How to stop illegal music downloads? Charge 1p
Record labels are to sell music as soon as it’s released on radio. Genius! Now how about charging a sensible price?
This week, two of Britain's biggest music conglomerates - Universal and Sony - launched their latest idea to stop illegal downloading. It is, by far, the most sensible thing a major record company has done since the industry took Napster and embarked on their doomed policy of criminalising music fans.
Here it is: they are going to make singles available to buy at the same time as they are released on the radio.
It sounds so obvious. You hear a track you like on the radio, you want to add it to your collection, you go and buy it. But until this move the final step in that chain was impossible due to the music industry's chosen practice of supplying radio and TV with new music a month, or sometimes even more, ahead of release in order to build hype.
That system may have worked in the past but today it is a non-starter. Today, you hear a track you like on the radio, you want to add it to your collection, you go online and download it for free.
The second a song is played on radio someone somewhere will make an MP3 of it and post it online on a hosting site or on YouTube. A simple search and it's yours. At least now, record companies are giving people the option to buy a new song they just have to have. But one can't help feeling that the horse has already bolted. In fact it bolted about a decade ago, so closing that stable door now is a bit pointless.
Chief Executive of Universal Music David Joseph said: "Wait is not a word in the vocabulary of the current generation. It's out of date to think that you can build up demand for a song by playing it for several weeks on radio in advance."
Well, hallelujah and welcome to reality.
The phenomenon of wanting to own something as soon as you hear it is nothing new - long before the internet people were taping songs off the radio. What's incredible is that it has taken the old music industry behemoths so long to realise this simple truth about being a music fan.
One cannot escape the feeling that they are still closing their eyes and hoping the internet and illegal downloading will just go away.
That young people will break the habit of their entire entertainment consuming lives and start paying for everything they listen to. Sorry, but it isn't going to happen.
Personally, I really hope that this move works and that it simultaneously revitalises the singles chart. The policy has certainly given Jessie J's (above) follow up to Do It Like A Dude a boost. A similar rush release policy was hugely successful for X Factor and Glee.
But I can't help thinking the music industry has to be far bolder if it is going to survive.
One step that could work is to make downloads cheaper - much, much cheaper. The thing that record companies need to understand is that their competition (ie the whole of the internet) is offering their product for 0.00p and no threatening ISPs or taking kids to court for downloading 57,000 albums is going to change that.
However I believe that given the option most people would much rather legally pay for music. It is a commonly held rationale among music fans that they pay back the artists they like in the form of concert tickets and T-shirts.
Actually buying someone's music is an old-fashioned concept. However if the music business could make legal downloads so cheap that it's painless to buy them and so easy that people actually prefer it that way, then perhaps they could turn the tide of free downloading back to a pay model.
The problem is that the industry and very probably the artists themselves, would balk at a price point that would actually work (1p a track?) - preferring to overcharge people and complain that sales are declining.
Whatever way you look at it charging the same price for an MP3 as you do for a physical CD with artwork makes no sense whatsoever, especially as the distribution costs are zero (one could levy the same complaint at the publishing industry where Kindle versions of new titles on Amazon are more expensive than owning an actual book).
The biggest positive of the digital downloading phenomenon is that it has created an audience that is far bigger and far hungrier for new music than any previous generation. Sadly, because of their aggressive stance on downloading and lack of imagination in embracing technology, the music industry is now totally disconnected from that audience.
Making new tracks available immediately is one small step in Universal and Sony attempting to reconnect with music fans and finally realising what they actually want.
Hopefully it's not too little, too late and just maybe it marks the start of record companies catching up with their disenfranchised customers. ·
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