It’s raining in the desert

09.29.03

When you’re selling water in the desert and it starts to pour, sorry dude, you’re outta business, better start selling umbrellas instead.

That’s marketing 101. Sometimes you have to rethink your business because of changes in demand, trends, or technological developments.

The major record companies haven’t seem to have caught on yet. Like the British, unwilling to see the pink sky indicating the sun setting on their empire, the record labels are reacting to online file swapping in a reactionary, defensive, scrambling way that’s sure to only alienate their market in hopes of hanging onto the disappearing role of a retail middleman for as long as possible.

So by suing hundreds of fans, the major labels are choking out their last gasp in trying to tell us that in order to have the privilege of listening to music, we must pay them billions of dollars a year to make it available to us.

Is online file-swapping stealing? Sure it is . . . from the artists. But the RIAA, which has launched the lawsuits, represents the largest record labels in the United States. These are the companies who have been ripping off artists for years, and have nice big fat legal departments mainly because they’ve been at the receiving end of so many lawsuits themselves. They convinced the musicians that they were absolutely essential if they wanted to get a record pressed, played, and purchased. And they convinced retailers and, ultimately, consumers, that it was their way or the highway.

Then along came the highway – the information superhighway, to borrow a bad cliché – and suddenly the demand end stopped needing the labels. The record buyers could be record freeloaders, thanks to a click of the mouse. And yeah, it was stealing and all, but it didn’t seem much different from taping a song off the radio, or a movie off TV with a VCR.

The artists, however, are still convinced that they need the labels, because what online file-swapping has yet to do is to set up an alternative business model that will make them any money. So they cling to the labels like life-preservers. Still, such a model will evolve. It’s bound to. Because any model that relies on something artificial like lawsuits to try to put the genie back in the bottle must be on its way out.

The artists are necessary in the business model because they create the music. The fans are necessary because they consume the music. But the labels? If we no longer need them to create and distribute the CDs, then they’ll need to find other uses (they’re still important in terms of artist promotion and building image and hype) or shut up and get out of the game. And don’t let the door hit ya on the way out.

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