Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Music Industry's Unpredictable Future

The music industry is hurting. This isn't a shocker for anyone who has paid attention for the last 8 years, a period by which we have seen the evolution of music from being pushed in $18.99 compact disc units to being available on 30 GB iPods. The music industry never had to face anything like this before, and the entire business model that had been used for artists from Elvis Presley to Eminem is now being shaken.

I'm not a businessperson by any means, and my experience in such matters is still being built. However, from my humble perspective, it seems to me that the entire entertainment industry should say goodbye to the days of one monolithic means of distribution. Like the publishing industry, where magazines can be free online with advertisements, viewable online by membership or not online at all apart from a website with information on how to subscribe, where books can be found in the traditional format, on audiobooks on CD or through services like iTunes and Audible or through a .pdf file, the music industry should embrace the fact that we live in an age where there are as many choices for ways of obtaining information as there is information to obtain.

So far the online models for legal distribution of music files have been sites like iTunes, which sells music directly, or Rhapsody, which allows access to a library of music for a subscribtion fee. This have been successful, but not nearly as well used as torrent sites or peer-to-peer programs like Frostwire. This could change with the addition of the program QTRAX, which provides users with free, P2P music legally by obtaining money through advertisements, in the same way an online magazine such as Slate or, yes, Townhall pays for itself.

I never thought of this, but when I heard it seemed like common sense and a win-all formula for all involved. People do not seem to mind advertisements, as evidenced by the success of everything from cable TV to online magazines. If there were a public antipathy towards ads, PBS would be the highest-rated network on cable. With the formula adopted by QTRAX, musicians would still make money, but more in the way a writer like Christopher Hitchens makes money through his Slate column.

I want good music to continue, and I don't want the musicians who make it to be homeless. If a method of distribution doesn't come to pass that allows them to get make a profit from their hard work, they'll always be able to rely on concerts and T-shirts.

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