Commentary: I honestly don't think my peers and I will ever pay for music albums

Emily White, National Public Radio's All Songs Considered blog, 6/16/12

I'm almost 21 and since I first began to love music I've been spoiled by the Internet. I am an avid music-listener, concertgoer, and college radio DJ. My world is music-centric. I've only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs. I wish I could say I miss album packaging and liner notes and rue the decline in album sales the digital world has caused. But the truth is, I've never supported physical music as a consumer. As monumental a role as musicians and albums have played in my life, I've never invested money in them aside from concert tickets and t-shirts. But I didn't illegally download (most) of my songs. A few are, admittedly, from a stint in the 5th grade with the file-sharing program Kazaa. Some are from my family. I've swapped hundreds of mix CDs with friends. During college, I spent hours [at] my college radio station, ripping music onto my laptop. If my laptop died and my hard-drive disappeared tomorrow, I would certainly mourn the loss of my 100+ playlists, particularly the archives of all my college radio shows. But I'd also be able to re-build my "library" fairly easily. If I wanted to listen to something I didn't already have in my patchwork collection, I could stream it on Spotify. As I've grown up, I've come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. I can't support them with concert tickets and t-shirts alone. But I honestly don't think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience. What I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices. With this new universal database, everyone would have convenient access to everything that has ever been recorded and performance royalties would be distributed based on play counts (hopefully with more money going back to the artist than the present model). All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?


Response #1: Letter to Emily White

David Lowery, The Trichordist blog {"Artists For An Ethical Internet"), 6/18/12

Emily, my intention here is not to shame you or embarrass you. I believe you are already on the side of artists and you are just grappling with how to do the right thing. I must disagree with the underlying premise of what you have written. Fairly compensating musicians is not a problem that is up to governments and large corporations to solve. It is not up to them to make it "convenient" so you don't behave unethically. (Is it really that inconvenient to download a song from iTunes?) "Small" personal decisions have very real consequences, particularly when millions of people make the decision not to compensate artists they supposedly "love". And it is up to us individually to examine the consequences of our actions. It is not up to governments or corporations to make us choose to behave ethically. Having said that, I also deeply empathize with your generation. You have grown up in a time when technological and commercial interests are attempting to change our morality and principles to fit technological change - if a machine can do something, it ought to be done. Your [blog post] clearly shows you sense something is deeply wrong. I want to commend you. I also want to enlist you in the fight to correct this outrage. The questions your generation gets to answer are these: Why do we value the network and hardware that delivers music but not the music itself? Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?   Why do we gladly give our money to some of the richest corporations in the world but not [those] who create music?


Response #2: False choices about 'free culture'

Kelson Vibber, K-Squared Ramblings blog, 6/18/12

The Trichordist's open letter about the ethics of file sharing is a great read from the artist side of the fence, but mixes up several issues. He starts off saying that Emily White seems to have succumbed to "false choices" presented by "Free Culture," then goes on to present his own false choices, somehow managing to characterize rampant piracy, Creative Commons, and the tech industry as if they're all the same thing. The issue is not simply "pay for everything" vs "take what you want because you can." Among other things it's about recognizing that distribution channels have changed, so business models must as well. It's about trying to come up with a system that doesn't put unnecessary roadblocks in place. It's about enabling those who do want to share their art in different ways to be able to do so easily. It's also about recognizing that technology does change the legal landscape. If you want to make music and I want to listen to it, I'm happy to pay you for it. But I don't want to have to pay separately to listen to the same music on my home sound system, on my computer, on my phone, and in my car because your publisher has decided to put DRM in place that makes it difficult for me to move that music around. Technology has presented us with new ways of distributing art. Something like Pandora or Spotify would have been impossible before broadband internet. So let's find ways to make it work for everyone instead of characterizing everything that isn't pay-per-song as no better than looting.


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Commentary: If young people won't pay for Facebook, why would they for news?

Mike Masnick,, 5/29/12

We've been arguing about the long-term problems with paywalls for quite some time now, but more and more newspapers insist that they're "the answer." Of course, they seem to be asking the wrong question. They may be "the answer" to "doing something" in a desperate attempt to slow down people dropping their paper subscriptions, but they're not a long term solution by any means. Beyond the fact that limiting the ability to share or link people to your content takes away significant value, we've also mentioned that it merely opens up a huge opportunity for others to step into the market and replace you. Newspapers don't seem to think this is a real problem, but they are vastly underestimating the threat. I haven't seen it explained quite as clearly or in such perfect terms as longterm newspaper man John L. Robinson in explaining why paywalls are like "using band aids on a bullet wound". Robinson points out that young people today -- such as students -- admit that they're addicted to Facebook, and spend a ridiculous amount of time on the site. But if Facebook put up a paywall of about $10/month (not out of the ordinary for newspapers), they'd find alternatives:

I asked my class of 20-year-old Elon University students how many were on Facebook. All 33 raised their hands. Many of them suggested they were addicted to the social network. (It was all I could do to keep them off Facebook during class.) I asked how many would pay $1 a month for Facebook membership. All raised their hands. "Five dollars?" I asked. A few dropped out. "Ten dollars a month?" I asked. Nearly every hand stayed down. "No one?" I said. "I thought you guys were addicted?" A student piped up with an explanation: "Someone will invent something else to take its place that is free." I shared this anecdote with a newspaper executive when we were talking about newspaper paywalls. I said that if people wouldn't pay for Facebook, they wouldn't pay to get through a newspaper paywall.

Robinson then notes that the exec he told this to was dismissive because his students "aren't our readers anyway". But they are the next generation, and any publication that plans to have a future might want to think about what gets them interested... not what sends them running to find alternatives.

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