Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Napster wails that free music is terrible

It's like watching a genie trying to wedge itself back into a bottle. Thorsten Schliesche, Napster's vice president for sales and marketing in Europe, is upset.

(Hang about: has Napster got any sales in Europe? Apparently there's a .co.uk and a .de site, and it's all at the very forefront of the digital hyperroadway, proudly proclaiming napster.co.uk to be "recommended by 4Radio." Channel 4 pulled its radio experiment at the end of 2008 - why on earth would Napster be proudly proclaiming the support of a now-defunct but once modish digital adventure?)

Anyway, Schliesche doesn't like free music:

"New business models are arriving, amongst which the ‘freemium' service model has been naturally and powerfully adopted by consumers. Yet the ongoing momentum of that model does not have longevity and my greatest fear is that there are now too many 'free' messages to keep music truly valuable, as it should be, in the eyes of the consumer," he warned.

Like so many people, Schliesche's worry about people not "valuing" music doesn't really mean anything of the sort. What he means is he's worried about people not wanting to pay cash for music. Cash to him and his company.

The value of music doesn't exist solely, even primarily, in pounds and pence. That song that you slow-danced to at the school disco, or the one you lost your virginity to, or was playing when you fell in love - you value that song. In a way that doesn't require a signature or PIN code. A far, far greater threat to music come from people like Schliesche who see enjoying music as valueless unless it is part of a comodified system of exchange than people who value music, but perhaps don't put a cash amount on it.

Still, Schliesche - whose business and job is based solely on a service which used to give away music it didn't own for no money - is at least vaguely aware that he might be coming across a bit Bono:
"As a business Napster has been at the forefront of that change. In its original form, it was the first service to create a platform online that allowed people to search and find music, engaging millions of people. We don't deny that free music was part of that story," he explained.

Free music was a part of the story. In a similar way to, say, how a giant monster made up of used body parts and disappointment was part of the Frankenstein story. Or the Son of God was part of the Christmas story.

To be fair, he makes no attempt whatsoever to try and jump across this awkward gap in his thinking, and instead reaches out to people to, you know, do something:
"If users no longer believe in the need to maintain the ecosystem that is required to inspire and support new and existing artists and labels because they are getting something that they perceive to be free, somewhere along the way something extremely valuable may be lost. This discussion is one that must be addressed by all parties in the coming 12 months to ensure that the value of music is recognised and prolonged."

The trouble is, the music industry ecosystem isn't designed to support artists and music; it's designed to support the music industry ecosysten. If people never paid a penny for any song ever, there would still be songs written, tunes sung, tracks recorded and music shared. The only difference would be that there wouldn't be a structure of major labels and accountants and lawyers floating on top.