The Right to Life is reserved to Human Beings. Not to businesses. In a market economy, when a business fails to serve its purpose – i.e. generate revenue by selling a product or service to customers, it dies. This includes entire industries too. If you’re lucky enough to still be producing something that people want, and it’s just your business model that doesn’t work anymore, good for you – you don’t have to die. Just find a new busines model.
Technology changes, business models stop working, you move on.
Oh, wait, there’s another option. You can lobby for new taxation designed to keep your obsolete business alive.
TechCrunch (well, actully Reuters) reports that 80’s pop-star Prince (formerly known as The Artists Formerly Known as Prince) plans to sue a number of top websites, such as YouTube, for copyrights infringement.
Note this quote from Reuters:
“But it is believed to be rare for an individual artist of Prince’s stature to take on popular Web sites, while some up-and-coming performers actually encourage online file sharing to create a fan base and buzz around a record.”
It’s no wonder that up-and-coming performers encourage file sharing – they need to promote themselves in order to create an audience for their material.
Even no-longer up-and-coming artists promote their new material through file sharing.
However, if your fountain of creativity now has plumbing problems, and your new material isn’t any good (and you have to resort to tricks to promote it), then your best strategy is certainly to protect your income from the old material – which makes Prince’s move very logical (as it does Metallica’s prominent position in the ranks of file-sharing critics).
What we must ask ourselves though, is whether any of this makes sense for society as a whole. Preventing file sharing on copyrights grounds nowadays serves to secure more wealth to the already wealthy yesterday’s pop-star, while making it harder for new stars to emerge. It certainly does not “promote the progress of science and useful arts“.
This article from eMarketer shows that artists’ revenues from recording performance rights (i.e. payments by radio and TV stations) as well as synchronization licensing (i.e. the licensing of music for commercials, television shows, films and videogames) are growing fast. Together they totaled nearly $4 billion in 2006.
So while the recording industry, i.e. the people who sell CDs, is in trouble, the people who actually create music have many potential sources of revenue even if the end user isn’t paying for CDs.
A NY Times article by Tony Sachs and Sal Nunziato tells the story of the independent CD shop that they owned in Manhattan for 12 years, until it closed in 2005.
They are full of criticism for the major record labels, whom they blame for making all the wrong moves in the face of the file sharing revolution, mistakes that they claim have led to their shop going out of business.
It is an important read, that helps you realize how the revolution does not hurt just big faceless corporations or multimillionaire-but-still-gready musicians. It also affects small business owners, who lose the business that they had spent 12 years nurturing.
But as much as I share their loathing for the big record labels, Mssrs Sachs and Nunziato are plain wrong. The labels are not responsible for the demise of their shop, and rather than make mistakes, I believe that they soon enough realized where all this is going, and began fighting for their lives with all the tools at their discretion (basicly money, which is used to influence lawmakers and public opinion).
Sachs and Nunziato’s shop had closed because its many of its customers no longer had a need for it. It’s great that their staff, unlike Best Buy’s actually “knew who Van Morrison was”, but people now go to the internet for music advice. It’s fun to claim that Tower Records had “the entire history of recorded music under one roof”, but that claim is plain wrong, and in any case, we can turn to file sharing to really find any piece of music ever recorded, and searching for it is easier too.
They continue by claiming that “the customers who had grudgingly come to trust our opinions made the move to online shopping or lost interest in buying music altogether. Some of the most loyal fans had been soured into denying themselves the music they loved.” Come on guys, people don’t deny themselves of the music they love. Instead they have a much better source now, and they still spend endless hours browsing and building themselves a great collection, but it doesn’t cost them money.
They end by saying that “the occupation we planned on spending our working lives at is rapidly becoming obsolete. And that loss hits us hard — not just as music retailers, but as music fans.” Again, while it’s heart wrenching that someone’s life creation is becoming obsolete, you can’t stop technology. Too bad that you share your lot with the buggy drivers, but that’s life. You can’t blame the major record labels for this. Change is an inevitable part of our world, better learn how to handle it. Finally, we should also keep in mind that recorded music, the basis for the CD shop business (the entire music business actually), was enabled by a technological advance. Some times these advances are good for you, some times they’re not.
Finally, as self-described “music fans”, these guys should be happy with the change. What it really means is more music in the hands of more people. Business has nothing to do with it.