Shame The Thieves or Fix the Music Model

David Lowery wrote a piece on how downloading music is hurting musicians (which is a response to Emily White's piece on admitting to not buying music). Here is my response.

Music is a really interesting "product," especially when distributed digitally for $0.001 cents per download (that's my snarky guess at the production costs of a download: bandwidth, storage, etc). The real production costs are for the time put in by the artist, studio fees, and creativity. Besides the creativity part, that formula sounds a little bit like the FDA drug market, right? It costs about $0.001 cents to manufacture a pill so the hefty price tag goes to recoup the money spent on drug research. Or does it? Pharmaceuticals is a messed up industry.

I think where the article falls short is it brushes off this "'Net neighborhood" where "everything is free" as if it doesn't really exist -- the real question is this: how much is music worth? As with any market it's only worth as much as someone will pay for it. Digital data, by its nature, wants to be free. Digital storage technology was invented to make data more transportable. To say that digital data has a value is going against its nature. What's worse is that everyday it evolves a little more (networks get faster, hard drives get cheaper), making data even more free. I don't think the article properly addresses that problem; downloading music is not the same as looting a neighborhood record store at all.

I don't always agree with Paul Graham but I found his assessment of this dilemma relevant. It went something like this: If we colonize the moon where there is no oxygen, oxygen could be sold as a product. You could probably even sell odors like delicious pizza smell. However, you cannot sell pizza smell on earth because anyone can just walk by their favorite pizza parlor and get some smells for free.

The morality debate is a good one to have but ultimately, morals aside, easy access to free music is what today's music market is up against. It is currently losing and the battle will wage on. We could shame people into stopping their behaviors or we could think of new ways to generate revenue for artists. I think the latter is more productive.