Yesterday, the New York Times published an excellent op-ed by a couple guys who owned an independent record store in NYC that went under in 2005. What’s great about this piece is that it puts forth the argument that, while downloading and file-sharing is hurting not just the major labels but also the little guys, a good portion of the blame can still be placed on big industry (RIAA being the figurehead of course) rather than the inherent selfishness or evil of consumers (the stock RIAA argument — “they don’t play by the rules and we’re the victims!” — that makes me severely uncomfortable, to say the least).
Basically, the argument is one that I’ve put forth before and read in a few other places, but rarely in so concise and cogent a form: that the record industry is guilty of mishandling the onset of new technology and basically just been flat-out stupid, not only trying to defend a technology that is over two decades old (CDs) and grossly inefficient and out of date, but actually jacking up prices on them in some cases. It’s akin to paying $5,000 for an IBM PC-AT or an Apple IIgs.
The recording industry association saw the threat that illegal downloads would pose to CD sales. But rather than working with Napster, it tried to sue the company out of existence — which was like thinking you’ve killed all the roaches in your apartment because you squashed the one you saw in the kitchen. More illegal download sites cropped up faster than the association’s lawyers could say “cease and desist.”
Also, they bemoan the record industry getting in bed with the likes of Best Buy and Wal-Mart to undercut prices, “[b]ecause, ideally, the person who came in to get the new Eagles release with exclusive bonus material would also decide to pick up a high-speed blender that frappéed.” It’s a great article, arguing that not only has the RIAA put profits before music, which is something that should surprise no one at all, but also that they’ve put short-term profits before long-term business savvy.