Friday, March 07, 2008

The endless discussion

This is something I initially started writing as a response to Mr Vegard Waske's article So, maybe File Sharing actually IS killing good music?
Since it became quite lengthy I decided to put it up on my blog instead.
You should read the aforementioned article as it is a well written argument for a worthy cause, and it makes my post seem a lot less like a random rant.

This is an interesting debate, which I've followed in several places. The last time was at, where I took the Industry in defence. This time however I would like to take the time and remind industry players of something they tend to forget in all their frustration: you are competing in a free market.

Yes, you're at a huge disadvantage facing piracy and the enormous "benefits" it presents for people who are willing to overlook the moral facts of the issue.

However, pointing a finger and alienating your potential customers is not the way to go. Take a lesson from almost every other industry and do what they do; adapt and make sure you meet the customers's needs and wishes. At the very least, you need to stop making "the dark side" look so damn attractive in comparison to what you offer.

The absolute wrong path to follow, is the one you were led down by the people who told you DRM was the way to go. As far as piracy metaphors goes, I'm pretty much sick of them all, but there's no way getting around some of them. I mean, would you buy a book, that you were only allowed to read in the living room? If you ever were stoopid enough to do so, I'm pretty damn sure you'd bring it somewhere else, even though it meant you were breaking the law. Why? Because back in the real world, in comparison to everything else we own (in this case even the same product just on a different media (CD)) it doesn't make any sense. We're not used to 'ownership' as a diffuse term in that way.

Thankfully it looks like DRM is soon to be a thing of the past. But at the same time one should break loose of the bitterness towards downloaders that has been built up in these confusing years. Embrace these potential moneygivers and meet them as far as possible on their terms. When you look at it from a business perspective, that's what everyone else does to survive... The customer is always right, remember?

Also, I get that artistic values versus commercial interests is an issue. But this also clouds everything up. Ultimately this comes down to money and in the marketplace, artistry and culture does not trump the reality of demand (or lack of if you will). So you don't want to “sell out” and license your tunes to a commercial, ok, but in the cold, hard reality of things, if you only want to make money from it a certain way, and not exploit all your options, well that makes it more of a hobby, and less of "job". That's just how commerce works.

On the subject of "hatred against the industry", an important thing to remember is that most people have no conception of what labels artists are on. You have to be more than averagely interested to know what label an artist belongs to, and even more interested to know if that is an independent label or not. Think about it, how many of your friends have problems just remembering what songs are called? Why is this relevant? Because when people read about "the record industry" suing 12 year old girls and poor old grandmothers for astronomical amounts of money, that builds up malevolence towards the industry as a whole. Call it ignorance, but it is a reality that everyone needs to deal with. Because if you keep alienating your potential customers, you will loose. Enflaming a war against your customers is never a good idea. If you wan't someone to direct your anger against, direct it at the key players who are shaping things today - those who are doing a poor job at it that is. For instance, be angry at the RIAA for suing your customers. Be angry at Apple for making their files so DRM infested that customers prefer the alternatives. Be angry at them for being two faced and hypocritical in the copyright issue.

What do I mean by this? Take a look at the iPod and iTunes. While iTunes sells your music with DRM and ok quality, they allow for playing of non-DRM material which is illegally downloaded from the net (which most of the time is better quality). So much for consistency. Think about it, the biggest iPod today carries 160gb of storage space. Could you fill that with your legally bought music collection?

If you want people to like you, take a stand, distance yourself from the people that are shooting the industry (because that means you as well) in the foot. The people will not educate themselves on this issue, and to be fair, it is unrealistic that they should. Let them know you are on their side. In my opinion, that will take you a long way. Think of it as a way of building customer loyalty, as opposed to customers meeting that grumpy salesperson, which they end up buying nothing from in sheer spite.

Now while you can choose to read my input as a pro-piracy post - really it isn't. I love music way too much to not give a shit about artists. It's just that, while I love my music, I also love technology and the way it makes my life easier. I love the fact that when I hear a song, I can instantly get it from iTunes. What I don't love is the fact that the song is confined to my phone and my computer, and that I can't play it on my Xbox 360 in the living room. And it's things like that which makes people look for alternatives, and you loose money.

It's two different ways of looking at a problem, you can focus on what everyone else is doing wrong, or you can take a look at yourself. Arguing and referencing statistics has ultimately no effect on people anymore in this issue. At least for people who have followed the evolution of this debate, statistics equals yada-yada, and people stop paying attention to them after a while.
For instance, when you mention that 35% of all online traffic is piracy related, I could quote you a TorrentFreak article that states that 50% of all torrent related (torrents being the #1 way of distributing pirated content) transfers consists of TV episodes. Music accounted for less than 20%, and if I throw in the old arguments of “a lot of music that is downloaded would never have been bought anyway” and “people find new music through downloading, which they actually buy at a later point”, and suddenly arguments seem to level out.
I have no interest of reaching a final answer to whom is right, and neither should the industry. It should focus on getting their shit straight, like any other business owner who’s having problems. That will help you a lot more than spreading fear, suing people for money or wanting to have the police locking up every other internet user – that is nothing but short sightedness, distilled into pure essence.

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