Maverick and Vivendi Universal want to sell you an MP3. In what appears to be a giant leap in the right direction for the recording industry, the label giants are going to offer a dance version of “Earth” by Meshell Ndegeocello online for 99 cents. What makes this step particularly bold is that they will be selling it as an MP3, an insecure format which the recording industry has been adamantly avoiding for fear of digital piracy. What makes it particularly smart is that this is what the public wants – up till now, the recording industry has been obsessed with finding a secure digital format for their releases, but have been finding, not surprisingly, that people don’t want to pay for music that can only be listened to on a limited number of devices or for a limited amount of time. So while they’ve been scrambling to find a secure format which would offer them the control they want, online piracy has been running rampant, leaving execs scratching their heads and blaming music services like Napster, Morpheus and Kazaa for their troubles. I think the labels may find, if given the chance, that people are not so dead set against paying for music. People want to be able to support their favourite artists, but they don’t want to pay a ridiculous amount for a bloated CD that contains one or two good songs and a pile of filler. They also want to be able to listen to the music they buy wherever and however they want. “I think you’ll be able to count the number of sales on one hand. As soon as one person gets it, its all over the (peer-to-peer) networks for free,” laments one critic. He may be right. Piracy is always going to be a concern – peer-to-peer technology is here and it’s not going anywhere, no matter how many lawsuits are brought. And that’s a big problem for the way the labels have been trying to do business in the internet economy – they’ve been trying to impose their old-world control on a medium that is grounded in a very different philosophy. Rather than giving people what they want, they’ve been giving people what they want to give them. Until they learn the difference, the internet pirates will be calling the shots.
A step in the right direction?