Leave that guilty feeling to the adults.
Or, at least the ones that still care. But during the course of discussions at the Bandwidth Music & Technology Conference in San Francisco, perhaps the most stinging comment came from left field.
Kids often feel stupid paying for music.
Certainly exceptions exist, especially among industry kids. And this is not the type of thing that comes out of research surveys, which are notorious for drawing false information on touchy subjects like file-trading. But break through the youth filter, get a dose of honesty, and $1.29 downloads start sounding like insanity.
Back at Bandwidth, the requisite discussions were happening over variable pricing, AmazonMP3 discount campaigns, and other discussions ultimately related to the buying fringe. But a few alternative voices poked through. One raised the unpopular corpse of AllofMP3, the highly-successful Russian site that peddled MP3s for 5-cents a pop (and upward for various quality and format configurations). If this site was such a miss, why was high-level diplomatic pressure exerted to eventually bring it down – among other tactics? A Russian guy selling knock-off CDs never got a call from the US Trade Representative.
Obvious answers exist for why a 5-cent download is unworkable. Statutory publishing rates, for example. But increasingly, more and more evidence is showing that downloads in the range of 69-cents to $1.29 are even less realistic for creating business growth.
Certainly unrealistic for the younger demographic, once the driving pulse of a thriving industry. Kids are lucky to get an iTunes allowance, especially these days. The rest are swimming in free, and teaching one another the tricks for grabbing gratis content. It’s reflected in the numbers, and the flattened download trajectory in the US (and eventually, the world if the trend plays out).
This is not just a major label problem. Sure, emerging, unsigned artists can control their own copyrights, and name their own price (including free) through direct-to-fan channels. But when on iTunes, artists must do as iTunes does, and that includes paying specific percentages on pre-set prices. Sure, the noise floor is deafening, but maybe the pricing ecosystem is also hurting smaller artists as well.
Seems like the industry has a choice to make. Battle for old-world revaluation, or radically revalue its product in the hopes of creating a paid culture. Maybe getting smaller is just too unappealing to a once-lavish business, and for that matter, the grandiose dreams of many artists. But there may be little choice left in the matter, at least for those that want to build a new industry.
Paul Resnikoff, Publisher.