Friday, December 08, 2006

The Value of Things

I quit Emusic because
I haven't been listening to music much lately. It got to be too much of a hassle to browse through a whole lot of unfamiliar artists. The genres were only a minor help and there was never any clue as to the professionalism of a recording. Clicking for a preview caused an obnoxious pause, which meant that there was little enjoyment to looking for new bands.

The best thing about the service was the basic MP3 format and lack of DRM. But a few months ago they changed their plans, charging more for fewer songs. This didn't affect current subscribers, but made me suspicious nevertheless.

I'd really like to see how my dollar breaks down for digital downloads. Emusic, for example, typically charged about 40-60 cents per song. Itunes charges 99 cents across the board. Emusic claims to be supportive of indie artists, but how much of a cut are they actually getting? From what I've read, Itunes is particularly heinous in this regard, taking a huge profit and dropping a few pennies to the respective artists.

Itunes is essentially the Wal-Mart of digital music. They set a baseline price that must be adhered to no matter what the circumstances. The sheer scope of the service is tempting to new artists - all those eyeballs. But in exchange they have to settle for a very low cut, much lower than they could make if they regulated their own downloads.

I'm also interested in knowing whether my money will reach an actual creative person, or just some asshole who dropped a bunch of money on copyrights and has been squatting on them for years.

Case in point is Vongo, a new video download service. I grabbed their downloader and browsed their collection. Not bad, but not great. The prices suck. Renting is cheaper overall than at Blockbuster, and you have the added luxury of not leaving the house. Buying movies ends up being just as expensive as getting a used DVD or searching the bargain bin at a department store - except, you know, with a whole mess of DRM attached to keep you from burning copies or putting it on too many computers. We're at the stage where a digital copy of a movie should cost about five bucks, maybe a little more for new releases.

Now it's true that streaming a movie from computer to television is possible, but that requires a technology buy-in that is out of reach to many, and can be needlessly complex even for those who desire such a setup.

TV and music and movie downloads are hopelessly beholden to the greed of their respective distributors. While I'm not opposed to making money, per se, that's not what the current business model is about. The current business model is about continuously elevating profits. If profits don't go up then it must be the fault of the no-good consumers, whose constant piracy is taking money away from hard-working CEOs.

Hollywood is notorious for bitching about this, putting out commercials about the lowly grip who can barely feed his family. To which I say: Stop pouring millions into spoiled "stars" and shift some of it to those lowly grips or toward cutting production costs.

More griping to come.

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