Fair enough

Thinking back to 1992, the average price of a music CD was somewhere between $12 and $13. As time went on, prices rose steadily until they hit an average of $15 to $16, with individual discs costing about as much as three dollars more for those who didn’t known where to shop.

At some point in the 90s, the music industry was accused of having formed a cartel. I remember some federal investigation, some verdict or settlement, and even something about money being owned to customers, the color of which I never saw. And I had bought a lot of music for many years. Parenthesis: “Hi, I’m Luiz Felipe and I’m addicted to music and no, I don’t want to get into your 12 step program for that.” End of parenthesis.

In the meantime, both the Tower Records-types of stores (remember?) and the independent ones were starting to suffer with the advent of online businesses like CD Now (bought by Amazon.com) and CD Universe. The competition was enough to give consumer a bit of a break in prices and I was moderately happy with the situation. (Truth be told, I’ve always been a bargain shopper and often raided bargain bins and used CD shelves with great success, so I rarely paid full retail prices).

Then, around the turn of the millennium, what followed was Napster, KaZaA, Emule, and other shady means of “acquisition” of music, but who would have wanted to risk their neck in an RIAA lawsuit? It turns out a lot of people did. It was easy, it was free, and only a small percentage of people were getting caught. There was much more to this “rush to download” than people trying to get away with stealing. People are mostly good, people have consciences (most of them), and most often, people want to do the right thing.

There were years of marked up prices, there was widespread belief that of the CD price only a small fraction was getting to the artists, there was a bit of a Robin Hood feeling of retribution going on. Teaching CSCI 240 Computers and Society, a class focused on computer ethics, I got to have many discussions with young people who said they didn’t feel that massive file sharing and music downloading equated to theft. Certainly a great point for in-class debate.

Young people are informed consumers. They know well that in the $17 they’d pay for a CD today (that is, if they were still buying that kind of media), only a small fraction would go to support the artists, pay for production and distribution costs, for the media, etc. Perhaps it is the sense of having been robbed in the first place what justifies them going after Prince John.

An indication that people would pay if charged a what was considered a “fair price” came with the .ru sites such as Mediaservices Inc.’s AllofMp3.com. People could pay to download by the bit, not by the song, and not at iTunes’ $0.99 a song, but they were paying and that made consciences feel better than just downloading. There was a catch, though, as widely documented, which I quote here:

“Mediaservices argues that it is a legal company because it pays royalties to the Russian Organization for Multimedia and Digital Systems (ROMS) which is basically the Russian version of SoundExchange in the United States. The problem is that the major labels don’t recognize ROMS and have refused to accept any payment from the organization.”

AllOfMp3.com was shut down, but just like a zombie, it came back and seems to have multiplied. At the same time, the status quo has changed a lot and I feel that we have reached a point where excuses for not doing the right thing won’t cut it anymore. Amazon.com has been offering mp3 downloads are very fair prices, what has been bad for my addiction “problem” (if you can call being passionate for music a problem).

For instance, this weekend they sold me Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” at $3.99, which compared to iTunes’ $9.99 is a really great deal. That’s more than a 50% discount, if you’re lazy to do the math. MGMT’s “Oracular Spectacular” (which I loved) cost me $5.00 about two weeks ago. Amazon is showing that it is possible to sell digital music at fair prices by creating the right opportunities. The catch is that the special offers are fleeting opportunities and if you miss the boat, that might be it. While  I used to drive around to scavenge for the right CD bargains, I can reach the same result from my computer by visiting Amazon.com: MP3 Special Deals once a week. You might not get exactly what you want, when you want it, and at the price you want it, but come on, tone down that sense of entitlement. If you want that cake and want to eat it too,  just pay the regular download price or go shop at a Virgin Megastore (I actually love them, but their prices are insane). Alternatively, you can be patient and money-savvy, and enjoy discovering great music in the over 1,000 titles that come around as special deals.

I recently bought some great music at fair enough prices from Amazon.com:

  • Rodrigo Y Gabriela: 11:11
  • Paula Morelembaum: Berimbaum
  • Stan Getz: Jazz Samba Encore!
  • João Gilberto: Getz/Gilberto
  • Celso Fonseca: Natural
  • Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
  • Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Gimme Fiction
  • MGMT: Oracular Spectacular

One thought on “Fair enough”

Comments are closed.