What Do People Really Want?. . .

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If you read the websites, one would think MP3ing and DVD-ripping were ideological, political acts.

There are certainly those who portray it that way, and most of what I’ve said on the subject has been directed towards those who do.

But I don’t think that’s really true for the vast majority of people doing this.

I don’t think most people really object to the concept of paying for music. They don’t object to paying, they just object to the current price.

I don’t think even most teenagers really object to the concept, either. They just object to going without when they don’t have anything to pay with. To me, there’s a world of difference between the sixteen-year-old saying, “I only get an allowance” and some thirty-something freeloader whose major contribution to life is returning CO2 to the atmosphere who decides he’s entitled to it. The first really doesn’t bother me all that much. What concerns me more is the first getting converted to loserdom by the second.

I don’t think most really buy into the ideology. They just go along with those people and mouth the slogans because:

  1. they sure sound a lot more on “their side” than the RIAA and

  2. there really hasn’t been any reasonable alternatives that would let them doing what they’re doing legally.

If there is a general belief out there, its basis is financial, not ideological.

What Do You Really Want?

This is what I think most people really want:

People Want To Pay For Just What They Want People complain about the high cost of CDs, but I don’t think they really object to paying $16 for a CD’s worth of music. They object to paying $15 and getting just one or two songs they’ll listen to repeatedly.

Objectively, there is an hour of music on the CD, but to the listener, there’s less than ten minutes. It’s like paying for a gallon of milk when you just want a pint. Subjectively, the listener isn’t paying $16 for a CD, he or she is really paying $8 per song.

Viewed that way, if I could sell you a CD with sixteen current songs you absolutely love for $32, objectively, I’m charging double for the same amount of music. Subjectively, though, I’m charging you just $2 a song rather than $8, so that’s a real bargain insofar as you’re concerned. You’re getting sixteen songs you want for $32 rather than the typical four for the same price.

Even fans of a band wouldn’t mind being able to opt out of the songs they don’t care for. It lets them stretch their music budget considerably.

That wasn’t practical five years ago, but it is now. No wonder people like that; it provides more bang for their buck, even if they had to pay for it.

People Want To Pay Less While many are pretty unrealistic right now about the actual savings from digital distribution, there certainly would be some. If nothing else, you won’t be paying the rent, heat and salaries of the record store.

Many view the record companies as evil price-fixing monopolists, and there’s some truth to that, if not to the degree people often think. Twenty-five years ago, you could have said that at least about long-distance and AT&T.

At that time, a few figured out how to steal long-distance calls. That did nothing to change the general situation. What did change the situation was the break-up of AT&T’s monopoly on long-distance, and this is where government has a proper role to play.

The market does not always give you feverish competition. Sometimes, that’s even a bad thing (imagine forty-two electric companies all laying out their own power cables). When that’s the case, it is best to regulate the companies involved in such situations so they don’t take advantage of their monopolistic power.

Some more savings could be derived by mandating competition. If record companies were mandated by law to sell digital rights to any company willing to pay for them, that would make price-fixing harder. If you really want to put the screws to the record companiesm, prohibit the record companies from selling directly to the public, and let a class of independent Web distributors negotiate the price, and again, anybody (outside of the record companies) meeting minimal requirements could get in.

If you really want to get wild and crazy, you could even end the record companies’ monopoly of a particular artist. Again, mandate a compulsory license to anybody willing to pay to put an artist’s recording out.

Steps like these would eventually bring prices down much more than stealing.

People Want To Be Their Own Program Director Radio stations play songs for people to listen to. Problem is, “people” don’t listen to radio stations, persons do. No “we,” just a bunch of “mes.”

You would rather hear songs you decide to listen to, in the order in which you want to listen to them, rather than what somebody else decides you should listen to. This applies to both radio and CD listening.

Again, this was not practical from either a radio or CD point of view in the past, but it is now.

Access Is More Important Than Possession Music is not like a house or a diamond. You really don’t want to own a thousand CDs or a ten thousand MP3s. What you really want is to be able to hear them whenever you like.

Up to now, that kind of music-on-demand has required possession. That’s no longer so at your base station, and maybe not for much longer even when you’re going mobile.

