Back when I wrote an article about what theoloogical educators should learn from Napster, I noted the music oligopolists’ efforts to suppress the file-sharing network. Even back then (while the original Napster was still going strong) it seemed clear that if someone shut down Napster, other modes of file-sharing would supplant it. First was Napster; after that we got Kazaa; now we have torrents; if someone suppresses torrents, coders will write something else.
The same applies mutatis mutandis to online music sales. The captains of industry have deployed their masterminds against iTunes (“We don’t need you, Steve!”) and their phalanxes of lawyers against grey-market Russian online music store Allofmp3.com. At their behest, various online payment agencies have refused to transfer payments to Allofmp3, so that would-be users have to work out arcane contortions to buy music from the Russian source (if it can be done at all). At the insistence of music inndustriallists, Russian entry into the G8 was contingent (in part) on the Moscow government shutting down Allofmp3.com. Sure enough, the music service was declared illegal, Russia joined the free market, and everyone but Allofmp3 subscribers were happy.
Allofmp3 kept up their fight, but apparently transferred all their assets (site design, tracks, user accounts) to a new address, mp3sparks.com. The address is different, but the essential look-and-feel are the same. I reckon the RIAA and their pals are working to shut down Sparks, too. Meanwhile, though, the Russian courts have shown a degree of independence from their trade negotiators and ruled that Allofmp3 complies with all relevant Russian laws, so the original site has announced that it will resume operations — assuming customers can figure out some way to pay them.
All this time, of course, P2P networks and torrents have been going strong.
What of it? Several things. First, the fact that people will persist in trying to get through to Allofmp3 demonstrates that a great market segment would rather pay for music downloads than seek them from the dark net. iTunes overcharges; P2P involves some infection risks and general nuisances. The Allofmp3 business model actually works, offering users reasonably-priced downloads in their choice of quality, without DRM. And instead of learning from and emulating the operation of the free market, the music industry allots its resources to criminalizing potential (and actual) customers, lobbying policy-makers, and concocting outlandish advertisements to dissuade impressionable youth from downloading from any questionable source.
What if, instead of this losing effort to keep the tide of technology from rising and falling, the industry cooperated with Allofmp3, treating it as a sort of marketing lab?
This is on my mind because we left our CDs — the digital recordings we wanted most and bought first — back in Illinois, and I didn’t spend hours ripping every one of them, of course, so now when I think it would be great to listen to “Born to Run,” I remember that it’s back home and I don’t have access to it. If digital downloads were intelligently priced, I might just say “Oh, forget it,” and buy downloads of selections I miss. It’s a different business model, but time will show that it’s a viable model. In the meantime, the Princeton Public Library has a large collection of CDs; and the record companies don’t profit a cent when I borrow them.