We can get groceries on the Internet. We can also get books, medical advice and music. We can even get Advil Migraine formula dropped at our door within an hour of placing an order at Kozmo.com. These services may slowly take business from neighborhood stores, but nobody raised a fuss until an Internet-based delivery model started to take money away from music executives.
For those of you still going to the store for your CDs, the software program Napster lets computer users connect to other people on the Internet who a) have Napster installed, and b) have MP3s they're willing to share. Instead of going to one central location to find digital music, Napster lets people search for and download music files from whomever happens to be online at the time.
The Recording Industry Association of America has a problem with this, as do several artists. Napster has been the object of several lawsuits, and will probably be the object of many more.
So why hasn't Safeway sued Webvan for cutting out the middle-man? Bay Area bookstore Green Apple Books isn't suing Amazon for cutting out the middle man. And Kozmo doesn't have to give up its list of users who had Advil delivered. It's a free economy, and if a company wants to deliver Tampons using bike messengers, or books using UPS, that's their business model, good for them, right?
When the Internet gives us a new way of delivering music and entertainment, why do the entertainment companies line up to try to figure out a way to stop it?
Okay, I admit the way we are downloading music using Napster isn't just cutting out the middle man, it's cutting out the price, but Napster is hardly the first Internet tool to offer something for less than market value. Kozmo.com is delivering movies for free - I can go online right now, pick a movie I want to see and have it delivered to me in less than an hour. I have to pay about $1 more than I'd pay if I walked down to the video store, but I think it's worth it. I'm paying for technology to make my life easier so I can enjoy more of my hard earned free time.
So why hasn't the music industry embraced the idea of giving me the option to pay for technology to make my life easier? Why can't I go on Sire records web site, listen to clips of my favorite artists, see a video or two, then download an album to my hard drive? I'll pay for it. Not $13.99, but I'll pay for it. Instead of schlepping myself to Virgin Megastore, I can just pick out what I like, maybe insert some blank CD, and voila! A copy of my favorite music that I picked and paid for is here!
The advantage to this type of commerce lies in hard numbers: we would all be able to track an artist's popularity based on the number of downloads they've sold. The music industry, and the entertainment companies would know who really had the number one song, or what really is the best music video. The way it works now, that's not our decision, it's some no-talent suit who works for an entertainment company and decides how to spend marketing money.
Don't believe me? I used to work as a radio announcer. The big bands would show up and leave us all kinds of goodies to give away: CDs, concert tickets, even on-air interviews. Sometimes, record promoters would put together one of those "Summer Smash" band collections - you know, they line up 8 of your favorite new groups and do an all day performance.
Let's talk about that little guy. Where are his free CDs to give away to the local radio station? What about his free concert tickets, and his time for interviews? Oh, he can't give that away, that's how he makes a living. Until he is discovered, he's all on his own and everything he does comes from his hard work. Giving away his music to make him popular would probably be something he'd consider, so long as there was a payoff later.
Taking away money from the little guy, huh? That's what Napster is doing? What money?
"But those poor big-named artists will lose money when we download their music for free" is what people seem to think. Funny, sounds to me like they're already losing money on things like free CDs to give away or incentives for radio stations and staff to play the music.
Does this sound fair to you? The little guy busts his ass to make a living, and has this technology at available that could potentially change his life by making him known around the world. The big guy records an album and millions of dollars are spent to promote him get the music in your face - once he's discovered.
What if we could discover musicians on our own, without the assistance of radio stations and marketing budgets? What if we could decide who the popular band was? Doesn't that business model seem more fair? Think of it like this: when users are downloading a local band's MP3 half a million times, that previously unknown band suddenly gets some recognition.
Why not have the new guy submit his song to a "New Artist" section, and see how good he is? Let the people listen to it a few times, see if they like it, and if he's good, then let some business step in to represent and promote the artist's music. Don't websites become popular based on how much traffic they get?
I know if the content of Macworld.com was bad, people wouldn't come here. In fact, I know if what I wrote is any good (so does my employer) based on how much traffic my story gets. If people don't like my writing, then my traffic goes down. In radio, we gave out prizes and cash and hoped that our winners had Arbitron diaries and remembered us when they filled them out. But you never voted on which music you liked - that was a decision made by someone else, often not someone who was part of the local market.
If the recording industry continues to regard Napster and its model for distributing music as a problem, then there is no solution to the current problem. Truthfully, there really isn't a problem - it's evolution. The music marketplace is evolving. To quote my good friend Steve Fricke, change is something to be feared by those who are successful, change is something to be embraced by those who are not yet successful. I don't know about you, but I'm all set to start embracing the change.