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The Politics of Music Distribution

Politics of Music Distribution

August 11, 2001

Distribution and purchasing of prerecorded albums is a political act. Let us no longer be naive and gullible and assume that buying a prerecorded album will automatically "support the artist". Buying an album is *not* synonymous with giving money to the artist -- contrary to the RIAA propaganda.

Many people like me are less than enthusiastic about the new way of selling records, on tiny DataPlAy discs in giant CD-sized packaging. Will the industry still ask for $19 for an album, even if it is on tiny media? I think of this as the artist receiving "a quarter for a quarter": buy this quarter-sized album for $19, and we will send "a quarter of the price" -- that is, $0.25 -- to the artist, according to Courtney Love's speech on the subject of industry/artist finances.

The fans, allied with many of the artists, are in somewhat of a state of war against the RIAA. Personally, I am not exactly looking forward to continuing the status quo distribution scheme -- prepackaged music is only an afterthought when I consider buying gear for Compact Disk, MiniDisc, Mini CD, DataPlAy, or memory cards. Given that I have purchased thousands of dollars of vinyl records, prerecorded cassettes, and compact disks, I'm surprised that I don't naturally take into consideration prerecorded album considerations with these media.

I look at these solely as ways of working with MP3 trades, MP3 rips of my CDs or vinyl or cassettes, or home studio uses. Maybe this battle between new portable media could be an opportunity to lower album prices, pay $1 per song, buy individual songs, only buy songs after I've heard them, and send more of my money to the artist than to the distributor.

Fairtunes.com enables you to give money directly to the artist, with none going to the label. You can install a WinAmp plugin to right-click a song in the playlist to jump to the artist's Fairtunes.com entry, then contribute compensation online through Visa, PayPal, or E-Gold. In the first year, there have been about 2000 contributions, totalling $11,083.99 US. The top 10 recipients -- Contributions to the band Linus Torvales so far are $180.00; Courtney Love, $148; Bjork, $154.

Against the Record Industry

Written around 1999.

I am offering free CD copies on MD, giving them away to everyone, just ask. Of course I hope you can send me high-fidelity copies of CDs as well. Say "No, thanks" to the greedy big music distributors, the rip off artists who rip off artists. TKD blank MDs are only $3.80 through minidiscnow.com. $18 CDs in the U.S.? Come on, what student can afford that? Hell, *I* can't afford it. MD and digital home copying will finally become popular in the U.S., thanks to the unbridled greed of the music industry. They have gone too far. I'm looking forward to expanding my high-fidelity music collection at less than $4 per album! It's too bad I've had to buy so many CDs recently, but that's the cost of starting up this trading community.

Mr. Music Industry Executive, you artist of finance, please enable me to pay $1 per song to create custom CD or MD mixes online, after downloading samples. And pay artists more. Then I might stop being alienated. Until then, I'm going to give away digital recordings of my 250 CDs to anyone who wants one. I've had quite enough of laying down $14-$18 to gamble on a CD, only to bring it home and find it is not what I wanted. You're dragging your feet, you're waiting until someone forces you to get with the program. Here is your inspiration - the solution is not lawsuits, it is providing me and my friends with what we want: every dollar I spend on music, I want to get a song that I have demo'd and that I know I like. I never want to buy another song that I haven't heard and don't like, and I never want to spend more than $1 to get a song I like. I've read about your situation; you are stuck helplessly in a rut and are waiting until the system is forced into a paradigm shift.

Does anyone want a digital copy of my CDs? Why pay money and support the greedy, incompetent music industry, that looks down upon the music buyers who support it and refuses to give them what they are explicitly asking for? Just ask, and I'll give you a digital copy of the album for free!

I would love to send unauthorized copies of *all* my CD's to lots of people, because the music industry is greedy and has put out such poor packaging (and mixing) for so many CD's. They literally doubled their prices when CDs came out in 1985, while the manufacturing cost was cut in half. They never reduced their pricing; now they are *raising* it. I have no sympathy for the record industry and I'm not worried about their profits.

If the industry bends the rules, or breaks the laws, it's hard for them to demand that consumers avoid home duplication.

I'd rather send money directly to the artists.

In some countries, CD prices are outrageous ($30-$50) and the music distributors are practically forcing people into making unauthorized copies. In the U.S., the situation is only a little better, with new popular CDs priced at $16.99. Usually you cannot listen to CDs before you buy. After about the 5th lame CD, at $17 each, the consumer wants an alternative, but the brick and mortar stores provide no solution -- they keep their prices high and provide no way to inspect the goods before laying down $17.

In Japan, the MD has become successful largely because new CD prices are astronomical and people cannot justify purchasing a legal copy. CD-audio rental shops have sprung up. Why is this such a strange concept in the U.S.? In the U.S, we are accustomed to the availability of a few lousy CDs via the public library, and video rental stores are common, and used CD stores -- but there are no music-CD rental stores and no one seems to have thought of it. In Japan, you rent three CDs, and insert them in your 3-CD to 3-MD copying minisystem -- I gather that that is simply the way things are done. It probably doesn't even feel like "piracy". There is no reasonable alternative in Japan, given that CDs are very overpriced. This is what I've gathered here and there; we really need a full-scale report about CD copying and distribution approaches in various countries.

>In Japan, CDs go for about $30 and up. There are many CD and VHS rental stores that also sell blanks and rent dubbing machines (CD + MD or dual VHS) at the counter. Also note that in China (the piracy capital of the world) that a few record companies have caught on and sell their product for $5/disc including booklets more lavish than those sold in the USA. Hong Kong seems to be the cheapest place on earth for legal CDs, with most going for about $10-12.

