The sky is not falling on the music industry

I tend to talk about Big Media (aka the entertainment industry) on this site quite a bit. The reason for this is pretty simple: Big Media constantly complains about how content “piracy” (its term for infringing music and movie downloads and sharing) is costing the industry enormous amounts of money, jobs and sales. It has been a constant drumbeat for the last few decades and the industry uses a variety of increasingly absurd statistics to persuade legislators around the world to enact overreaching legislation that will have a detrimental effect on the Web and users’ ability to share and express themselves legitimately. I have referred to Big Media as the biggest threat to progress and innovation a couple times and I don’t think this is an exaggeration.

Mike Masnick, writing at Techdirt, has been writing about this for some time and his posts are insightful and challenge misleading and false assertions made by Big Media. His latest post, titled RIAA Insists That, Really, The Music Industry Is Collapsing; Reality Shows It’s Just The RIAA That’s Collapsing speaks to the music industry’s health in the context of a report which reviewed the music industry around 2010 and 2011 and found that, contrary to the Recording Industry Association of America’s assertions, the music industry is doing pretty well.

The report’s findings confirm what many artists and content creators have reported for years. Even in the midst of all this apparent content “piracy”, the effects on the industry as a whole have not nearly been as dire as Big Media would have us and legislators believe. In fact, as I mentioned in a previous post, many content creators embrace this “piracy” because its tends to boost legitimate sales of their content. As Masnick points out, the problem is more a perceptual one based on increasingly obsolete business models Big Media clings to:

The real problem here is that the RIAA ignores the zeros. In the past, under the old system, if you weren’t some hugely successful label musician, you generally weren’t a musician at all. You made zero and you dropped out of the market entirely. So you didn’t count. But thanks to the new opportunities, many more people can make music, release music and make money from music. But that means a lot more competition. So, sure, if you don’t compete with that wider base of competition, perhaps you’re going to make less. But that’s not a sign indicating a decline in health of the overall market. It’s exactly the opposite.

I’m reminded of the early studies when computers were first introduced into the workplace. For about a decade afterwards, there were studies that showed that, on average, offices that had computers on every desk saw productivity decline. So, some argued, companies shouldn’t computerize. But that’s a misunderstanding of statistics. The problem was that many companies didn’t know how to properly use computers. Those that did were thriving. Those that didn’t had negative results — and when you netted it out, early on, the negative results outweighed the positive, but that turned the corner once people started to figure things out.

The same thing is happening in the music industry. Many artists are so used to the way things were that they don’t quite understand how to embrace and use these new offerings. For them, life is definitely more difficult. But as more and more tools have made life easier, there’s more and more opportunity, and those who do understand these things are seeing success.

The immediate threat is that we see treaties like ACTA being adopted by more countries and bills like SOPA being introduced again and again. These legislative frameworks are part of a longer term campaign to impose more restrictive and harmful copyright regimes on national legal frameworks and its driven by Big Media. In the meantime the industry is not addressing users’ desire for convenient and reasonably priced content sales options. What it is doing is making more and more inroads into the once free and open Web and that is bad for consumers and businesses. This isn’t to say that content “piracy” is a good thing as a general rule. Content creators should be able to protect their rights and distribute their content in ways they are most comfortable with (and should have the legal authority to do that effectively) but there are many content creators who are exploring alternatives and should be free to do that.

Techdirt’s report is important because it shows the lies behind Big Media’s statistics and the basis on which its draconian requirements are based. What is sorely lacking is meaningful transparency in the industry and these sorts of reports show that what is really suffering is Big Media itself. The artists and creators are discovering new tools and attitudes and are making them work for themselves.