Monday, October 18, 2010

Rob Dickins' £1 CD Plan

Starting tomorrow, October 19, I plan on watching one new horror movie (new to me, as some of the planned movies are quite old) a day until Halloween. With each new movie, I'll write a post about the movie and my reaction to it. I decided to do this partially because I drank some egg nog over the weekend and was ashamed of myself for skipping into the Christmas season and skipping Halloween. Another reason is that there are a lot of horror movies I haven't seen and I'm a bit ashamed of that. Non-related posts will also show up throughout those days.

That'll start tomorrow, though. Today I wanted to bring up this news story I found on ThePunkSite. (Fuller version of the story can be found via BBC News.) Rob Dickins, former head of the UK's branch of Warner Music has suggested a new way to combat music piracy. His suggestion? Lower prices.

What Dickins wants to do is drop the prices of CD's to £1, roughly 1.58 USD. On the surface, without much thought, it sounds like a decent idea. One of the main reasons for piracy is high prices, which make consumers unwilling to take the risk on music they haven't heard yet. At one pound, it's less of a risk. Dickins predicts a "major CD" selling 200 million copies.

The problem is that even though that's a lot of copies, it still doesn't work out to that much profit for the labels. Dickins implied suggestion around this is to supplement sales with 360 deals. For those unfamiliar with 360 deals, let me explain. Traditionally, a record deal involved a label putting up the money for recording an album and promotion of that album. After earning back their investment, the label then takes a percentage of sales of the album. In a 360 deal, the label gets a cut of all sources of income for a band, including ticket sales and non-music merchandise (t-shirts, for example). This deal kinda sucks for bands, as it greatly cuts into their earnings.

I have a problem with Dickins' plan, but I also have a problem with the criticisms. Jonathan Shalit, who according to the artcile "discovered Charlotte Church and manages N Dubz and Russell Watson," compared the suggested price to that of bottled water: "A piece of music is a valuable form of art. If you want the person to respect it and value it, its got to cost them not a huge sum of money but a significant sum of money." This reminds me of The Cure frontman Robert Smith's comments regarding Radioheads decision to make In Rainbows available for a fan-specified donation ("You can't allow other people to put a price on what you do, otherwise you don't consider what you do to have any value at all and that's nonsense").

I disagreed with Smith back then and I disagree with Shalit now. I'm a huge supporter of what Radiohead did, what Nine Inch Nails did, and what the artists on Quote Unquote Records and Death To False Hope Records. What I find most disagreeable about Shalit's statement is that it equates music to money. He's talking about a piece of music as a form of art, and that's fine. Music is a form of art. But to then say that it HAS to cost money to be worth anything pretty much contradicts that. I feel like that's not the best way to have worded it, but trying to think about his statement equating monetary value and artistic value makes me so mad that it's difficult to think straight.

Overall, I don't think album prices are the cause of the music industry's decline. It's more about album prices combined with shady business practices (360 deals, cheating artists out of royalties, etc) and the constant pushing of mediocre music as "the next big thing." I agree that major changes have to take place for big labels to remain relevant in the future of music, but I don't think this should be one of those changes.

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