Better Living Through Graphic Storytelling
A Comics Blog About Shit We Like
01 August 2007

Seriously, the next person who claims that it was illegal downloading that "killed" the music industry....


You know what? You're entitled to your opinion. If your opinion is that the Music Industry as we knew it could have survived, had the onslaught of P2P sharing networks, such as Gnutella and Slsk not become ubiquitous, then so be it. I've made very clear in the past my advocacy of downloading media (illegally or otherwise), and how I honestly believe that it makes people more responsible and conscientious consumers. It allows us to make informed decisions about what we pay for.

Maybe I should have mentioned something though...

I'm a musician. My father's a musician. My roommate's a musician. Most of the people I was around, growing up as a kid, were musicians, both professional and otherwise. Some of these people work for small record companies as their day jobs. Now that they all have iPods, they all download music. Before the internet, they used to tape music, either off the radio, or from records borrowed from friends or the local library. We're musicians and we steal. Fuck you.

I mean, even if one were to blame Napster for the death of the music industry (looking at you Lars Ulrich), did we really want the music industry as we knew it to survive? Be completely honest with yourselves now.

Illegal downloads f**ked the music industry seriously, and while I'm all for sticking it to the "man," it all does end up negatively impacting the artists and their art -- ESPECIALLY SMALLER "NICHE" MUSICIANS!

I would say that music industry executives, and the framework of the industry is what really f**ked musicians and artists, long long long before the internet was around. Don't believe me? I know some dudes in Plainfield that worked as studio musicians on some historically important records and never saw a lick of the album profits. That's not because they were screwed over by anyone with any specific malice towards them. That's because working studio musicians only get paid a one-time fee. Even if you provide an improvised excerpt in a song (i.e. solo), which many musicians like to refer to as "spontaneous composition", you get a one time fee. No publishing rights, nothing. Why? Because that is the going contract for studio musicians. That is the way in which the Music Industry was designed at its very inception.

I mean, you want to talk artists' royalties, the situation is not much better. We're talking a couple cents per unit, and that's after the label has recovered expenses (i.e. shipping, packaging, production, any sort of advance, touring costs, etc.). A couple cents per unit. The average CD costs less than a dollar to manufacture. The cost of an individual album, including shipping, production, artwork, packaging, is somewhere between $3 - $4. It might be even less at this point. Meanwhile, music consumers are being charged anywhere between $11 - $18 on average. That's about $10 more than the CD cost to make. That's a $10 profit per unit, and the artist is getting paid a couple cents per unit. This was the case well before Napster, and last time I walked into a record store, it was the case several years after Napster.

The music industry does not respect you. The music industry does not respect it's "talent". All the music industry has done, since its inception, is convince you, the consumer, that there was a need for a middle-man.

Before The Music Dies is a fairly decent documentary which investigates this issue further, by interviewing music fans, studio technicians, professional songwriters, musicians, and former A&R reps. The nicest thing about this documentary is that they are selling both DVDs and DRM-free, downloadable digital copies of the movie (both at compressed and DVD quality) via their website. No middle-man. If your curious about this issue, and how it relates to music fans and musicians, check out the site.

Now, in relation to the post, I don't really think that the issue is whether or not illegal downloading is right or wrong. The real issue is that the RIAA does not want you downloading music, period, and that this is another piece of propaganda to add to the pile. It just so happens to feature a comic book character. That has always been BoingBoing's stance. Sure, pay the artists for their work, but don't let the record company tell you how to use your music (i.e. Digital Rights Management). Intellectual property is a very slippery slope of an issue, but property formal is less so. If you pay for a record, whether it be the physical record or a digital copy, the record company should not be able to prevent you from sharing it with your friends, burning multiple copies for whatever reason, or play these files on another machine.

Let's put this in terms of another media industry. Let's say you bought the Civil War tradepaperback. Your buddy comes over, sees you have the book. He's interested in buying the X-men tie-in trade, because he's a big X-men fan who happens to be one of those wait-for-the-trade guys, but he hadn't read the main story yet. He's a bit of a tightwad when it comes to his cash. So you offer to lend it to him. Now imagine that the minute the book exchanges hands, Joe Quesada pops up out of nowhere, snatches up the book and says to your buddy, "You didn't pay for this! You don't get to read it!" That's DRM in a nut-shell.

Now correct me if I'm wrong, but most comics pros are currently advocating that you lend out your comics. They're telling you that word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool. It's the one thing that could get non-comic book readers to read comics again, and hopefully save the industry. I don't think that BoingBoing is anti-artist by any means. I don't even think they're anti-paying for your art. I'm pretty sure what they are against is rich white men telling you how, and under what circumstances you are allowed to enjoy the art which you have already over-paid for.

Again, there are lots of resources out there on this issue, and how it pertains to any number of mediums. Go read some of this stuff and decide for yourself. As for me, I've made very clear that I download illegally in order to be a more concientious and responsible consumer. I'm downloading in order to make an informed vote with my money. This way, I am doing my personal best to ensure that the material I want to see on the shelves every week will be there next month, and that the crap I have no interest in is not. I'm trying to personally ensure that the comics industry is putting out what I personally think are good, intelligently made comics, in a language that they actually listen to. Money.

Except when it comes to the music industry. I am clearly out to fuck them. Hard. Because every day they are trying to fuck my friends and family even harder, and that doesn't sit right with me.

UPDATE Wow. Just read those opening paragraphs. I'm a dick, aren't I?

In the comments section of Occasional Superheroine Ms. Superheroine talks about the comics industry adopting a download platform for authorized digital comics (e.g. iTunes store for comics). I agree, wholeheartedly. My only issue is that DC & Marvel will probably be strong advocates of using DRM to ensure that these comics are not shareable, and I've mentioned above my feelings on DRM, and how I think that that would contradict previous statements made by professionals. The only reason this concerns me, is because there's only a small handful of books coming out from those publishers that I want to pay money for, but they have enough clout to set the standard for all the other publishers.

Ms. Superheroine makes an excellent point (again in the comments section) when she points out what really killed the music industry was not so much the emergence of downloading technology, but rather going up against the downloading technology. She believes that working with emerging technologies might help keep the mainstream comics industry afloat. I think that the heads at the big 2, as well as publishers like Image and Dark Horse are pretty well aware of this, and are at least trying to work with the future instead of fighting it. Hell, Avatar is putting out that web-exclusive Warren Ellis project.

Does anyone but me remember Marvel's short-lived, Flash heavy Dot-Comics? They used to feature a lot of classic books (I can't tell you how many times I've read Amazing Fantasy #15 at this point in my life) as well as the two main Ultimate titles. It was pretty sweet, and it's sort of how I got back into super hero comics when I was in college. I thought that that was a format that worked well, because you had to actually read the comic on Marvel's website, but you could share the link with you pals or whatever. Sure it's not portable, and the initial load time could be slow, but it was well worth it for me. And I suspect it was worth it for Marvel, because I've been reading and buying Ultimate Spiderman as a direct result.

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