Open Thread: is the American entertainment industry deluded?

You know how the music and film industry seem to think piracy is their biggest issue, and if only people had to pay full price to get music and movies, they would, and all would be well? Except that this ignores a point people often make when this gets brought up online: many of us would sooner do without the crap that passes for entertainment these days than pay the industry’s idea of a fair price for it. Piracy allows people to consume indiscriminately; take piracy away, and discretion comes back into the equation.

I think this is an example of deluded thinking. The movie and film industries just don’t seem to consider that maybe, just maybe, most people are unwilling to pay what they’re charging. Because we’re tired of the formulaic crap, and the only people who want to see/hear it are those who are so young they haven’t already seen/heard is a hundred times. They don’t want to deal with that possibility, because it’s a lot more work reassessing your industry and figuring out where to go from here than it is to point the scapegoat finger at piracy. Which is why I never accept the argument that these guys wouldn’t let a thing like prejudice get in the way of doing whatever profits them. They let a little thing like not wanting to face reality get in the way of profit all the time.

Another example: I’ve recently been watching the earliest episodes of Taggart, a rather unique Scottish cop drama that’s not strictly procedural. One episode last night involved a disco, and over the course of the episode, we heard clips of five then top 40 British hits: Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf”, Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy”, Human League’s “Fascination”, Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” and something I didn’t recognize by Paul Young (but I recognized the voice; how could you not?). This reminded me of the time a distributor was trying to put out WKRP, only the copyright holders on many of the songs wanted eleventy billion dollars to let them use the songs on the DVD (the contracts back then didn’t specify that you were purchasing the rights to use the music on the show in any format that didn’t exist yet but might someday – they do now). By “eleventy billion”, what I really mean is “a number so high it would have forced the distributor to raise the price on the DVDs beyond what people would pay.” So, the distributor released one season with the music edited and replaced with similar original songs as best they could. It just didn’t have the same impact, and I expect they won’t release anymore seasons. It’s a pity.

And you know what’s funny? When I heard that music on Taggart, I was inspired to go download “Too Shy” and “Relax” because I only ever owned them on cassettes which have long since worn out, and they’re classic songs that, for me at least, have endured the test of time. They’re the kind of songs I want turning up in my iTunes shuffle unexpectedly now and again, or being available to me when I get an urge to hear them. So I, like, spent money and downloaded them. Imagine if the WKRP DVDs had contained semi-forgotten songs from my early childhood. They had a few in every episode, so how much might I have spent on music? But the top 40 in WKRP was American, and American entertainment moguls apparently felt it was smarter to avoid making any money at all rather than budge on that eleventy billion figure.

Do these guys not remember how radio worked? It was free, like legalized piracy, and there were a lot of songs I wouldn’t have paid a dime for even when I was young enough not to have heard it all before, but the ones I loved, I bought. Free music makes people buy more music. We know this. The trick is probably for the industry to start undercutting the pirates – give stuff away for free, but only for a limited time, and include bonuses with the downloads or CDs so the pirates can’t give you everything the industry’s offering. Oh, and in the case of movies, lower the ticket and DVD prices to what the market supports, fools.

Another interesting thing about the Taggart soundtrack: these five performers spanned four labels, so it’s not just a case of one label being reasonable. But it is a case of four British labels making a smart business decision instead of refusing to budge on an unrealistic number.

I think the entertainment industries of the US just haven’t needed to compromised or negotiate in so many decades that they don’t remember how to do it. I don’t think they’re alone in the market place, either. I think the people who run this country have just lost all sense of how reality works, from having so much privilege for so long. What do you think?


  1. Raeka says

    I recently had a similar gripe about tv shows; I am perfectly willing to pay money for the few tv shows that I watch –the problem is that the three or so shows I watch are scattered across different networks, and there is no way I’m going to pay some ridiculous amount of money for cable/premium tv (which is mostly absolutely crap and more ads than Hulu) to watch ONE tv show.

    If they didn’t try to force me to pay more money for crap I don’t want, they’d actually have a customer. But as it is… they got a pirate instead.

  2. Lindsey says

    There is certainly a lot of Chicken Little panic over piracy from content industries, and blaming it for things like falling CD sales. The thing is CD sales didn’t fall until years after Napster’s height–indeed, they fell when the dot-coms crashed and have kept falling. Digital has made up some of this divide, but not all–but a big part of CD sales was format-shifting. The CD offered a considerable upgrade in utility from the cassette and many consumers replaced their old music collections entire. With digital, they can make their own replacement collections from their CDs, and this is completely legal for them to do. Not everyone knows how to do this or feels their time is more valuable than ‘wait for CD to rip, rename all files appropriately’ so some replacement sales remain, but there is no large replacement market.

