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?