|RIAA & iTunes : Consumers Are Paying Too Much for Too Little|
|05 February 2008|
The RIAA obviously - and to some degree legitimately - has many issues with file sharing. The impact of file sharing has been and will continue to be debatable: whether it has helped to undermine CD sales (or whether lousy albums, poor marketing, and anti-consumer DRM are at fault), whether file sharing has introduced consumers to many more new artists than pre-programmed Top 40 radio playlists might otherwise have, and so on.
What is NOT debatable is that the internet, mp3 encoding, and p2p networks (or even plain vanilla irc or ftp) have worked in concert to create limitless new sources of creative content as well as many innovative distribution channels that would have been unthinkable - if not literally impossible - only a few years ago.
Also not up for debate is that the RIAA has proven itself time and again either too stubborn or too stupid to appreciate the fundamental nature of the changes and challenges faced by the industry players that it represents; squandering instead years of time, resources, and public perception waging an ultilmately futile war against its own customers.
The inefficacy of the RIAA's efforts is more than obvious. CD sales are still down and continue to decline; public attitudes toward file sharing are effectively unchanged; and a strong and growing sentiment that both the RIAA and record labels are the Devil are hardly the hallmarks of a successful public relations campaign.
Their most recent position - that ripping CDs for personal use is also an "infringing act" against the labels' copyrights - is clearly absurd. Even worse, it attacks what has heretofore been promoted as the only legitimate means of obtaining music for millions of mp3 players and home theatres: pay real money for real CDs, make a fair-use copy of the audio for use on your digital device. In this model, everyone wins. Money is paid to the retail outlet, the labels and artists get their cut, and the customer gets to enjoy his audio whether at home on his stero or while at the gym, thanks to his trusty iPod.
And because I'm still much more a buy-a-cd guy than I am a buy-from-iTunes guy, let's not forget that CDs are still a much better deal:
1. CDs have intrinsic value. There's a secondary market for used CDs - you can pick them up on Ebay, at garage sales, in funky record shops all around the world.
2. CDs (in most all cases) lack DRM crippleware.
3. CDs can be ripped at whatever quality YOU prefer, as many times as you'd like, to suit your personal listening habits.
4. Liner notes!
iTunes does offer two benefits not afforded by traditional CDs - the ability to buy songs by the track, and the instant gratification provided by immediate downloads. But whether it's a 99 cent crippled track or one of the relative new DRM-free songs, consumers are paying a hefty premium, track-for-track, for these paltry upsides. (And even Apple doesn't wholly believe in the 'just-buy-a-single-track' model, as they include a "Complete My Album" feature in the current release of iTunes.)
The most damning evidence of the absurdity of the RIAA's actions is that, while the RIAA continues to attack music listeners for file sharing and even for ripping personally-owned CDs for personal use on mp3 players or home computers, the very record labels they represent have begun to show signs that even they are tiring of the RIAA's heavy-handed tactics. Slowly but surely, the labels themselves are cutting deals with Apple or other outlets for the distribution of DRM-free audio. To be sure, this is only a first step, they still must acknowledge and actively embrace the new realities attendant on the music business and evolve their business models accordingly. But the first sign of dischord between the labels and the RIAA is somewhat heartening.
Bottom line: if you have absolutely ZERO patience and MUST, MUST, MUST have your hedonic need for that new Miley Cyrus album fulfilled RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND by the iTunes store, you're screwing yourself, me, and just about every other music lover. You're paying too much for too little and not holding the RIAA, the music labels, and Apple's feet to the fire, demanding DRM-free tracks, CD-quality audio, and all the other benefits of physical CD ownership.
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