Rage Against The Wrong Machine

When self-appointed guardians of the Internet and rightsholders argue about the fall and the future of the music industry, you can put all of the talking points into two buckets:

Guardians of the Internet
Open, free, free culture, remix, sharing, do no evil, censorship, don’t break the Internet, innovation, value creation, music-will-be-like-water (don’t worry), scale, disintermediation, alternative income sources, patronage, greedy and shortsighted labels, etc..

Rightsholders (artists, labels, publishers)
Copyrights, permissions, illegal sharing, stealing, royalties, negligible royalties, transfer of wealth, ad-supported sharing, free-loading, livable wages, the necessity of labels and publishers as investors, etc..

Like groundhog day, the debate keeps reoccurring.  However summer came and went sometime in 2011.  

Convenience is going to kill off file sharing; it’s the only thing that ever could.  In a few short years, downloading MP3s will seem so yesterday; like a heavy task that only meatheads do.

Meanwhile, the web is already ‘broken’.  Depending on which web we’re talking about: the world-wide-web-of-China, Facebook, iOS apps, Android apps, or the so-called “open” web – which is only compatible with certain browsers…supporting Flash or not?  And then there’s the private Comcast Internet, the Verizon Internet (think tiered access, throttling, and preference-based-billing), and eventually every major religion will have an ‘internet’.

If you ask me, ending file sharing versus saving the 'open' Internet is a so-yesterday argument.  Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on your view of the world), the marketplace is obsoleting the debate.

Artists, labels and rightsholders, tell the nerds the Internet is already broken.  The web is balkanizing around huge ecosystems run by giant companies and paranoid governments.  Meanwhile techies might want to suggest to artists that they should stop hunting file-sharing-dinosaurs; extinction is coming.  

Music attracts and sells things that are far more profitable than…music.  From advertising to electronics to cloud computing services, the presence of your brand, images, lyrics, songs and soft endorsements generates far more traffic, goodwill and profit for the Apple's and the Google's of the world than your music revenue does.  

In the not-so-distant future, if creators and rightsholders (versus Internet Corporation X) want to fully profit from the exploitation of their brands, likenesses and works, my advice is:

  • Stay out of the file sharing rat hole.
  • Collective licensing seems like a great idea.  Obtaining cash and equity in exchange for blanket licenses is something the larger labels have turned into a profitable art form.
  • Ignore the “break the Internet” arguments and continue to expect and demand the capacity to withdraw or withhold your stream of stuff from sites and services that don’t pay.  
  • Why are you paying for distribution?  Without your music their products are simply narrow and boring.
  • Why are you paying for distribution?  This is backwards.  Perhaps it’s time to consider disconnecting your works from the anonymous ‘long tail’ that costs more to distribute than it generates in revenue.
  • Don’t buy the crippling royalty rates story the next time around.  There are companies that sell other highly-profitable stuff that will gladly stream music.

The list above are just some of the things that seem more important than worrying about the kids that are filling their hard drives with soon-to-be-deleted MP3s.