    The other element of the anti-piracy ranting is just a smokescreen for something else and far more sinister: DRM. They say ‘it’s to battle pirates!’ but really the aim is to battle the secondary market and the ability of consumers to re-sell or give away their own property. The content industries see huge dollar signs on single-use non-transferable licenses sold for current free-usage prices, and screaming about pirates is one way they try to justify this to a public that is mostly honest and willing to pay a fair price for a decent product.

  3. minuteye says

    Agreed. These big mammoth entertainment industries (publishing is very similar, from what I’ve experienced) are ridiculously risk averse. So when the media formats and distribution channels start changing, they can’t adapt. They dig their heels in and try to stop the changes that have already happened, instead of experimenting, investing in new strategies that could work even better than what they’ve been doing. Your comparison to politics at the end is very apt: every individual is so busy looking out for their own ass, the whole shebang ends up heading in a direction that isn’t good for anyone.

  4. Patrick McGraw says

    What’s especially pathetic about computer games full of anti-piracy crap like DRM is that it doesn’t affect piracy at all – the cracked, DRM-free versions are nearly always available by the time the game hits shelves, and often even before. So the only people DRM ends up hurting… are the paying customers.

    I’ve seen some studies (no idea about their reliability) that indicate that at least a quarter of pirated computer game downloads are from people who bought the games, but then were so frustrated by the anti-piracy measures that they needed a cracked version just to play the game they paid for.

    You know DRM is a stupid business decision when games like the Civilization series actually advertise that they have no DRM or other anti-piracy measures that will interfere with playing them.

  5. Gabriella says

    That reminds me of the release of the All Saints DVDs. I *believe* there was a split between the network and production company halfway through, so production company A was responsible for seasons 1-7 and company B seasons 8-12, and there was a lot of arguing over the DVD release of the early seasons because of it. So they got released in the following order: 1-2-3-4-5-10-11-8-9-12-6-7, with 6&7 being released, like, five years after season 5. (And season 12 was the only one released close to the end date of the season on TV, you know, like MOST shows do.) It’s difficult to find any of the seasons on DVD within a year of their release – poor sales is cited for them only ever being released once. And I’m thinking, gosh, those poor sales couldn’t POSSIBLY be credited to the network/production company stuffing around over money, so in the end when the network broadcast the episodes in reruns, fans just digitally recorded them and downloaded them, could it? This is one of the highest-rating Australian shows on at the time; I’m sure they would have had much better sales had they just released the damn things after the season had fun on TV like MOST networks do.

  6. ginny! says

    I thought Daria did come out on DVD in the last year or so. I remember a friend being excited about it.

    Another thing the industry needs to do is get with the fact that the Internet is more than just the US. Some of the studios are doing better about making stuff available for download or streaming, but it’s only in the US. I can’t tell you how angry I get when I’m told something’s free to watch and I should check it out and when I do, it’s US-only.

  7. says

    Lots of great points in this thread, and I’m not responding to each one because in many cases there’s just nothing to add, or someone else has already said it. But I will say this:

    Amy McCabe, once again, you’ve given us a really good link. Even the comments are thoughtful and intelligent (I agree the first one makes a strawman argument, but it ends up allowing others to make some good points about intellectual property). In summary, the point seems to be that the industry is treating theoretical losses as real losses, and would be extremely hard pressed to substantiate their numbers, AND seem to have attributed those losses to piracy after the fact. This turns their “help us stop piracy” argument about SOPA into “We’re not making as much money as we’d like to, Daddy Government. Please give us a handout so we don’t have to work.”

    [Side note: oh, the irony. The Republicans are right that this nation has a lot of lazy freeloaders who shouldn’t be subsidized by the government. They’re just utterly and painfully wrong in suggesting those freeloaders are anyone but their top campaign financiers. Oh, wait, did we just stumble onto another clue about Republican philosophy?]

  8. Copper says

    Another thing the industry needs to do is get with the fact that the Internet is more than just the US. Some of the studios are doing better about making stuff available for download or streaming, but it’s only in the US. I can’t tell you how angry I get when I’m told something’s free to watch and I should check it out and when I do, it’s US-only.

    Yeah, this is something I see a lot too. Something comes out in the US and it’s fresh and new and everyone on the internet is talking about it, so naturally those of us outside the US want to see what’s so great. By the time it’s legally available elsewhere (months or years later even these days), we’ve run into spoilers, and all the discussion and energy around it has kind of waned, so why the heck would we want to wait if we can just download the thing when it comes out?

