The RIAA, ISPs, File Sharers & Slumping Music Sales

I recently read an article on FoxNews.com about the RIAA pushing ISPs to cut off Internet access to their customers if they are accused of “illegal” file sharing three times. Note that I wrote accused of illegal file sharing, not proven to have illegally shared files. Scary.

Article link: http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_story/0,3566,510283,00.html

Since the days when Napster changed the way music is distributed online, the music industry has been trying its damnedest to un-ring that bell. Sorry folks, Pandora’s Box has been opened and you can no longer keep that much of a stranglehold on music. The music industry has never been about the music. It’s always been about controlling how that music was marketed and distributed and those days are long gone. Instead of adapting to this new frontier in the late 1990s and continuing to earn revenue, they chose to ignore the Internet distribution model and tried to sue Napster out of business. That only lead to the birth of other file sharing services such as Lime Wire, Gnutella, Bear Share, and many others.

The music industry response to the many different file sharing services was to start suing individuals for obscenely large amounts of money for the relatively few songs found on individual hard drives. Most people can’t afford the legal services required to go up against such a huge entity (which is exactly what they counted on) so they would settle out of court for amounts much less than the original number bust still grossly disproportional to the cost of a physical CD. Nice way to generate revenue when CD sales slump. That lasted longer than it should have. An individual finally fought the case instead of settling so they are now changing strategies again to try and maintain their outdated business model. This is where the ISPs come in. ISPs in most markets stand to lose customers if they cut them off so it is my hope that they will tell the RIAA where to go and how to get there. Common sense would dictate that since most markets have competition that this would be a no-brainer but we can already see where common sense has lead this issue.

I am of the opinion that music sales are down for two reasons. (1) The price of a CD is not proportional to the costs associated with its production. The music industry promised when CDs were first introduced that the cost would go down once they “recovered their costs” from introducing the format. When people started replacing their entire 8-track/record/cassette collections, it was a windfall that the industry expected to last forever. It had to taper off at some point. They still haven’t adjusted that model. (2) People in general are not interested in “cookie-cutter” type of music. When was the last time an act got discovered and got the publicity they used to? Now, the industry prefers to churn out acts that fit a specific mold designed to generate as much revenue as it quickly can. You seldom see new acts last more than one or two albums before they’re written off by the industry.

OK, I’ve said my piece. Feel free to debate and provide feedback in the comments below. I expect that you will be civil with your comments.

Disclaimer: (1) I am not telling you that I think it’s OK for you to download music without paying for it. It costs real money to write, record and distribute music. That’s worth something. (2) There are those who will never pay for music now that it’s so readily available online. There’s nothing you can do or say that will change their position.

Share on Facebook

9 Comments


  1. //

    Hi Allen:

    Well-written article. I remember in 1994, when I received my first PC, Napster was FREE and downloading songs was a magical experience. I was just learning the computer and downloading free music. I strike a balance at this point, 15 years later: I download audio/video that is not commercaily available; I download audio/video that commercially available and purchase a legit copy that remains unopened. Weird, but this justifies (in my mind) my downloading habits and I can sleep at night. The artist gets paid, as per your disclaimer #1.

    Adam


  2. //

    also out of 16 tracks maybe 3 are good.not much bang for your buck there is it


  3. //

    adam stuart :Hi Allen:
    Well-written article. I remember in 1994, when I received my first PC, Napster was FREE and downloading songs was a magical experience. I was just learning the computer and downloading free music. I strike a balance at this point, 15 years later: I download audio/video that is not commercaily available; I download audio/video that commercially available and purchase a legit copy that remains unopened. Weird, but this justifies (in my mind) my downloading habits and I can sleep at night. The artist gets paid, as per your disclaimer #1.
    Adam

    Yea, most that download music just want the music on there PC, and that was/is the eazyest way to do it. Outside Itunes these days.


  4. //

    I live, therefore I download for free ;P


  5. //

    These days I offer my music for free as downloads, and hope someone will throw something into the electronic “hat”. (I actually have a photo of my porkpie hat upside down with money in it, on my website. You can donate thru PayPal.) I have tunes for sale on iTunes and CDBaby.com has a couple of my CDs available. Every once in awhile I get a payment from them.

