The Changing Face of the Music Industry

A topic of particular interest to me, as I wrote my undergrad thesis on this.

As you no doubt have heard, the music industry is facing tough times with the increasing popularity of downloading copyrighted content for free through use of peer-to-peer file sharing sites like The record labels are claiming cases of gross copyright infringement, saying their profits are being cut severely because their customers aren’t paying for the product they produce, which they call outright theft.

However, file-sharers and the online community claim innocence and are increasingly outraged at the extreme (and questionable) tactics being used by the major music companies to counter the file sharer’s activities, ie. large lawsuits, some of which have been to the order of several million dollars per offender.

Ever since the introduction of Shawn Fanning’s Napster in 1999, there has been a major shift in the consumer’s perception of ownership and intellectual property. Traditional copyright laws protect work using the notion of an author, a specific owner that produces an intellectual good. The notion of an author in a print-based society is linked to the gate-keeping process of publishing, which certifies content as something worth publishing in its market. Having moved from a print-based society to a digital era, technology has advanced to a point where non-professionals like myself are flourishing in a digital environment and producing a massive amount of free media content without the previously necessary approval of a publisher or editor. This means that anyone who wants to make content can do so very easily, be it worth reading/listening to or not. This redefines the concept of an author in digital medium, almost eliminating the term’s quality of ownership.

Wikipedia is a great example of this, a free encyclopedia open to and edited by anyone with access to a computer. Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and social media networks are other examples of free content published and shared and quoted throughout the web.

An entire generation is growing up using these resources as their normal, where in the past any information we needed was found in printed books through a library or store. Newspapers are becoming a thing of the past as more and more news is cycled through the internet for free. This new generation of tech-savy youths has been raised on the notion that if they need something, go to the internet. Couple that with a poor economy yet an increasing demand for music and you get digital piracy.

The argument that is currently being waged (and will be for some time) is whether or not media content can/should be free. Personally, I think that argument is irrelevant. Media content IS free, whether the producers want it to be or not. If they sue one person, ten thousand others will take their place and grab up the same product. This is called a “starfish” business model, which means that if you cut one part of a problem off and kill it, the rest will survive and grow just fine (The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. Good book about how digital piracy won’t be stopped by lawsuits and traditional “cease and desist” methods).

The simple truth is that no matter what record labels do to entice consumers to buy their digital wares, nothing beats “free.” Which means that the labels have to figure out how they can sell their products for free and still turn a profit. The answer to that problem is complex yet simple at the same time. The simple part is that artists will have to increase touring to compensate for a loss of profit from direct album sales. Touring already accounts for a large portion of the artist’s revenue and it’s an experience which can’t be pirated.

The more complex part of the answer is a business plan that uses strategic advertising to further compensate for lost album sales. For that, you need to read my thesis or talk to me for more detail.

That said, I do not condone theft of property, physical or intellectual. This article is not arguing that what’s happening is right, merely that it’s unavoidable at this point. The penny-pinching consumer has tasted “free” and has sunk its teeth in.

2 Responses to “The Changing Face of the Music Industry”
  1. Bob McEwen says:

    Nice abdridgment of your thesis, Ken. It will be fascinating for you to watch how this conflict plays out, and Nashville is a great observation point.

  2. Karen says:

    I loved reading the full version, your knowledge in this area really shows me the difference a generation makes – speeding along at a record pass (hmm, record – shows my generation):)

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