Cheap music will save the music industry

The dinosaurs died off because they couldn’t adapt. They couldn’t evolve fast enough to cope with a rapidly changing environment. As a result, “dinosaur” is often an apt description for any entity unable or unwilling to change, and one that will face extinction due to changes outside of its control.

Such is the case with the music industry.

For years, and particularly in the United States, the six companies that control virtually every record label you have in your collection — no matter how edgy or minor they seem — have had a stranglehold on how things are done. Their lapdog pitbull, the RIAA, makes sure that people keep in line.

Well, that’s what they want you to believe, anyway. Truth is, the music industry is losing control every day. They don’t have a monopoly on control. They used to, before personal recorders were invented. First, it was cassette tapes (yes, there was reel-to-reel, but that wasn’t practical for the average person). That caused a murmur.

Then there were CDs. That got active discussion, to the point of having levies to collect fees to compensate the music industry for perceived losses due to pirating perfect copies.

Then came the internet and MP3s. Panic has ensued.

Technology put in the hands of the public changes everything. It changes how major corporations work. It changes how public opinion can sway governments. It changes how we perceive one another and how we affect our global society. For the music industry, technology went from being a splinter, to a thorn, to an amputation.

We’re watching the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, having been thoroughly trounced by Arthur, screaming that he’ll bite our kneecaps off if we don’t listen.

We’ve stopped listening. But only to the music industry — we’re content with listening to music. And we want it on our terms, not theirs.

File sharing was the first step. We all know about those lawsuits. Apple and several other companies came up with online stores for selling music at about a dollar a download — $10 for your average 10-song album. Not too bad, since we don’t have to find a store that has the most recent album in stock. But is the price right?

Sandy Pearlman doesn’t think so. A veteran of the music industry himself, he’s advocating songs for $0.05. Yes, five cents. Each, of course. Two entire albums (average length) would cost you a dollar.

This is what will save the music industry. They just have to evolve to the new environment. No matter how hard the RIAA tries, no matter how many lawsuits they file, no matter how much lobbying goes on Capital Hill, the music industry is doomed without change. File sharing will continue. Technology will advance and come up with something else. There will always be another Napster or Kazaa.

The barrier, which the music industry seems to ignore, is cost. Albums are expensive. New ones run about $17 before tax, at least here in Calgary. Okay, yes, Universal Music got smart and dropped prices to about $10-$12, but that’s still not enough. People want convenience, and you want the ability to make money.

It’s economy of scale. I ranted about this when I complained bitterly about the price of movie tickets. The movie chains in Canada sort of got around this by disposing of matinee and Tuesday night cheap movies, and dropped the prices across the board by about $3-$4. It’s still high, but it’s better. I’d love to know if the tactic has worked and profits have gone up.

Music and movies are both entertainment, but they are not the same thing. If nothing else, the last few years have proven that users want individual songs, not entire albums. We’ll compose our own, thank you very much. We’ll load them onto our portable music devices and play them in any order and combination that we feel like. So why would the industry think we still want a smorgasbord when all we want is a finger sandwich?

Economies of scale, folks. That’s what it’s all about. Yes, profits would initially drop because $0.50 is a LOT cheaper than $17. But if you sell 25 times as much music as a result (keeping the theory that music swapping would go down), then where’s the problem?

Okay, yes, this is all theoretical. But the concept has been proven time and again. The music industry just needs to take notice.

Or face extinction.