The file-sharing masses rise up! Readers respond to John and Ben Snyder's "Embrace File-sharing, or Die."

Published February 4, 2003 8:30PM (EST)

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There are three rock stations where I live. One is the "songs by REO Speedwagon and Kansas that you've heard 10,000 times" channel. And the other two play a mixture of nü-metal by talentless mooks like Mudvayne, or else "modern rock" that's secretly recorded by the same group of studio musicians and released under various aliases such as Creed and Lifehouse. Things would be bleak if it weren't for file-sharing.

I can now read about a band in a magazine or newspaper and sample something that I would never purchase, sound unheard, for $16.99. Recently I have bought CDs by 7 Nations, Dropkick Murphys, and Flogging Molly. They aren't on the radio or MTV. Without file-sharing I wouldn't have been able to listen to them and make the decision to buy the CDs.

I have downloaded a lot of music since I got cable Internet, but I bought more CDs the last 12 months than the prior three years combined.

-- Earl Van Dorn

In John Snyder's excellent article on the future of music distribution and the role of NARAS, he suggested a symposium, a "gathering of eagles":

There is an organization called the Future of Music, which held a three-day summit meeting/forum in January in Washington, D.C., on this subject, as well as other subjects of pertinence to NARAS, as well as all musicians. Panelists were drawn from many organizations and included authors, scholars in intellectual property rights, professors, lawyers for the arts, several record companies, the EFF, and even a few artists -- Patti Smith and Vernon Reid. It also featured keynote addresses by several House members and Senator Russ Feingold.

Transcripts from the three-day event are available at the group's Web site.

As a working musician/composer, I felt it was important to attend this summit and took the time and money to do it. NARAS was a sponsor of the event ... was Mr. Snyder in attendance?

-- John Pazdan

The Snyders make many important points and have an essentially correct view of the current file-sharing phenomenon and the self-defeating, paranoid positions of the recording industry, but there are points with which I would like to disagree, and areas where the Snyders completely contradict themselves that I would like to address.

Mr. Snyder says that in the future CDs will go the way of the 8-track and no one will own "the thing," preferring to simply store the music on a hard drive. If that is going to happen, then file-sharing will probably kill the business since no one will pay for anything.

But I don't think that's going to happen any more than the "brick and mortar stores are going away" arguments made by misguided "futurists" during the mid-'90s happened. Those prognosticators also predicted the end of the printed page with people reading "e-books" instead. Didn't happen, not gonna happen. Paper and on-line reading will coexist.

And I don't believe "the thing" -- whether it be CDs or LPs, which have actually increased in sales probably 10 percent while CD sales are down (ask me sometime to explain) -- is going to go away either. People like to collect "things" and have for probably tens of thousands of years. That doesn't suddenly stop because of a new invention! The problem is "the thing" being marketed right now is not attractive to consumers. It's too expensive, very poorly and cheaply packaged, and larded down with way too much filler. That's why people are downloading the songs they want and discarding the rest. But as Eminem's experience shows, produce a solid record with good packaging and "the thing" will sell.

Which brings me to the water analogy. You can open the tap and get "water," or you can buy it. They're both "water" so why are people willing to spend for "water"? Because it's better water, or at least the perception is it's better water, and in my experience, it is better water. Tastes better, feels better on the tongue, and has fewer chemicals and pollutants, so I'll pay extra for that water. Just as consumers will pay extra if the product is worthwhile. I read nothing in the Snyders' piece about sound quality. The fact is MP3 sound sucks. My generation used to listen to Elvis on an eight-transistor tiny tiny portable; when our tastes matured we became the "audio component generation." Go back and look at the advertising in Rolling Stone during the 1970s. Our sonic tastes matured.

Sit a kid down in front of a good stereo and play him a well-produced CD or LP or SACD and then his crappy-sounding MP3 version, and as I've proven again and again, the kid will respond.. And if he likes the music, he'll be willing to pay to own the better-sounding thing -- especially if the packaging is cool.

The record biz is beginning to respond to the lure of quality, and I guarantee you and them there is a market for quality, as the water bottlers have found ... Now some will package filtered tap water and give it an exotic name (Dasani, etc.) and that will ultimately fail, but do it correctly and it will succeed -- which is one reason LP sales are up. Kids are buying LPs -- not in huge numbers, but in increasing numbers and that is amazing. Ask them why. They like the packaging, they like the format, and they like the sound ... that's one reason my generation used to sit around listening to music instead of just hearing it while doing other things ... We liked the sound, and the music demanded to be heard ... plus many of us were stoned and had trouble moving around, but that's another story...