    I’m not sure the free, or give what you want, method is the way to go. However, I know people like the music — if the thousands of views on YouTube, plays on MySpace, etc are an indication. However, my sales have fallen to such a low level that I figure there’s nothing to lose. (Back in the 1990s I sold a lot CDs as an indie. Even got written up for it in Newsweek magazine.)

    It still costs me money to record, as I generally hire a recording studio for a few hours, and the (acoustic) band and I gather around a microphone and lay down the tracks “live”. It’s almost like the old field recordings that Alan Lomax made. (Well the quality is better, but you get my drift.)

    Anyway, the record company model is dead. The commodification of music was 20th century phenomenon. Previous tom the 20th century, music was a service provided live. Now, I’m not sure what works. But I’ll keep make music, regardless.

    So, until I change my mind, or my “business plan” (haha), you can download my music for free and donate what you like. I never did much busking before, but it kind of feels like electronic busking.

    uke jackson
    http://www.ukejackson.com


  6. //

    It sounds like you haven’t spoken to enough musicians. Most musicians don’t break a profit on the first 1000 album sales, if the costs of equipment, recording, mastering, line art, and the CD itself is included, especially if they go through a distributor. And we assume that they sell that many. In fact, most don’t ever sell even 1,000 CDs.

    On your second point, there’s tons of music out there, hundreds or thousands of new albums a week are produced in many more styles than you can possibly imagine or listen to in your lifetime. In fact, there’s enough great music in many styles that if no one wrote a new song and just recycled existing songs, people wouldn’t suffer at all and we wouldn’t run out of “new” music to hear. Don’t believe me. Go to last.fm.

    “New acts” don’t get on the radio, at least not on the stations most people listen to. Wealthy, well connected acts get on the radio; the ones everybody hears. “New acts” don’t “get” publicity like they used to, if they ever did. They pay for it to the tune of $1000-$2000 a month for a publicist whose job it is to get publicity.

    It’s no wonder most acts don’t produce more than 2 albums. After doing that a couple of times, you think maybe it’s not worth the aggravation, because you certainly aren’t making a living out of it.

    The biggest problem for musicians is anonymity – an empty room.
    The biggest problem for fans is an excess of choice.

    Cathy


  7. //

    Good article. I agree with everything you have said, and I am glad that you made the disclaimer that it is NOT ok to download music without paying for it, from a legitimate company that is going to compensate the aritst.

    Now as for you 2nd disclaimer: “There are those who will never pay for music now that it’s so readily available online. There’s nothing you can do or say that will change their position”.

    True: But that still doesn’t make it right. And that still doesn’t mean that something shouldn’t be done about it.

    Now here is my disclaimer: I have no love for the RIAA. The Record industry got itself into this mess because of greed and short sightedness. I do not beleive that sueing customers is the answer.

    But having said all that, Something needs to be (and should be done), and I would like to ask you what you think could be done?

    I realize that no solution will ever stop everyone. Having laws against car theft, doesn’t stop everyone from breaking into your car, having anti theft devices doesn’t mean that no one will break into your car, but they are both deterrents and they both keep your car from getting broken into down to a minimum.

    Since most people who illeagally download aren’t going to be honorable (IE: I just want to see if I like it before I buy it). So the honor system needs to be enforced or replaced with deterrents.

    What your thoughts Big Al?


  8. //

    I think we should go back to recording on vinyl…It sounds alot better and warmer..


  9. //

    I agree with Cathy, all of your artists from the 60’s to now. Turn the buck with live shows, Even more so than now, look at Godsmak. They have been around for 10 years, but only have 4 real cds out and a best of cd. And Slipknot have been going for 12 to 13 year and only have 5 real cd and one live cd, but the bust balls live, and have been for over 10 years. And there many more out there I can and will list if need be.

    Hell that is how the Beatels made it big. And the rest fowllowed. So downloading song only hurt the big companies like Sony, and all the others. For the bands make there money more so now days than ever with live shows

    And I have use the online downloading of music to see if I like the band and if I do I buy the cd. And I still do that, but I don’t download anymore, to much shit can fuck your computer. So I youtube it now. I found the Binges on there I I will be buying there CD and you should to!!!!

    They still use vinyl Chuck just hard to find, but the plastic sub has the same feel.

Comments are closed.