Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sour Apples

A musical shit storm was started over the weekend when an intern at NPR's All Songs Considered blogged that she has 11,000 songs in her iTunes, yet has only bought 15 CDs in her life. (“As monumental a role as musicians and albums have played in my life,” she wrote, “I’ve never invested money in them aside from concert tickets and T-shirts.") Putting the apples and oranges comparison aside -- she's 20, so wouldn't it have made more sense, and been more galling, for her to have said she's only downloaded (bought) 15 songs from iTunes? -- how do people feel about getting music for free these days, whether it be through borrowing friends' CDs; copying friends’ song files; or being given 15 gigabytes of music by a prom date (as she says she was), especially when (as the New York Times notes) it's not done through so-called "illegal" downloads? I''m pretty agnostic about it, truthfully. I certainly didn't think it was criminal in 1982 when I borrowed my friend Greg's copy of "10 Cents a Dance" by the Flirts and taped it on my Price Club stereo. I always thought I was being kosher by buying the things I truly wanted, and "borrowing" the things I was just curious about -- I still sort of operate by that standard -- but many recording artists are not so forgiving.

The NPR intern says she will pay for convenience, but she will not pay for albums. Isn't that the real issue nowadays, that the Apple product is considered the work of art, not the music?

Instead of being mad at today's generation, I've never understood why musicians haven't targeted more of their outrage at Steve Jobs and Apple, whom Pete Townshend once called "digital vampires." They can't fault Jobs for making a gadget that is so beloved -- or for the convenience he's given consumers, not just how we listen to music, but how we buy it and how we store it, as well. But they can fault him for raping artists by taking such an exorbitant cut for the middle man, so that even when people do pay for music, artists feel robbed. Microsoft has been repeatedly sued for antitrust violations, but isn't Apple the ultimate monopoly? If anyone balks -- like a Pete Townshend -- Apple just says, "Fine, don't sell you music here" and artists are cut off from a majority of the music-buying public. Seconds later, they are left begging for another chance.


Anonymous said...

It's hard for me to see how Apple is the bad guy in this:

They broke the tyranny of having to buy "albums" stuffed with crap and gave us the freedom to buy only precisely what we want. And to do so elegantly and conveniently.

Their digital rights policies are pretty darned lenient. One download can be used on multiple devices, shared with family, etc.

They permit minor musicians to reach the public directly and collect $0.70 on the dollar of sales. That sure beats what the record labels offered the artists.

Their "monopoly" isn't a very watertight one if - to the point of your story - a person can have 11,000 tunes in an iTunes account and paid for perhaps 300 of those, and non via iTunes.

Demonizing Apple in order to excuse this woman's theft of artists' labor is just plain silly. What excuse would you make for her if she snuck into movie theaters without for a ticket?

ColinPS said...

The average markup on a 10 song CD sold at Tower Records was $8. Apple's markup for delivery through the iTunes store for the same album is $3. Furthermore, Steve Jobs fought for the 99¢ price point, and ultimately compromised on a $1.29 price point in order to get rid of DRM. So, Steve Jobs and Apple made music easier to explore and purchase, and also made it less expensive for the consumer. So what was your argument again?