I think people would pay quite a bit for universal music-on-demand, much like they pay a fairly substantial amount for broadband. They may not ever buy another CD or even download another song again, but if the music industry got broadband-like revenue from you each and every month for universal music-on-demand selection (throwing in some downloads for the MP3 player for the price), who cares?

The Price Continuum Take a song, any song. If I asked a thousand people how much a song would be worth to them, I might not get a thousand answers, but I’d surely get more than one.

I know, in the past I’ve derided the notion of people deciding whether to pay or not. After giving it further thought, though, you could have some flexibility on how much you effectively end up paying for a song.

I suspect a large proportion of MP3s are songs that people don’t particularly crave, and certainly wouldn’t pay a lot for, but probably would pay a bit for.

One could easily come up with a download package saying “Buy and download ten current songs for $20, get another fifty from this list for just $5 more.”

Do People Really Want To Steal?

I think if people got all this, only the losers would keep talking about “freedom” and “rights.” If you got all this, would you really give a hoot about copy protection?

I think the answer from most people would be “No.”

Worried about a backup? That can be provided in a number of ways. Buy a song online, have your hard drive crash, just get a replacement from where you got the first one.

Listen to music on your computer, in your car, on your MP3 player? There’s nothing in the world that would stop passing a law to require places to sell you a “multi-pack” at a price nominally above the “single” price.

You’re concerned about the deaf being able to hear eBooks, or copying a few paragraphs from one? Just require that all eBooks talk, or allow .

The point to this is that there are very simple, pragmatic solutions to legitimate problems with copy protection. It’s not like theft is the only other option. All it takes is a little government and a few laws.

What would you rather do, pick locks, or walk through an unopened door?

Are you a kid with not that much money? Somebody enterprising will come up with youth rates.

You have to wonder, if I can come up with them after a little thought, why can’t the ideologues? Or is it a matter of them not wanting to find answer? And if that’s so, why?

Sure, the RIAA has an agenda, to make money. Ask yourself, just what agenda do those who apparently can’t think of anything other than the right to steal or the right to break and enter have?

A Glance At The Future?

Take a look at this.

I’m not saying, “This is the answer,” but doesn’t it get most of the way there?

Seems to me those forces of evil have bent quite a bit, haven’t they? Maybe not quite enough, but more than the other guys.

Changing The Black Hats

So often, this is being presented as an either/or. If you’re not for theft, you must be evil. 🙂

Folks, there’s a lot of middle ground between the two, though the music companies are certainly at least narrowing the gap.

What makes more sense, trying to narrow the gap even more, or following those who can’t come up with anything but “no laws for us?”

Many of you have told me over the course of time that you’re willing to pay a reasonable price for hassle-free, high-quality digital downloads. You’re willing to give the devil at least some of his due provided you can keep doing what you’re already doing. I suspect that if the record companies would bend enough for things like “multi-packs,” you’d bend, too.

And I think most wouldn’t have a problem with copy protection provided the provisions I’ve suggested were available, especially music-on-demand. Under those circumstances, only freeloaders would get frozen out.

And really, are you really on the side of those who think they’re entitled to take whatever they want without paying?

I think most of you want a fair deal, and if you were offered one, you’d take it.

The ideological freeloaders want no deal. They don’t want to see the system bend to accommodate the new possibilities; they want to see it break. They don’t want to pay or see others getting paid well.

Those of you who really are looking for a fair deal have found yourselves in the company of the ideological freeloaders, who are more than happy to use you as cannon fodder to bulk up their (relatively) puny numbers.

But you really don’t want the same things. It’s the difference between “I’m paying too much” and “People shouldn’t have to pay.”

This may not be so bad against an enemy that won’t budge, but this enemy is budging. If this keeps up, at what point do your idelogical freeloader allies turn against you? The minute the “enemy” starts sounding reasonable to you, they’ll turn on you.

Doesn’t it make more sense to pursue your interests rather than play stooges for theirs? Isn’t it time for reasonable people to speak out?

What do you think? Could you accept the kind of deal I’ve outlined above? If not, what would you accept?

You know where to find me. 🙂

Ed

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