Interesting exercise in futility from today's New York Times. According to this Times article, six retailers, including Best Buy and Tower Records, are ramping up a service called Echo which will allow consumers to purchase downloadable music. While there's little specificity about format, price, or selection, it occurs to me that these retailers would have to pull off a marketing miracle to properly organize the heretofore vacuous landscape of sanctioned downloadable music. A potentially lucrative endeavor, downloadable music has thus far been stymied by the RIAA's staunch refusal to recognize existing Fair Use laws by restricting the burning of their overpriced intellectual property for personal use and distributing an anemic selection of products in proprietary formats.
Read more to find out how it's all our fault:
The new effort is motivated in part by the two-year decline in compact disc sales that has forced recording companies to cut costs and lay off employees and has damaged music retailers, too. Wherehouse Entertainment, for one, announced last week that it was filing for bankruptcy protection from its creditors, in part because of lackluster CD sales. And earlier this month, Best Buy announced that it would close 107 stores.
The New York Times article goes on to say:
Vinyl albums and cassette tapes have nearly disappeared in recent years, leaving retailers with the CD as their main option for selling music. But a proliferation of free music-swapping services, among other factors, has led to a decline in CD sales. According to Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks album sales, 681 million were sold in 2002, down from 785 million in 2000.
I'm not really sanctioning the theft of songs through P2P networks here, though I'd be lying if I said I'd never used Kazaa to pick up songs I just can't find in stores. I point that out, because I don't want to come off as hypocritical, but I will say that of the two thousand MP3s stored away in the bowels of my hard drive, the vast majority of them were legitimately ripped off CDs I own (98% or greater).
What bothers me is the persistence of the RIAA to paint its very consumers as the enemy, and dismiss any suggestion of reform as the mindless chatter of internet pirates. Then, they have the audacity to look surprised when Michelle Branch's latest album 'Songs That Sound Like Every Other Popular CD' doesn't fly off the shelves at Tower Records priced at $19.99. You want to blame someone, RIAA, blame the people who educated your consumers on the business practices of the recording industry, blame our memories for noting that even as production costs declined, point of sale prices went up, blame the increasing number of artists biting the hand that feeds them and speaking out against corporate policy. While, there's a good case against the legality of downloading free music from the internet, it's hard to win a moral battle when the very artists you propose to defend are encouraging fans to Steal This CD.
I'd love to see a successful and viable downloadable database, but I don't hold much hope for corporations to figure out how to come to a financial consensus. It will never work unless the songs are properly priced, the downloadable format is standardized and open to fair use, and we as consumers have the impression that our money is supporting the artists and not lawyers. If recent moves by the RIAA to hold ISPs accountable for allowing users to access P2P networks are any indication, then this project will fail as certainly as all the others, and consumers will be held to blame as ungrateful sycophants.
Who's to blame in this increasingly losing battle? Hit the forums, and let us know.