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The New World
While Napster May Disappear, File-Sharing Will Live On...
By Anonymous
(more articles from this author)
2001-03-25
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Napster may disappear, but the business of file sharing among members of the musical audience will not. It is well known that the various distributed networks like Gnutella and Freenet will create the same opportunity for users that they have enjoyed with Napster. If Napster falls, it is merely a matter of time before the use of these networks becomes easy enough for them to gain wide acceptance by the public. And when that occurs, the Napster community will continue its file sharing there.

Further, technology is developing at an ever-increasing rate. If you believe Ray Kurzweil's conclusions in his book "The Age of the Spiritual Machine" - and I see no reason to doubt the general thrust of his conclusions - it will soon be the case that when a work gets disseminated to any non-private group, the work will immediately become freely available to the public. There will almost always be frictions, of course, as in most processes, but the frictions will be relatively small and unimportant.

The argument that shows this last point is as follows: even if all material is watermarked and encrypted, however strongly, it must ultimately come out a loudspeaker in pristine form, and from there it can be recorded without loss of quality (at least to the human ear) and converted to mp3 or other digital form without any watermark or encryption encumbrance.

Listening to music is similar to downloading another's experience into your own mind, like reading Schopenhauer. This downloading will, like virtual sex, become ever more available and ever more efficient and ever more "real" (whatever that might mean) and stimulating.

For music, these developments lead to some inevitable consequences and some interesting questions. One inevitable consequence is that the vast library of music that has been disseminated through Napster file sharing is an essentially free catalogue that will be forever available to anyone, regardless of what happens to Napster. Another inevitable consequence is that, sooner or later, the digital sale of any music to the public will automatically make that music available for free to the public.

The interesting questions, some answers, and some observations relevant to the more inscrutable questions, are:

How will musicians be paid?

1- Musicians will of course always be paid for live performances, but reproductions of these live performances will become immediately freely available

2- The incentive to pay for a live performance will be to witness its spontaneity, the mistakes, embellishments, new music, variations of previous pieces, to be in the presence of creation and inspiration, etc. -- the same incentive jazz fans have to attend performances of the same group night after night.

3- The notion of compensation will change - artistic expression, fame, the emotional release of performance, and personal, emotional and sexual contacts will be the driving forces

4- The Stephen King model is probably the only reasonable model: you will get to hear more only if you continue to pay. Live performance will be available to you anywhere in the world. You will pay for a live performance either by the byte, or minute, etc.

If the development causes the income to musicians to decline, will the quality of music suffer?

Related questions are:

1) Will increased distribution possibilities outweigh reduced earnings and lead to higher quality music, or will reduced earnings cause a decline in the quality of music?

2) Will the earnings of musicians be commensurate with their earnings today? An artist like Bob Dylan, for instance, gets about 2 cents per dollar spent by the end-consumer. If the delivery mechanisms are costless or minimal compared to previously (CD's, etc), his percentage of dollars spent must rise. Will the increased percentage of dollars spent compensate for the fewer dollars spent on such an artist's music?

Some observations that bear on these questions:

- Few musicians embark on a career in music to make money. Someone with the talent to make good music probably could apply that same talent elsewhere and be much more assured of a good income.

- Many musicians gravitate into commercial music because it can provide a good income. Commercial music is not the object of much (if any) file sharing, and so it probably will not suffer and will remain an opportunity for those musicians who are so disposed.

- For those musicians fortunate enough to experience great popularity, fame and huge financial success, the thrill of catapulting into the stratosphere of audience popularity probably generates an excitement in them that is also brought to their music. To the extent that this excitement is generated by the financial success, this excitement may diminish.

- The selection process by which musicians of originality and talent will become more efficient. Musicians who might have a large but dispersed audience will have access to, and will be rewarded by, that audience. And musicians who might otherwise not pursue their music further will be encouraged to do so, adding talent to the pool.

How will distributors and the "industry" be paid?

The music industry performs various services:
1-Discovery of artists
2-Development of artists
3-Promotion of artists and music
4-Production of 1st hand (live performance) experiences
5-Manufacture of media for 2nd hand (media delivered) experiences.
6-Sales of media

The prospects of each service are:

1- The service of discovery will achieve greater importance due to the increasing numbers of musicians and varieties of music.

2- Development of artists will continue to be important, although less important than in the past because of the existence of technology that helps musicians create and implement their creations. Producers will be less important, due to the proliferation of studio equipment and the automation of many producer functions.

3- Promotion of artists and music will continue to be important, possibly even more important than today.

4- Production of 1st hand (live) performances will maintain its present importance, at least.

Services 5 and 6 will be available at extremely low cost (money and time) to the music creators. Very little will be paid for these services.

The prospects for those parts of the music industry, which exploit time and space inefficiencies are thus grim. This could of course have been deduced merely from the general principle that such inefficiencies are being eliminated by the increased technological sophistication of the machinery available to the public.

Note that many of the same considerations apply equally to visual media, in particular to film, for which the prospects appear to be quite a bit grimmer. The film industry performs essentially the same services as those listed above. However, creating a film is a much more collaborative and costly enterprise, and services 5 and 6 earn a much greater proportion of the consumer dollar spent than they do in music.


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