-- Michael Fremer, senior contributing editor, Stereophile

I have one thing to say to this. I know this is the way it is going to be, but I am a musician and I have this silly idea that I could/should be paid for my performance/music. How many other professions out there, from trash collector to doctor, are going to do their job for free? (Or more to the point, at a drastically reduced rate as a result of a great many people getting the service for free)?

-- Joe Horner

Mr. Snyder's comments remind me of the debate that raged among radio stations at the advent of television. In the end the networks that embraced this new technology (NBC, CBS, ABC, etc.) survived those who buried their heads in the sand and collectively bemoaned the march of progress. The fact that 3 billion songs were downloaded in 2002 should be an indication to the RIAA that their clients are missing out on market share; the record companies that see MP3s as a cheap, successful alternative to CDs will be the pioneers of 21st century music distribution. The RIAA should embrace this new medium just as the major television networks did a half century ago. In an economy where a CD-RW costs as much as a CD player it is easy to see that the pre-pressed CD is becoming an expensive and obsolete medium. How many 8-tracks, or record players, does Sony make these days?

-- John David Short

John and Ben Snyder have composed a thoughtful and provocative statement on the changing face of the music business, what MP3s and MP3 downloading have to do with it, and why record companies are losing money. But one element that their article, and many articles like it, fail to address is the hardly inconsequential business of selling used, legitimate CDs. I would estimate that I buy at least half of my CDs used, either from a small, locally owned shop in my town or from an online used retailer -- and if the CD I'm buying came out more than six months ago, I'm almost 100 percent likely to buy it used. In these financially tight times, it makes more sense for people to buy CDs used for eight or nine dollars if they're guaranteed to play like new (and from a reputable retailer, like SecondSpin or Musical Energi, they are). While this business is legitimate and can't be stopped by the petulant profit-obsession of the recording industry, Hilary Rosen and her ilk would do well to examine this trend, if only to be reminded that $15 or more really is a lot of money to pay for a CD when you don't make six or seven figures like she does.

(By the way, I am not affiliated with the retailers I mentioned -- I just know them both as reputable businesses with fair pricing, and have made many purchases from both.)

-- Abigail Myers

Wow! That piece by John Snyder was the most thoughtful and provocative piece that I have ever read concerning the current debate over intellectual property and digital rights. Frankly, I could not agree more with his position.

When the recording industry complains about file swapping and "lost revenue" they don't even think about whether or not the person receiving the file would ever have bought the record. This is like an NFL blackout, really. Millions of people watched the Super Bowl on TV, while about 80,000 got into the stadium. Are those millions of people that were not at the game "lost revenue" for the stadium? No, because the NFL has figured out a way to get revenue by casting its product to a wider audience.

-- Dan Carmack

The entertainment companies have to embrace the experience. After all, they are not in the business of selling piece of anodized plastic, or are they? When I think of all the music I purchased first on vinyl -- yes, I'm that old -- then cassette and finally CD, it's all been the same ole music. Yet I purchased this music to enjoy the experience in different manners. Cassette made music portable and CDs added the ability to play specific tracks easily.

Now the ultimate portability is downloading. But only the music business can kill a scenario where there are millions of users comfortable with the interface and user experience. They are scared and, if I was in their shoes, I would be also. But the reality is that people buy the music for the experience. The ultimate form factor is download, as it can be used in various ways. Why should I have to pay for physical-world assets, plastic and paper, when I just want the music? The music companies should embrace file sharing as the ultimate low-cost distribution mechanism. It would gain tremendous acceptance if there was a one-stop shop for all music and it was priced fairly.

What is the value? One-stop shopping. All I can eat. What I would like to see are more community aspects. The record companies have no respect for their customers' time. Funny, did you know that 92 percent of all recording artists with one hit song don't have another? Why is that? Because the record companies don't know who their customer is. What a direct-marketing opportunity! One of the things we learned from the recent Internet explosion is that to control the entire food chain is very expensive and the chances of succeeding are close to nil. In any other business a potential business partner with 50,000,000 customers would be a very important partner. Why keep reinventing the wheel? It's there, partner.

The real big picture is that the Internet and the music people and everyone else in the entertainment business have to invent new content that will be exclusively available on the Net. It will be what I call "lean-back gaming": It will be an experience that keeps you interested, yet does not require the "lean forward" experience of gaming but the "lean back" experience of watching TV or listening to music.

