July 30, 2003

More of a Comment...

This started out as a comment on I Fought the Law, but it got too long so I'm posting it here...

I find it interesting that some authors choose to release the rights to their books and allow them to be published online. Some musicians like that their music is shared online, although most are without big music contracts, making them either in need of the free exposure or just in control of their music enough to have a say. Why would anyone do such a thing? If their book or music is available online, they'll never make any money (which we all know is the entire "raison d'etre" for America and Americans) because everyone can get it for free!

We all know that, in this digital world, information is the product and free product will naturally grab more market share than (over)priced product. People want to read good/new books and listen to good/new music and, because the technology is available, they want to and can do it for free.

As with just about every new form of media, corporations were among those who helped to shape the nature and norms of internet use and the ideas that the world has about the internet. Due to their ability to invest tons of money on content, domain registration and social policy regarding the internet, corporations established the framework of what the internet is and how we think about it. They saw the opportunity to operate online stores in addition to physical stores - an idea reminiscent of the rise in catalogue distribution once it was technologically and economically feasible to transport goods to rural locations and the postal system was advanced and empowered enough to do so. They saw an opportunity to earn advertising revenue by selling extra space (or allowing pop-ups) to the highest bidder - similar to the gradual increase in the space newspapers and magazines have left for advertising over the years. Long and often multiple intro screens are rooted in the radio/television commercial, where the "consumer" is forced to sit/click through an advertisement of some sort, often an ad for the very site you're visiting.

As everyone discovered during the big dot-com crash, the ways past media has been (and still is) used for corporate success do not translate as well as companies expected them to. Technology has out-foxed the advertisers with programs that block/obscure ads and allow common people to make products that retailers hoped they would always be able to control available at low or no cost. Branding is also another past-media concept that has proven to be practically useless on the internet (not that I believe branding actually works in any context, but that's a MC issue), rendering online companies highly susceptible to market fluctuations and consumer spending trends, etc. Anyway, you'd think that companies that had pretty consistent online success or strong footholds in the real world would have learned their lesson from the dot-coms that didn't make it... the old business models do not work in the digital realm.

So, you can't force people to look at your ads, making your "ad space" worthless and you can't control your product, making it no longer worth your while to produce it. What do you do? Apparently, if you're the RIAA, you attempt to write the old business models into law, making that the moral and operational standard for our nation now and for years and years to come... although it has already been shown that it is impossible to maintain. What I think really needs to happen, isn't the creation of more laws that could possibly tread on civil liberties, "chill" "speech" or stifle technological innovation, but the creation of a new way of thinking about business, media/commodity exchange and the internet itself.

I think one of the fundamental mistakes corporations made from the very beginning was thinking too forward, too fast, so that what they ended up with was outdated before it's time - like Tomorrow Land at Disneyland... do I need some sort of trademark symbol there?). In their rush to colonize the digital world and please the consumers of tomorrow, they forgot that there's still a very real world out there with human customers that still remember, value and seek out information and products in the traditional way. True, people want fast, free downloads, up-to-the-minute information and lots and lots and lots and lots of porn, but people are still people... physical beings with 5 (not 6) senses that desire and value physical objects and need a variety of stimuli to receive real satisfaction. I'm not talking about the need for real sex/sex toys vs. watching porn or cyber sex, but about the fact that people do not only listen to music or read books. If the human experience of music and literature was only about those two verbs, yeah, the copyright holders would be screwed by the internet. Luckily for them, although they're too narrow-minded to see it, music is a thing that connects many parts of our lives and many senses to create a complete experience. This is just a fancy way of saying that in order to really enjoy music or to express your enjoyment of it, people will always seek out live performances, posters, CD liners and jackets designed by the artists, T-shirts, etc. In order to feel a connection with the artist or to show their appreciation of the music/artist, fans of music will never cease to purchase physical products and attend concerts. These kinds of experiences cannot be replaced by an mp3 download or a copy of a book I have to read on the screen or print out into a clumsy 8x11.5 book of my own. Some purists out there scoff at the idea, but I think that having an "official" or "real" copy of a CD, DVD or book will always hold value for consumers. Whether it's to build a nice collection, give someone a gift, or display enthusiasm for a work, people will continue to purchase copyrighted works, even if, and perhaps because, they've already obtained a free copy.

This brings me back the beginning, back to why anyone would allow their work to be freely distributed on the net. Exposure will lead to "real" sales. People will be able to fully "sample" the product and spread it around through word-of-mouth (file sharing, linking, etc.). If a product (CD or book or whatever) is actually good enough, interest in the group or author will grow, and fans will purchase the "official" copies and/or related products. This just means that the old recording industry/book publishing industry may become obsolete in the near future. The public will be the ultimate judge of what music is good and which artists are rewarded with fame and fortune, not random record execs and bullshit studies of past record sales. In the past, artists needed the big companies to create and distribute their music, but now that it's so easy and economically feasible to record music and distribute it on the net, both the production and distribution functions of the record companies have been usurped. I salute artists that have left their labels in order to promote themselves on the net. Perhaps they're not doing so well at the moment, but that's because it is not yet the norm. The music industry will make that next evolutionary step soon, whether it likes it or not.

0) $paginate_current_page = 0; $paginate_sections = array( 0 ); $paginate_top_section = $paginate_sections[$paginate_current_page-1]+1; $paginate_bottom_section = $paginate_sections[$paginate_current_page]; } else { $paginate_top_section = 1; $paginate_bottom_section = 0; } $paginate_self = '&' . $_SERVER['QUERY_STRING'] . '&'; $paginate_self = preg_replace("/&page=[^&]*&/", "&", $paginate_self); $paginate_self = substr($paginate_self, 1, strlen($paginate_self) - 1); if($paginate_self == '&') $paginate_self = ''; else $paginate_self = htmlentities($paginate_self); $paginate_self = basename($_SERVER['PHP_SELF']) . "?${paginate_self}page"; ?> Posted by Kristina at July 30, 2003 10:53 PM | TrackBack

Excellent post! In fact, have you thought about sending it to a few online tech culture magazines?

Posted by: Jacob at July 31, 2003 10:46 AM

Artists who put out their music online aren't going to look as impressive in terms of raw numbers, but they don't need to sell nearly as much to show a profit. When simply making a video can cost a band half a million dollars, gold records don't always translate into money for the artists. I think if it was an either/or thing, many bands would prefer a fan bought one of their t-shirts rather than a CD, since they see a lot more cash that way. Of course, they'd probably like it even better if fans bought a t-shirt AND a CD...

Prince does really well putting out music online, but he also owns his own recording studio and puts out three or four albums a year, and was famous even before he started doing it. Still, the online distribution model certainly sounds good in theory, and it *could* work - I'm just not sure it does yet.

Posted by: sean at July 31, 2003 12:14 PM

When I posted this last night, I lay awake for a while thinking to myself, "God, they're going to massacre me..." I'm not used to people agreeing with me.

Posted by: Kristina at July 31, 2003 01:21 PM