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Wednesday, June 11, 2008 

I forgot to title this one

There's a pretty interesting (and very lengthy) interview with Cory Doctorow up at the Onion AV Club here today, and the whole thing is worth reading, but working in a used record store and getting promos (and yes, downloading shit) as I do, this part seemed kind of relevant:

I think the most compelling, intuitively true study that I've seen on online distribution… Rufus Pollack from Cambridge University, who's a Ph.D. candidate in economics there, conducted it. What he concluded was, for the bottom 75 percent of music, piracy represents a small-to-midsize increase in sales, so it generates more sales than it displaces. For the next 20 percent or so, in the 75 to 98 percent range, it's a wash. You lose some copies, you get some free publicity, you more or less break even. And then for the tiny minority that would be at the top, that 2 percent, it represents a small loss. And those are the people who can kind of afford it. If Stephen King loses a couple hundred bucks to piracy on his latest book, it's not going to break his bank. Tim O'Reilly says piracy is progressive taxation—the people who can afford it most are the people who suffer it most. And the people who need it the most are the ones who benefit the most. That was a pretty intuitively true study, and it seems like it's holding true. I'm still in the bottom 75 percentile of art, of published works, and I think I'm getting a lift from Creative Commons, and I think I'm going to hit a point where it'll make just as much as it loses, just because I'll be well-known enough. And then I might level up to the point where I'm making tons and tons of money just from royalties, and I might lose a couple hundred bucks here and there just because of infringement from piracy. But at that point, piracy will have gotten me to the place where I can afford to lose some, so I'm not going to cry down my shirt.

That doesn't mean I have no issues with downloading and so on and so forth, but like Doctorow, I find that study kind of intuitively compelling.

This is exactly how I have been trying to explain it to people, because this is how I've been watching it work for the last couple of years. I even have record labels in my slsk user list that upload their new releases as soon as they are done because it helps them sell more – it’s advertising in a way that the major label execs couldn’t understand. I have been framing my view about piracy and downloading in terms of the 'bottom 75 percent' too. The media's fascination with the 'death of the industry' ignores the fact that the multi-million (billion?) dollar part of it is a tiny aberration, a few freak artists coupled with a few freak companies that are capable of making mega buck$ through (a whole other essay’s worth of) marketing strategies. 99.999% of music made (even given a release on plastic) doesn’t go through the channels that are making the scary noises over piracy.

My music industry has certainly not suffered in the slightest. I buy as much wax as I can, I don’t spend any less than I did before downloading existed and the reason I download stuff is because labels keep selling out of all their runs of records!!


That’s all kind of simplified, but I thought my 2 cents worth would be less tedious than reading my whole $2.

MxBx

Honestly, I'd love reading the whole $2 somewhere, but it might not fit well in a comment section on some small, underread blog. That's interesting to hear about the label heads, though - I can't imagine it not being a good move on their part.

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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