn about artists so they eventually buy an album. The trend is, they use these things so they don’t have to buy albums. The artists they’re supposed to help, the underexposed ones, are the ones this new system is hurting most.
I’m not just making this up. This year, albums sales hit an all time high. So you would think that things are all good. But if you look at sales in college towns, that is, areas where people are most likely to use MP3 and Napster and such, you find some interesting things. Sales of CD-Rs are up. But album sales are down considerably, which bucks the national trend.
I know, people said the same thing about when VCRs or cassettes came out. But it’s different. With these, you have to sacrifice something – namely quality. So it couldn’t take the place of the original. Now, the quality is very nearly the same. And it is taking the place of the originals.
So, I really think if this new music system goes unchecked, the music industry is going to go under. And I think this is ultimately bad for me. Like the current system or not, it’s the only way an artist can support him or herself. There is no way, if the current system goes unchecked, that artists will be able to survive. No one will support new artists; they just rip off the MP3s somewhere. That is not good. And very very few artists make money on tours. The vast majority of artists go on tour to raise awareness and popularity, to sell more items. Very few actually make money on tour. Anyway, if no artists survive, that’s bad for us.
Anyway, Dave says they need to work in the new paradigm, and not try to stop it, but I still disagree. I really think anything the industry tries to do will just be another DivX.
DivX was this alternative DVD format that was pushed by Circuit City and some other backers. It was essentially pay-per-view DVD. You buy DivX movies, and it’s pretty cheap, and watch it only once. If you want to watch it again, you have to pay, and the DivX player communicates through your phone line to do it. Or you can buy unlimited viewings.
The thing is, this idea was entirely driven for Circuit City’s benefit, not the consumer. Meaning, there was absolutely no demand for it on the consumer’s side. No one wanted anything like this. But Circuit City pushed hard for it because it was convenient for them. It’s something they wanted, not the consumer. I mean, I’m simplifying things a bit, but when it comes down to it, it failed because the consumer didn’t want it at all, and there were better options available. The point is, for something to succeed, it has to be attractive to the consumer, not just the seller.
When I hear about all these new streaming audio ideas, I just feel people are missing the point. The idea here is that for the industry to survive, they need to make an audio format in which they can profit. That’s why some are pushing different audio formats, ones in which for example the files are encrypted so you can only listen to it if you’ve subscribed and you can’t recopy, or stuff like that.
To me that’s DivX all over again. You have to look at the consumer side. I really think all these new formats will fail, because there is absolutely no reason any consumer would choose it. Why should a consumer choose a format in which they need to pay to be able to listen to it and can’t share with others, when there is already another format in which they can essentially find any song they want, for free? They won’t. I don’t care what kind of paradigm you have, there’s no reason why the consumer will choose it, in the current system, because there is no way it can be more attractive than using Napster and getting anything for free.
So, you can think of whatever system you want, but I’m telling you, there’s no compelling reason why it should succeed. And it won’t. As long as the current system is in place.
Anyway, since there’s no other system that’s a viable alternative, that’s why I think the music industry is right in suing Napster, and whatever. Dave and others are down on it, saying you can’t stop it and whatever. But I disagree. Even if you can’t stop it, it’s the right thing to do. There really is no other alternative, unless you want to go under, because name any other paradigm that leaves Napster et al. unchecked, and I can show you why it will not succeed. There is absolutely no reason why it should. So you have to sue Napster and all those places. Shut them down.
I’m not saying you can get rid of piracy altogether; I’m just saying it should be made as difficult as possible. So big “legitimate” outlets like Napster and the old MP3.com should not exist. People should have to search hard for it, like with warez sites and stuff like that. You can’t prevent it, but you should make it illegal. That’s my claim. Just like with bootleg tapes. You can’t stop it completely, but you have to make it as difficult as possible.
So actually what I really think is that downloading music is the future, and that’s something to be embraced. But it’s folly to think that some new standard is going to solve all the piracy problems today. And it’s wrong to think that trying to stop these sites is the wrong way to go. I challenge you to think of any possible music distribution paradigm that can succeed with the current means of getting music for free. It’s impossible, no matter how you have to look at it. So to survive, I think music companies have to go the downloading route while legally pursuing those sites that distribute music illegally (or make it possible to do so) so that it’s as difficult as possible.
Anyway, personally I don’t understand those idiots who think Metallica, Dr. Dre et al are foolish in suing Napster and stuff. I mean, I think it’s great for us, immediately, but there’s no way the music industry can survive if it continues unchecked, is my claim.