Robert Cringely has an idea for working around the RIAA in putting together a new music service. His idea centers around the notions of ownership and fair use. In a publicly traded company, the owners of the company are the stockholders. So, Cringely figures, create a company that buys a bunch of CDs and allow the “owners” of those CDs (the stockholders) to download MP3 backups of the music. He envisions a very low price point, with none of the money circulating back to artists and labels.
The questions that are left unanswered in this are what will Snapster do against competitors, and what will the company do after there are no more CDs to buy?
That second question is exactly on the mark for the problem here. Yes, the RIAA members tend to make contracts that drag their artists through the mud. But, the fact of the matter is that the RIAA provides services to the artist that no one has yet duplicate: production and promotion.
Cringely writes, correctly, that the costs of production have come way down. That’s true, assuming that the artists have the talent to not only perform, but write, produce and mix the songs. There are a number of people involved in the production side of things that need to earn a living.
The Internet could certainly produce new promotional opportunities, but the musicians that generate the most revenue are the ones that get promoted to radio.
Cringely’s idea is quite interesting (and has implications for software, too!), but the only really sustainable model is one that ensures that the creators of the work can earn a living.