Musical Adventures in Webland

by on November 12, 2007 · 12 comments

Good. Musician makes good. There’s an interesting article with some ideas in Spin magazine–though no clear direction emerges. Potentially useful for new artists, not so much for encouraging the re-release of Led Zeppelin (soon to be on iTunes) or old blues. If the thought of entanglement of music in a web of marketing schemes is not entirely appealing, but, well, that’s not a policy concern. What becomes of artists from unsophisticated backgrounds in this might well be… professional sports all over again?

On the prospects for live music, from Richard Morrison. (And I confess another non-policy consideration, I detest live music–one sacrifices consistent sound quality to leave the privacy of one’s home to sit or stand in crowds flaunting their absurd subcultures–but I will make grudging exceptions for metal concerts, classical guitar, and live jazz). But this, too, has its limits as a business model.

Also less encouraging is Radiohead’s experiment in whatever-it’s-worth pricing, with many electing a price of zero; the link is to Bill Rosenblatt’s report. Barry Shrum offers his perspective.

In the end, it will all get worked out. But there is no end in sight for the usefulness of copyright and technology as a tool for defining obligations in new relationships of goods, services, and persons, or as a substitutes for traditional enforcement. Continued competition of free goods with paid goods would reduce anxiety about whether producers are sensitive to consumer demand for flexible and friendly protection technology.

Two distressing trends in the overall debate, though, might well be with us forever. One is the tendency of some to see the glass of new technology as almost entirely empty, the other to see it as almost entirely full. But where old boundaries don’t hold up, new lines will be found and somehow enforced; markets go on. And where the status quo gives way, one ends up with not an end to the limitations on human endeavor peculiar to one set of economic circumstances, but a whole new set of limitation peculiar to the next. On the whole, people don’t do well without lines drawn in the sand, and will draw new ones when the last set is erased.

  • http://tieguy.org/blog Luis

    You might want to yank or at least qualify the radiohead comments, since the band has pointed out that (at best) those numbers are unrepresentative and (at worst) completely fictional, since no one outside the band has access to the real numbers. Some links here.

    Also, most of us actually ‘like other people’, so live music is a model that works for us. :) (Though I would agree that as we get more and more used to time-shifting, live music will still lose some popularity for that reason. Certainly it stops me from going to as many shows as I’d like.)

  • http://tieguy.org/blog Luis

    You might want to yank or at least qualify the radiohead comments, since the band has pointed out that (at best) those numbers are unrepresentative and (at worst) completely fictional, since no one outside the band has access to the real numbers. Some links here.

    Also, most of us actually ‘like other people’, so live music is a model that works for us. :) (Though I would agree that as we get more and more used to time-shifting, live music will still lose some popularity for that reason. Certainly it stops me from going to as many shows as I’d like.)

  • eric

    Whatever the Radiohead numbers are, they can’t easily be interpreted.

    I already know I don’t care that much for Radiohead. But if I was on the fence, I would have downloaded it for free, and if I liked it, bought the CD when it comes out in January. That’s not a lost sale. That would be a promotion. For those who think the sound quality of MP3s is adequate, they can (and did) pay an average of $6 or so. Voluntarily. In addition, the downloads, paid or not, will serve as promotion for their touring.

    It looks like win-win to me. Call me a glass almost entirely full kind of guy. I don’t like Radiohead. But if this had been James Taylor, he might have clinched a sale with this kind of offering.

  • eric

    Whatever the Radiohead numbers are, they can’t easily be interpreted.

    I already know I don’t care that much for Radiohead. But if I was on the fence, I would have downloaded it for free, and if I liked it, bought the CD when it comes out in January. That’s not a lost sale. That would be a promotion. For those who think the sound quality of MP3s is adequate, they can (and did) pay an average of $6 or so. Voluntarily. In addition, the downloads, paid or not, will serve as promotion for their touring.

    It looks like win-win to me. Call me a glass almost entirely full kind of guy. I don’t like Radiohead. But if this had been James Taylor, he might have clinched a sale with this kind of offering.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    38% of $6 is a little over 2 bucks per downloader. How does that compare to the royalties an artist gets per CD? I would not be at all surprised if the numbers are comparable.

    And of course, that’s assuming that the other 62% of downloaders would have otherwise purchased a CD, which strikes me as implausible. At least some of them would not have downloaded the album but for the zero price. So the revenue per lost CD sale is probably more like $3.

    Even aside from the considerable value of the publicity the stunt received, and even assuming these figures are accurate, it sure looks to me like it was a success on the financial merits. They appear to have earned an amount in the same ballpark as what they would have if they’d done a traditional label release.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    38% of $6 is a little over 2 bucks per downloader. How does that compare to the royalties an artist gets per CD? I would not be at all surprised if the numbers are comparable.

    And of course, that’s assuming that the other 62% of downloaders would have otherwise purchased a CD, which strikes me as implausible. At least some of them would not have downloaded the album but for the zero price. So the revenue per lost CD sale is probably more like $3.

    Even aside from the considerable value of the publicity the stunt received, and even assuming these figures are accurate, it sure looks to me like it was a success on the financial merits. They appear to have earned an amount in the same ballpark as what they would have if they’d done a traditional label release.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    James Taylor?! Ugh.

    (Sorry – not very substantive . . .)

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    James Taylor?! Ugh.

    (Sorry – not very substantive . . .)

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Even aside from the considerable value of the publicity the stunt received, and even assuming these figures are accurate, it sure looks to me like it was a success on the financial merits.,

    Looks that way to me, too–another very important consideration is that the band remained in control of the release, without any meddling from or by the label.

    Jimi hendrix would have liked this model better, as would almost any artist, I would think, and even like it more if it were somewhat less remuniterive.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Even aside from the considerable value of the publicity the stunt received, and even assuming these figures are accurate, it sure looks to me like it was a success on the financial merits.,

    Looks that way to me, too–another very important consideration is that the band remained in control of the release, without any meddling from or by the label.

    Jimi hendrix would have liked this model better, as would almost any artist, I would think, and even like it more if it were somewhat less remuniterive.

  • http://tieguy.org/blog Luis

    Tim: 38% of $6 is a little over 2 bucks per downloader. How does that compare to the royalties an artist gets per CD? I would not be at all surprised if the numbers are comparable.

    I assume you saw my post on that, but just in case, check it out. Nutshell: almost exactly $2, assuming a $14 CD price.

  • http://tieguy.org/blog Luis

    Tim: 38% of $6 is a little over 2 bucks per downloader. How does that compare to the royalties an artist gets per CD? I would not be at all surprised if the numbers are comparable.

    I assume you saw my post on that, but just in case, check it out. Nutshell: almost exactly $2, assuming a $14 CD price.

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