-- Miles Rose

I suspect that part of the problem is the overselling of digital rights management to the record companies. Until stereos are secured all the way out to the speakers, anyone can dodge digital protections by a detour through analog. This puts a hard limit on the effectiveness of DRM.

I am somewhat surprised that the record companies have not set out to start their own Internet broadcasting setups. Because it's not "real radio," I believe that they can dodge regulations (what few remain) on radio station ownership. They would not need to deal with radio station owners. They could play the songs in actual DJ format, with no clear separation between them, so that it is more difficult to rip the song (thus, protection as good as DRM, since that can also be ripped from analog in real time). They could digitally sign each song as they play it, so that they have some handle on how the song is (or is not) copied and traded after it appears. Maybe they want this information to crack down on large-scale file sharing, maybe they want it for marketing purposes -- they have the option, either way.

-- David Chase

I am completely wowed by Snyder's article. Although he says things I already knew, and quotes extensively from sources I have already read, it is truly a pleasure to see someone connect the dots in a logical and rational manner. Bravo to Snyder for saying what he said and to Salon for printing it in its entirety.

-- Alan Wexelblat

Great article. I listen to the blues. I want the rightful people to get their fair share. I pay for my music. I get it at emusic.com. Their model works for me.

When I find something I really like, I go out and spend on the boxed set, the collection that has the artists that I enjoy. That gives me more value than just the track. If and when these artists make it to DVD I will buy that over the CD in a N.Y. minute.

I get to sample hundreds of new artists this way. $9.99/month. I've been doing this for almost two years now -- that little $9.99 adds up.

Commercial radio has forgotten me. So screw them. The RIAA has just pissed me off, so screw them. I get what I want and am happy to pay for it.

By the way, I'm over 40, have an MBA, and work in marketing at a major energy company. Thank god for the RIAA. Someone is more hated than oil!!

-- Dave Jones

Thank you!!! to John and Ben Snyder for one of the most intelligent, cogent, and consistent arguments concerning downloaded copyrighted music. When will the music industry wake up and hear us?

I am a relatively regular KaZaA user. One of my favorite activities is to spend an evening downloading music (old and new) and listen to it, or create a new CD with it. I am 38 years old, and I have a very nice, professional career. But I have maintained for a very long time now that I do not contribute to the decline of music sales by downloading music.

The Big Music Industry monopoly of music is frightening and insulting. We are fed nothing but garbage on the radio, garbage on MTV, garbage in Rolling Stone, and garbage in CD advertising. For me, surfing for music on the Internet is a matter of musical survival. It is the only way to hear music that is not garbage. Where else could I possibly hear a song by Beth Gibbons, or Aimee Mann, or Sigur Ros or the Magnetic Fields, or Felix Da Housecat? Nowhere.

I also maintain that if I am downloading a significant amount of a single artist's music without buying their CD, it's because I will never buy their CD. For instance, I have been listening to the new (in the U.S.) song by the Russian pseudo-lesbian T.A.T.U. called "All the Things She Said." Excellent Euro-pop ditty with no real long-term value. But I love it. I listen to it all the time. I put it on CDs for friends (who may go buy it if they like it). But I will not, and never would have, purchased the CD. Definitely not for $18.

Finally, downloading music also contributes to my buying more music in general. It provides an outlet for me to sample something before I invest. And if I like it, I will definitely buy it.

Thanks again to John and Ben. There are reasonable solutions to these issues. I am glad to read that someone is suggesting them.

-- Perry Seymour

So what percentage of Artist House Record's catalog is available for free download?

-- Doug Andersen

I thought the article written by John Snyder on where the NARAS should stand was extremely insightful and well supported.

You are absolutely right: "50 million people can't be wrong."

By shackling the consumer, being utterly ignorant of new technologies, and chaining themselves and the politicians they lobby (purchase) to old-school marketing methodologies, the RIAA is dying a slow death, taking the rights of the consumers away at the same time. As a consumer, I only hope they die quickly, leaving no lasting impressions in the future on what I can and cannot do with what I own or purchase.

To my favorite artists, I would say I will still support you by attending concerts and purchasing your CDs. To the RIAA and to its financial losses, I would say I am glad and maybe if there was better music out there I would be purchasing more of it. To Mr. Snyder and NARAS, I wish the best for you in making this decision to step to the beat of a different drummer.

-- Kurt Gunderson

By Salon Staff

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