What can the music industry do to slow piracy? Improve the product
Last week brought my attention to a couple visual jabs at how DRM encourages piracy (here and here) in books and movies. The bottom line: piracy’s reach is larger because it provides a better, easier product than the legit stuff.
The music industry has learned a lot of lessons in the last ten years, but it still hasn’t figured out that the wall-less world we now live in requires that the industries think of illegal sharing not as piracy, but as a competing product. And the legitimate businesses are slow to compete. Here’s what the music business need to do to provide as good a product as piracy offers (and provide the kinds of lessons that the sellers of movies and books can really learn from):
Offer high-quality versions
While bitrates have gotten better over the years in mp3 stores like Lala and Amazon mp3, there’s still no variety. The only way you can legally get a fully lossless digital version of an album is to buy the CD and rip it, leaving you with a CD you don’t want. Anyone who’s ever been on Oink or any of the other private bittorrent trading sites will tell you that you can download albums in just about any format and quality you want.
Lower the price
I should not be paying $9.99 for a digital product. The standard for digital music should be half that: five dollars for an album, 50 cents for a song. The fact that 10 dollars is not really that much for an album isn’t a good enough reason. Don’t make the price point high enough to make people start researching how they can get it cheaper, because they’ll pretty quickly find that they can find it as cheap as it gets.
Provide flawless meta-data
One of the downsides of downloading music off the grid is that you get whatever you’re given. Some other user’s ratings, comments, and weird system of tagging. It’s a drag. So why do I often have to put in the year when buying from legal stores? Why do I have to fix the song titles and even the name of the band? There’s no excuse for the legal stores to have songs that are anything less than perfectly tagged.
Offer easy, customizable, non-restrictive embedding of full songs
Music bloggers don’t post mp3s because they want to illegally distribute: they just want people to be able to hear the songs they’re talking about. The industry needs to let stores offer embeddable songs and albums in the way that Lala has done, but without any restrictions at all: no sign-in required, full songs, customizable player. Even with Lala on the scene and the interesting Soundcloud/Hype Machine partnership, it’s still not enough. It needs to be as good a listening experience as you can get by posting the mp3s. And it’s nowhere near there.
Let artists offer their music for free through the for-sale channels
I don’t know why services don’t make it easier to allow their albums and songs to be downloaded for free through the online music stores. Imagine how much more attractive the iTunes music store would be if it had thousands of free songs as well; if up-and-coming bands who would rather give their songs away could point to iTunes and Amazon mp3 instead of Bandcamp.
…pushing people to free download resources is bad for the industry not just because it’s taking money out of their pockets in the present, but it’s encouraging people to learn how to find good sources of pirated material, meaning that as time goes on, more and more people with comfortable with skirting the law. That’s something that none of the intellectual property owners can let happen in large numbers.