    The anime industry is actually a pretty good example of this. Fans were getting fed up of waiting years for companies to translate new series and put them out on DVD, so fansubs were the most popular way to watch, and the industry was raging about how fansubs were killing anime. Then Crunchyroll came around, where you could legally stream the newest shows subtitled just hours after they came out (and they even simulcast some series now!) and it was massively profitable compared to the old DVD-only companies. In the last couple of years, a bunch of companies have failed because they couldn’t move with the times and the new guard have taken over.

    Because the anime industry is a niche market in the west, the failing companies couldn’t just pay their way to forcing customers to cater to the business models they wanted to provide. It’s a really interesting view of what the rest of the entertainment industry might look like if it didn’t have so much control over governments and law.

  9. Søren Løvborg says

    Can’t discuss this without mentioning “The Sky is Rising”, the latest in a long string of reports documenting that the entertainment industry is actually doing quite well these days.

    Summary and link to full report:

    “The Sky is Rising” concludes what many of us had probably already guessed: There’s plenty of money in entertainment, but the Internet is increasingly allowing alternative distribution methods that cut out the traditional publishers. And good riddance.

    Laws like SOPA and ACTA are the desparate death throes of a business whose entire raison d’etre is all but gone.

    Record companies in particular are feeling the heat, but other parts of Big Content are right to be worried. When you have iTunes, who needs CD’s? When you have Hulu and Netflix, who needs cable TV? Amazon killed brick-and-mortar bookstores years ago, but more importantly, when you have digital self-publishing on the Kindle, who needs book publishers? When game developer Double Fine can raise USD 3.4 million on Kickstarter in 34 days, who needs game publishers? Right now, they’re an outlier. In 10 years, they’ll be the norm.

  10. Patrick McGraw says

    I’m wondering how few years it will be before I’m regarded as some kind of out-of-touch dinosaur for preferring books.

  11. sbg says

    Patrick McGraw,

    You and me both. I totally get the convenience of the Kindle and whatnot, I do. But there is nothing like the smell and feel of a new book, or even the smell and feel of an old book.

  12. Ara says

    I’ll third the preferring-books thing. I like Unshelved’s take on the ebook trend:

    Particularly about the enhanced-books part of it. (My literacy professor, when I was an education student, said of those sorts of books “It’s not a book; it’s a video game!”)

  13. Casey says

    Patrick McGraw,


    I feel like a weirdo for preferring real books too…and for preferring brick and mortar book stores…and DVDs/etc. Basically anything I can get my hands on. I also still like CDs to an extent (mostly if they’ve got lots of cool extras and whatnot). Wanting something to be tangible isn’t necessarily BAD, right? :S

  14. MaggieCat says

    You and me both. I totally get the convenience of the Kindle and whatnot, I do. But there is nothing like the smell and feel of a new book, or even the smell and feel of an old book.

    Well we can fix at least part of the problem. I don’t really mind reading books on my computer, but any book I love simply must be obtained in hard copy. It just isn’t the same.

    Of course an ebook store has never managed to drag me into L-Space and throw me out 5 hours later, confused and disoriented, the way a secondhand bookshop can. I’m not sure if that’s a plus or a minus.

  15. Cinnabar says

    I don’t really mind reading books on my computer, but any book I love simply must be obtained in hard copy. It just isn’t the same.

    Same here, except for me it’s videogames too. If there’s a game I love, I MUST have the box if it’s at all possible. Even if I have a downloaded (or *cough*pirated*cough*) version. There’s just *something* about holding it in my hands or having it sit on my shelf and take up physical space. 😀

    I think we’re safe in our numbers for now but it’s sad to think that one day we’ll be a dying breed.

  16. Fraser says

    I just find not staring at a screen really relaxing after a day of work. So yeah, ebooks are only an extra indulgence (19th century novels downloaded off Gutenberg, for instance).

  17. MaggieCat says

    Oh, a plus.

    Really? I was kinda leaning towards minus myself. Especially since eventually I learned not to plan on going anywhere after I “just run into” a bookstore.

    Of course I also argue that the time in middle school when a teacher foolishly asked me to run a note to the librarian and then had to come and get me 30 minutes later because I forgot why I’d gone there was totally her own fault. :-)

  18. facebook_cooper.stimson says

    I am reminded of what happened with Freaks and Geeks. Rather than replace the music, which the creators felt was essential to the show, they spent ten years finding a distributor willing to pay for the licensing. Result? One of the best-selling DVD sets of all time.

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