It’s a long way from home / welcome to the Pleasuredome

There were two great scams in the 2000s (assum­ing the decade is over — it’s tech­ni­cal­ly not of course).

One, it almost goes with­out say­ing, was the dri­ve to war scam pulled fair­ly suc­cess­ful­ly by the Bush admin­is­tra­tion in con­cert with a few com­pli­ant gov­ern­ments (the UK and Aus­tralia come to mind) where­upon clear and known fraud­u­lent data was placed in front of not only the pub­lic as a whole, but whole lay­ers of elect­ed offi­cials and law­mak­ers across the US and the UK. It was the WMD scam and argu­ments con­tin­ue as to whether it cost the lives of 100,000 or up to mil­lion Iraqis (as if the low­er fig­ure is some­how bet­ter) and the whole­sale dis­pos­ses­sion for mil­lions more. From a US per­spec­tive, I guess it was huge­ly suc­cess­ful.

The sec­ond, whilst it exist­ed on anoth­er, less dead­ly, lev­el alto­geth­er, was no less suc­cess­ful, and involved the large media com­pa­nies, many small­er media com­pa­nies and assort­ed copy­right admin­is­tra­tion bod­ies. This we will call the Pira­cy Scam.

Why am I revis­it­ing this now? Well the piece briefly excerpt­ed below pissed me off:

How to help prop up the ail­ing music indus­try? Tax Google, sug­gests a new report com­mis­sioned by the French gov­ern­ment.

I’m close to speech­less at the stu­pid­i­ty of this.

It will make no dif­fer­ence. None at all. Noth­ing will boost the rev­enues of the whole­sale indus­tries beyond a com­plete 180 on the part of the cus­tomer back to the buy­ing habits they, in increas­ing num­bers, left behind dur­ing this last decade. One has to remem­ber that the folks mak­ing these rules, and the ones cry­ing foul over the alleged lost rev­enues are either peo­ple in their mid-40s onwards, who if they buy music, were edu­cat­ed to buy it in album for­mat, in the decades since the record­ing indus­try invent­ed the for­mat in the late 1940s, or they sim­ply don’t buy music.

They’ve been told that rev­enues are down (true) because peo­ple are sim­ply steal­ing the music online (extreme­ly arguable).

Are peo­ple tak­ing music in large quan­ti­ties online? Yes, of course, they are, there is no doubt of it. Is this caus­ing the crash in rev­enues? I’d argue yes, in small part, but that’s all.

And that’s aside from the glar­ing and oft-stat­ed fact that a down­loaded tune does not equal a lost sale, despite the ram­pant­ly loony fig­ures the IFPI hap­pi­ly touts (and are gob­bled up by the media).

The pri­ma­ry rea­son rev­enues are down is because the pri­ma­ry tar­get for record­ed music is peo­ple under 25. And they no longer buy albums. Most­ly they don’t even know what they are. They buy MP3s — the new sin­gles. They don’t want albums. They want tracks. And the evi­dence to sup­port this is volu­mi­nous. Last year in the Unit­ed States there were 1.16 bil­lion (yep, bil­lion) dig­i­tal tracks sold. That is the equiv­a­lent of 1.16 bil­lion sin­gles pur­chased – because that’s what the MP3 is, a sin­gle: a 45, in the old lan­guage. Add to that just under 400 mil­lion albums (of which some 3.2 mil­lion were actu­al­ly 14 album box sets by The Bea­t­les, so add anoth­er 40m or so to that fig­ure!) and you have a very, very large num­ber of units pur­chased by cus­tomers in 2009 — far high­er, in fact, than at any time since Sound­scan began record­ing accu­rate fig­ures in 1991.

Throw into that mix two oth­er fac­tors, first­ly that the dig­i­tal fig­ure removes the cost of man­u­fac­tur­ing, dis­tri­b­u­tion and ware­hous­ing, and sec­ond­ly the huge drop in record­ing costs over the past decade as dig­i­tal became the norm, and a rather dif­fer­ent pic­ture emerges.

One more fig­ure to toss into the mix: the decade-long rise in per­for­mance income received by per­form­ing rights organ­i­sa­tions as many dif­fer­ent income streams, dri­ven by tech­nol­o­gy, plus the mas­sive advances in col­lec­tion tech­niques and the sad sto­ry that both the media and the law­mak­ers hap­pi­ly trum­pet with­out ques­tion, looks increas­ing­ly shaky. The Times did an analy­sis using a few, but not all, of these fac­tors a month or two back which was inter­est­ing.

The truth is that in 2009 there was a mas­sive jump in income from music world­wide:

Thanks to new col­lect­ing bod­ies, more music users buy­ing licences, and a big rise in US rev­enues, glob­al per­for­mance rights pay­ments increased by 16% to $1.5bn (£940,000) in 2008, accord­ing to indus­try newslet­ter Music & Copy­right.

Per­for­mance rights rev­enues come from the pub­lic play­ing of music across var­i­ous loca­tions and plat­forms, from radio sta­tions and night­clubs to super­mar­kets and hair salons.

Such income has become more impor­tant in recent years as music sales have fall­en. The UK is the largest ter­ri­to­ry in terms of per­for­mance rights dis­tri­b­u­tions and total pay­ments rose 11.5% to $220m (£138m) in 2008, accord­ing to Music & Copy­right. It com­piled its glob­al fig­ures through data from col­lect­ing soci­eties world­wide, includ­ing PPL in the UK. The most played song was Mer­cy by Duffy.

The largest increase was in the US, with pay­ments surg­ing by 176% to $100m (£62.7m) as dig­i­tal and inter­net radio ser­vices were licensed.

Mix all that togeth­er and toss in the now accept­ed mon­strous myth that musi­cians are now unable to sur­vive off their roy­al­ties (per­for­mance is up, and less than 1% of all acts like­ly sur­vived from mas­ter copy­right roy­al­ties, due to the inequities in the way the record­ing indus­try han­dles recoup­ment, despite what Bono and Lily Allen would have you believe) and have to strug­gle. They’ve always strug­gled.

So, yes, as we roll into three strikes leg­is­la­tion the world over, and labels moan pover­ty because the play­ing field and the rules have changed, a lit­tle san­i­ty would per­haps be appro­pri­ate as we reflect on how well the Pira­cy Scam, has been sold, as I repeat­ed­ly hear peo­ple that should know bet­ter com­ment­ing on the Face­book gen­er­a­tion that won’t, so they say, pay for music. That steals and destroys the liveli­hoods of those that make the music.

It’s bull­shit.

And it didn’t even take a speech from Col­in Pow­ell.

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The sky is falling, no one is watch­ing / tor­na­does twist­ing where nobody is lis­ten­ing — The Opin­ion­at­ed Din­er
February 6, 2012 at 11:02 am

[…] howls of col­lapse, pret­ty darn tidi­ly. The news in there is noth­ing new of course. I was blog­ging some­thing sim­i­lar a cou­ple of years back – income was ris­ing and we had been scammed by half-truths, par­tial […]

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