The Digital Solution
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I have a recommendation for the record business that may well eliminate illegal downloading and all piracy, as well as give artists, labels and publishers an appropriate share of revenue. Perhaps most importantly, the idea fulfills the core consumer's demand for a portable, accessible, high speed solution, which are the key ingredients for consumer acceptance these days.
Interested in hearing more? To fully understand the concept, an introduction is needed. Though legitimate downloading sites like iTunes and eMusic are flourishing, many folks have still not embraced the concept of buying music. Too many still prefer getting it free. Though the recent Grokster ruling in the Supreme Court weighed in against illegal downloading, most record labels agree that though they won this battle, they're losing the war on downloading. There's just too much out there.
Since a whole new generation of consumers have spent almost 10 years getting music for free, it's going to be very difficult to re-teach them to pay for it successfully.
Rather than fighting their core beliefs in this matter, perhaps we should embrace them. Rather than trying to micro-manage every sale, it makes a lot more sense to restructure the monetary flow of music distribution into a system that meets lifestyle and demand. Why not make the cost of CD's relative to interest and invisible to the consumer, like your cable box that delivers hundreds of television stations with one fee?
Imagine, if your internet service provider (otherwise known as an ISP) was allowed access to the world's music library with everything available and by paying your monthly ISP service, you were given unlimited access to download whatever music you wanted, whenever you wanted. Your ISP would charge a set fee, probably just a couple of dollars more a month to your service, and the money generated would easily finance the record business moving forward. Not only that, but piracy and illegal downloading would be a distant memory since everyone with an ISP could download whatever they wanted. Artists, labels and publishers would be paid on the basis of the number of downloads for that song, on that day, relative to the number of subscribers in the system, similar to the way a stock price is determined. The value of the music would not be fixed, as it is now, but rather fluid to demand.
This idea is not a push-button solution. There would need to be governmental regulations to mandate ISP recording and reporting music downloads to a central music rights body, yet to be determined. But there is a solution to this digital world we've created, and it's one that's fair to everyone involved. Traditionally, the business has been slow to react to situations, and I imagine it's going to take a couple more years of pain before the business demands a better solution than the one they currently have. What's clear is that suing downloaders will not solve the problem.
From where I sit, an all you can eat subscriber model is the only one that makes sense. It also makes sense to me that the true distributor, that is, the pipeline delivering the music, is the best place to put a toll bridge. In this model there's only one toll a month, and it's the same for everyone, regardless of how many songs you download.
The record business is starting to get desperate to find a good way to solve the downloading problem. A few folks in the business have echoed this idea, and this is our favorite solution.
Perhaps you've thought about your own way to save the record business? If so, I'd love to hear it. Feel free to email me at OnTheBeat@kcrw.com. One never knows where a great solution will come from.
This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.
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