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Music is Expensive, Copies are Free · Wednesday July 30, 2008 by Crosbie Fitch

I think the main reason people are finding it hard to figure out how much to charge for MP3 files (variable? higher? lower?) is that they shouldn’t be charged for at all.

All such revenue is being extracted from the residual momentum of the copyright based business model as it slowly grinds to a halt – as that dwindling market of copy customers gradually realise how silly it is to pay for digital copies.

The pragmatic answer to pricing is that the price of MP3 files should gradually be reduced until it reaches zero or the purchase decision/hassle cost (thus maximising revenue extraction from a shrinking market). Unfortunately, those charging for MP3 files have an assumption that there is a sweet spot price that is non-zero.

The baby elephant in the room is the natural law that digital copies of published music shouldn’t and can’t be charged for – an elephant soon to reach adulthood. Ultimately, published music has to be free of charge – because it belongs to the public. Rather than the tragedy those brought up with copyright imagine this to be, it has its benefits to musicians in the digital domain. Freely copyable music provides free reproduction, free distribution, free promotion, and thus builds up the size of the paying audience.

“Eh? ‘Paying audience‘? I thought you said music had to be free?”

No, I said PUBLISHED music has to be free. After all, why should the public pay for what they already have? Such an unnatural notion only arises from the unnatural privilege of copyright.

A musician’s audience (their customers) pay the musician to produce music. After all, the musician is who they want to pay, and the music is what they want to pay for. The audience has no need to pay the musician (or their agents) for copies, given they have clearly demonstrated they can make those quite easily all by themselves1.

So, the musician’s new slogan is effectively “Get this one free, buy the next one”.

In more words: “The recordings currently freely downloadable from my website have been paid for by my keenest fans. I invite you to join them in commissioning future recordings.”

Don’t sell copies. Sell music. The market for copies has ended. The market for music continues unabated.

1 They can’t make vinyl pressings however, so there’s still a market for those, but the musician doesn’t warrant a cut (unless you still believe there’s a future for copyright).

lucy - elemental consulting said 5043 days ago :

hey crosbie
thanks for your comments.
so is your overall vision a mass-patronage model? people make payments to a musician in order to support and finance the production of the music which the musician then makes available for free in digital fashion?
and if so, does the entire public get to receive the music for free, or is it some kind of ‘club’ where only those who financed get access to the music?

Crosbie Fitch said 5043 days ago :

I really think the idea of selling copies of digital information is like a cartoon character that’s run off a cliff and hasn’t yet realised the ground’s disappeared from beneath its feet. Only the people’s faith in tradition is keeping everyone up, but as people gradually recognise the natural law they’re violating and lose faith in the idea they can walk on air, they end up falling back to earth.

Mass patronage can take several forms (simple pledge drives or simulating retail pricing), but yes, this is what I envisage as the logical solution to payment for music (and any other digital art).

Just as the Internet makes selling copies ineffective, it now makes communicating/haggling with the public at large effective.

There are two aspects to my business strategy in exploring en masse transaction mechanisms. The first is to create a general purpose market (ContingencyMarket.com), and the second is to explore the various ways in which it can be used. Such websites that I’ll develop will inevitably be in accord with the natural rights philosophy I’ve since recognised – that explains why copyright is the sandcastle and diffusion the tide, rather than vice versa.

So, the Contingency Market is commission free, can be used by anyone, and is agnostic to any use. The websites I produce that are based upon it however, will probably stipulate that any IP sold should be copyleft, or at least public domain. It is still quite possible that the IP is only initially distributed to purchasers – one doesn’t need to oblige public availability. However, a restricted initial circulation is by no means equivalent to a ‘walled garden’ business model.

When people realise they want to pay the producer of the art rather than the copies, especially when they discover that the producer of copies gives none of their payment to the artist, they’ll want to pay the artist directly. People will only pay for copies if they add value to the art – in which case any sale must logically only accrue to the copy’s added value, and not the art.



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