Saturday, June 27, 2009

BPI admit to mistakes. Ten years ago.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI, writes for BBC News Online to mark the 10th anniversary of Napster. It turns out, you know, the music industry screwed it up:

Napster understood the internet's potential for decentralised music distribution, and offered it to consumers in a way that was simple to understand and use.

Many critics have argued that the music industry could have avoided some of the problems it faces today if we had embraced Napster rather than fighting it.

That's probably true, and I, for one, regret that we weren't faster in figuring out how to create a sustainable model for music on the internet.

Why ever did you not, though?
But this view also overlooks the formidable hurdles we faced in 1999.

To make music fully and legally available on the internet meant clearing the rights in millions of tracks for a huge number of countries, agreeing how the revenue should be shared, implementing workable DRM (which everyone considered fundamental at the time), developing technology to track all the downloads for royalty purposes, as well as creating a quality user experience people would pay for.

Shawn Fanning and his P2P followers didn't worry about any of those things, and weren't prepared to pay fair royalties or to partner in a business model that could sustain investment in new music.

This is a bit of a rewriting of history. The idea that in 1999, the major labels were sitting in offices, struggling with how to surmount licensing problems and create a workable model is like one of those US war movies which shows the American army swinging into action in 1939. The first response of the coming of Napster was to just try and make it stop, to go away, to protect CD sales; reluctantly, as the companies burned through piles of cash and only succeeded in making illicit internet services more user-friendly and less-traceable, was to try and create a model which ceded none of the control, and kept prices and profits untouched.

Further on - having churned out much the same "boo-hoo" we've been hearing for ten years of a "if you don't pay thirteen quid for a CD, however will we be able to create the next Saturdays or Pixie Lott" type - there's this bit:
A case in point is the recent blog by The Guardian's Charles Arthur saying "Why does the music industry persist in saying that every download is a lost sale?"

The answer is, quite simply, that we don't - our figures are based on a detailed analysis of actual spending behaviour in different age groups.

Is this an actual line of the day decided at the top table of UK Music?

Because this is what Sharkey said in his Guardian piece:
He points out that these numbers don't stack up - that you can't equate every illegal download with a "lost sale"- and asks why the music industry keeps putting them forward.

Writing as chief executive of UK Music, the umbrella body representing the commercial music industry, the simple answer is: we didn't.

Except, as I said earlier in the week, the music industry has said in court, under oath, that an unlicensed download is equivalent to a lost sale.

You know what, though: it's probably not surprising that the BPI and UK Music try to get away with rewriting history and telling little fibs. Since they've spent the last decade or so not quite grasping what's going on online, it's not surprising they can sit around, dreaming up new ways of presenting what's happened in the past, and completely forgetting that anyone with access to Google and could see through it in a second.

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