compulsory reading, Economics, intellectual property rights, music industry

They’ll get the pricing wrong.

For at least five years. If you search my blog you will find that I have repeatedly said that all attempts to sell musical downloads will suffer from problematic price policy. Apple’s new itunes download service is no exception. True, it is probably closer than anything previously seen to actually enhancing the user experience with digital music. According to wired news,

“… opening day downloads equaled the number of songs legally downloaded over a six-month period last year.”

But it is nonetheless bereft with a pricing dilemma. A dollar a tune is not always a justifiable price, even though NY Times columnist David Pogue is ridiculing criticism of this pricing policy.

In fact, for most downloads it is clearly too much, even though things are cheaper when an entire Album is downloaded – for 10 dollars. While a tenner a disk makes downloading for some albums cheaper than your local record store, it is, on the other hand, probably a prohibitive price for DRM protected material, and, moreover, a price justifiable only due to the channel conflict with the non-digital distribution universe, which still makes it necessary to spend millions on marketing songs to people who are not interested in them anyway. It is a price only justified if the advantages of the internet, especially in the realm of marketing to a smaller, but more appropriate audience, are not exploited.

Thus, a dollar a buck can just be the beginning. People will continue to negotiate this price by using KaZaa and Grokster. Record companies will continue to try to scare unwitting conservative politicians about “the end of property” as well as send cease-and-desist letters to people sharing songs.

The big unknown variable is the political one. Will politicians be willing to understand the conventional definitions of property are just not appropriate in the digital age? Or will they allow the record industry to gain a windfall from perpetuating the economic structures of previous times for an unknown amount of time? I firmly believe that eventually, the social and economic institutions will adjust to a new reality.

But again, it is a matter of pricing. This time, a matter of the price that our information societies will be willing to pay for patrolling people’s hard drives and digitally fingreprinting their lives. Maybe US Sen. Santorum’s intervention telling homosexuals that they do not have a right to privacy came at the right time. I don’t know. But it is more important now than ever to tell people that digital privacy is an important issue. Something, many people were concerned about when it wasn’t a real issue yet, back in the 1980s.

Now that it is one, people don’t seem to realise that the same mechanism that allows to reduce the prices of individual songs could be the reason for the end of civil liberties as we know it. [ author off to pay to see a film in a real movie theatre…]