>-- Ron LaPedis

MD: The HRRC and AHRA section 1008 (at the MD Community Archives) (Sorry, they switched everything around and broke the exact link. I should have copied the text here.)

Are we supposed to bend over while the record distributors take advantage of us? There are prices, and there are laws, but when these become instruments of sheer greed on the part of the music business, it becomes reasonable to make unauthorized copies - especially when one has spent a lot of money already to buy albums, thus supporting the industry. The music industry is not angellic; their pricing policies are every bit as dubious as the practice of unauthorized home copying.

>The laws place dollar limits on copyright infringements... if you exceed a certain dollar amount in infringements in a certain period of time, you can go to jail

The laws are purposefully vague, so aren't they then completely failing to offer any guidance? This vagueness seems to imply that, pragmatically, what it boils down legally and ethically to is the *ratio* of copying to purchasing. I've bought $5000 of music over the years and I think that there is a general consensus that it's fair for me to participate in trading $5000 worth of unauthorized home recordings with my friends. That's assuming a buy/copy ratio of 0.5. This "ratio" idea does conflict with the more absolute "certain dollar amount in a certain period of time".

The laws change -- that's one thing of note in this legal research. But my own, not unusual, practical philosophy stays the same: my deal with the music industry is that I buy a lot and I copy a lot. If the industry takes a firm stance against all copying, then I refuse to buy at all. I will either stop listening to music, or I will pirate everything (but try to *directly* support the bands). The industry knows that it's a two-way deal and they stand to lose everything if they take a hard-line stance. There are plenty of other amusements. The industry may think I am shifty, foe as well as friend, but I think the same of them. If no one rocks the boat, then the game may continue.

Ethics and P.R. (public relationships) is at least as important as the raw legal aspects. The music industry is a middleman that is not to be confused with the artists. The artists and the consumers don't particularly love the businessmen who are positioned between them. If one party refuses to cooperate, refuses to deal and compromise, then an out-and-out adversarial stance arises, resulting in bad feelings and bad business, with the likely end result being a rerouting of dollars either directly to the artists, or to entirely different forms of activity besides music.

What's the ethically, systemically Correct Thinking for MDers? I suppose a moderate progressive position would be, support the music industry a little, but strive to support the artists more directly. Spend some money that goes toward the artist, some money for the middlemen (trying to reward them for using appropriate new distribution technology), and just copy some music without sending any money anywhere.

Don't just look at the current state of law and the accustomed music-distribution scheme. There's a lot that is screwed up with the status quo -- for example, in Tower Records, I cannot listen before I buy. So I want to boycott Tower Records brick-and-mortar stores until they get with the program. They are not delivering satisfactory services. The artists are not being compensated as much as I want them to be. The supergroups get too much marketing attention.

It's our moral duty, insofar as we have any moral duty, to reject and starve the old system and support new approaches, not to complacently accept whatever current laws the music industry strives to put into place. I do care what the law is, to monitor my bending of this "deliberately vague" legislative system, but everyone knows that it's as much a matter of PR and interpersonal cooperation, give-and-take, as a matter of legislation. Look at it in terms of a power relationship between two free agents in a mutual exchange, not in terms of a slave obeying the commands of law that comes from an absolute authority. Yes, consumers should be concerned about being concerned, but they should also critique the laws and have a free-agent stance toward the record industry. Beyond this, I'll have to read more political philosophy such as Alexis De Tocqueville's book _Democracy in America_. What does he have to say about intellectual property and copying MDs?

I am not going to refrain from copying if copying happens to be illegal today, and I do not believe that it is morally good to obey whatever the laws happen to be. We're all guilty of a thousand transgressions and should have learned to deal with it by now. There are many considerations besides the laws.

Why Are CD Inserts Red and Blurry Lately?

Have you seen the poor job of printing CD covers lately? Even the Pink Floyd inserts look awful. The color blend on many inserts (for hundreds of mainstream albums) is skewed far into the red. I wonder if, like the "remastering" strategy, they are doing a poor job of packaging, so that they can sell us the same thing again later, done correctly. "New - Remastered, with packaging faithful to the original" - translation: "We did a shoddy job of recording and packaging the first time you bought the CD; this time we did it the way we should have done it in the first place -- pay $17 USD again, to get what you should have gotten the first time." Oops, as of 3/98, make that $18, this time around, since the big 6 distributors got together to arrange price fixing to raise the price everywhere. The record industry is right on time to help promote MD, by pricing new albums, targeted at students, above the students' feasible price range. A student cannot justify paying $18 for a new album, especially if there are viable alternative ways of getting the album. Ever since the CD began, the record industry has discarded art, in pursuit of quick and easy profits. Album art used to be valued; now, we get red-shifted covers -- apparently, art doesn't matter; art is a place to cut costs and thereby increase profits even more.

What happened to the golden days of album art? We see a little here and there, now, yet this red-shift problem shows that there is no one at the helm. Just how bad must the printing job be before the quality control people reject the lot? The printer must be color-blind. Hundreds or thousands of album covers are blurry and red -- and these are not bootlegs; these are *major* albums from the *major* artists. This is a quality-control failure of staggering proportions, that has destroyed the credibility of the record manufacturing industry. If they didn't notice, they are blind; if they did, they are greedy enough to say art doesn't matter. Some of my inserts are red and blurry, as if CD inserts weren't always too grainy anyway. They use poor resolution, and it's getting worse. They made the inserts smaller *and* grainier, and now, red and blurry too. Just how bad will it get before people refuse to buy? Maybe the inserts should just be a cheap color photocopy -- since that's what they look like.

My Contributions to the Record Industry So Far

255 CDs at $15 = $3825
175 vinyl records at $8 = $1400
75 pre-recorded tapes at $7 = $525
Total.....................about $5,750

For recent purchases, add 75 * $15.

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