Glenn McDonald has written an excellent open letter to the music industry titled Warnings and Promises, explaining what he’s been “stealing” from them, and why.
I have been one of the last independent apologists for a moral kernel, elusive now to perhaps the point of imagination, in your corrupt and desperate retreat, but now even I have given up. I still buy, but now I also steal. You have forfeited your right to my loyalty. And maybe you’re too lost and beaten to care, and even more likely it’s too late to matter, but for a few minutes I’m going to pretend that neither of those things are so. I’m going to pretend that you’re still capable of awareness and reason, and in a spirit of truth that you long ago stopped deserving, while I’ve still taken little enough to list, I’m going to tell you exactly what I have stolen from you, and why.
He goes on to list various albums that he has obtained, and why he didn’t buy legitimate copies. The reasons include: unreasonably priced imports which haven’t been released in the U.S. yet, out-of-print titles, albums that he already owns, but can’t find the physical copy, and titles which are only available in other countries.
He makes excellent points about how the industry brings a lot of this down upon themselves. And in this age of electronic media, the music companies are going to have to evolve their ideas about distribution, pricing models, and control. Their attempts to tighten their grip on content only serves to frustrate the “power users” amongst their customers. And the repeated extensions to copyright lifetimes only seems to stifle artistic growth by budding artists. Patents only last, what, 17 years? Why the heck should copyrights last 100?
More and more independent artists are choosing to self-publish, choosing their own licensing terms, selling directly to the public, and finding ways to expand their fan base without the help of the industry. If the media companies don’t adapt, and find new ways to add value to what they offer this new breed of artists, they very well could become obsolete in a few years. Their best bet will probably be some sort of “embrace and extend” strategy. Do some research to find the best of the independent artists. Sign them up with short-term contracts. Then, rather than trying to do a massive CD sales campaign, do smaller CD runs (less overall capital expense), but heavily promote sales via online methods. Ditch the DRM (because people will defeat it anyways), make the online track/album prices reasonable ($0.99/track is too much, IMHO), and do some targetted tours with the best selling artists. This kind of strategy would probably benefit both artists and fans. And with less money spent on producing a physical product, they could concentrate more on the almost pure-profit sales of MP3s (or Oggs, if they’re really hip).