Despite their slowness to adopt new technologies and business models in the internet age, I’ve still found myself mostly on the side of the record companies when it comes to the file-sharing debacle. The grounds for my position have been both legal and moral: Legally, the record companies own the rights to music that is created, produced and publicized as a result of their investment (no one forced artists to sign with record companies, and if you go that route, then they control your music for the most part)…and morally, because it’s wrong to steal. And file sharing is theft…no matter what fancy semantics or logic you attempt to employ to argue otherwise. And besides, I would argue: the record companies are getting better. Just look at iTunes, Amazon, Walmart…for 88 cents to $1.29, you can buy a decent copy of virtually any song…and that’s a lot better than the way things used to be.
Of course, the waters are always muddied somehow. Many songs are not available online yet (inexcusable) and many people still steal just because they can (inexcusable). But, though these problems are inexcusable…at least, there’s SOME kind of twisted logic involved. I can’t say the same for my most recent experience with a record company…a company apparently determined to cut off its own nose to spite its face.
I recently went to see the second Narnia movie, Price Caspian. I enjoyed it a great deal. In fact, it was better than I expected…far superior to the first one. And another nice surprise came at the end of the movie. A sweet little pop song performed by Regina Spektor, titled The Call. It’s fresh and sweet…a perfect ending to the movie, but also just a great little song all on its own. This is the kind of thing that I would want on my iPod to listen to again and again.
So, being the law-abiding citizen that I am, I went to iTunes to buy it…only to discover that the geniuses at Disney (a company for whom I lost my last shred of respect long ago) had done it again…they had made the album’s three “singles”…in other words, the only three cuts that weren’t typical soundtrack instrumental filler-music…available for purchase not as individual tracks, but only with the purchase of the entire album…for 10 bucks.
Now, I like the song. I’d gladly pay $1.50…even $1.99. But, there’s no way I’m shelling out 10 bucks for it. So, let me ask: Who’s the loser here? Well, certainly I am. And so is anyone else who wanted to buy this song…or the Switchfoot song (while I like them a lot as a band, this particular song didn’t catch my attention). But I still won’t go steal the song via Limewire (and yes, it’s on there), as a matter of principle. Nor will I bow to the record company’s unreasonable demands for those who want to buy the song (that’s a matter of principle, too). And I’m hardly alone…as of this writing, the soundtrack has 952 comments posted…and without reading more than the first few, I can predict that most of them are regarding this lame policy. That’s a LOT of lost sales.
But here’s what’s much, MUCH worse. Instead of making whatever portion of 99 cents or $1.29 a record company makes from an iTunes track download, they make ZERO on a no-sale…AND they go out of their way to show me that they don’t want my business (that my dollar is so worthless that they’d rather I keep it)…and that the smartest path to get what I want is to go steal it. In addition to creating ill will, they have also reinforced the very lifestyle from which the RIAA is spending tens of millions trying to steer people away.
This is inexusible, indefensible, manipulative greed. And it’s bad business. And despite the fact that record companies have rights…even the right to be stupid…and despite the fact that they’ve played a vital role for good in the music business over the last 50 years (and plenty of bad as well…you don’t have that kind of power without it leading to frequent abuse)…I’m slowly being dragged over to the side of the crowd that eagerly anticipates the death of all major labels within the next few years.
I’m not sure exactly what will replace the major labels. But it’s hard to believe that anyone can be much denser than the Disney company has been in this matter.