I recently had a lengthy discussion with my Rabbi talking digital media and more specifically on content piracy. One area we focused on was about people’s awareness of right and wrong, and their tendency to do wrong, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Many have conjectured that consumers would stop “stealing music” if there were “better systems” in place to buy it and use it legally. At this point, I think it’s fair to say the systems are there, and they aren’t really working.
First, to stop a counterpoint in its tracks – I know iTunes sells a bunch of music to a lot of people. Even Steve Jobs himself stated that Apple estimates about 3% of music (max) on iPods is purchased, leaving 97% ripped or copied/downloaded. When I did a music survey several months ago, over 60% of the people who completed it acknowledged a peer-to-peer download within the past 30 days. Let me repeat: 2 out of 3 people are actively illegally downloading content.
Over the past month I’ve randomly been asking friends and strangers the following questions:
- Do you download music that you don’t pay for?
- Is that wrong?
- Would you walk into a Best Buy and walk out with a CD without paying for it?
In almost every case, the answers are, predictably, YES, NO, and NO. Interestingly, there’s no reason to ask people if shoplifting a CD is “wrong” – they know the answer to that one. More importantly is the focus of the second question and the corresponding response. People today, in general, do not believe the act of downloading or copying music files is wrong.
Marc Cuban has some excellent thoughts on the future content, including this one (source):
Can the music industry be saved ? Yep. It would be so easy its scary. Make music available anywhere and everywhere.
In my eyes, this isn’t nearly enough. If people don’t think of it as wrong, then the problem the music industry faces is deeper than availability, access, DRM, synching, devices, mobility, PCs, iPods, or anything of the sort. The problem is morality can’t be spun. Morality is exceptionally hard to market.
Consider the cases where the RIAA has prosecuted college students (and others) for peer-to-peer sharing. Without fail, bloggers and even mainstream media tend to leap to the defense of the sharer, rarely to the side of the RIAA. Deep in the hearts and minds of modern technology culture, there is a belief that sharing music files isn’t wrong.
My suggestion to the industry at-large is two-fold:
- Publishers/Labels: Enjoy sales why they last, but intensely build out ad-supported models. Figure it out, and do it soon. There should be plenty of money to keep publishers and producers in business. Also, while you are at it, stop throwing money at sensationalist acts that are only good for a track or two – it is a model that has led to the problems you face today. Focus on spreading your promotional and development budgets much wider across many genres and acts.
- Artists: Continue to focus on the live shows. It’s fairly accepted that that’s how you make most of your money anyway, so work on deals that heavily emphasize your touring and live revenue. Also, figure out how to do live streaming for micropayments, and enable a revenue source from a fan base you can’t otherwise touch.
I could probably come up with another dozen or so models that would work, from unlimited subscription plans to “donation” options. At the end of the day, when they say “if you can’t beat em, join em” it’s time to realize that there is a massive groundswell of people who do not, cannot, and will not accept the concept that music sharing is wrong. No number of lawsuits or failed DRM experiments is going to change that, nor cleverly phrased advertisements at bus stations.