Letter to RIAA
Dear Hillary Rosen, the RIAA, and the labels you represent:
am writing this letter because, as is common, I do not share
the media's opinion of a controversy. However, unlike most debates
in which I do not feel qualified to comment, this time I do.
So let me be start off by being very clear. The RIAA does NOT
represent the views of the entire music industry. While you
do represent the five major labels that (you claim) make up
90% music sales, you do not represent the majority of independent
labels. Which is where I come in.
For almost 10 years, I have been running Go-kart Records, an
independent label in New York City that has been described as
one "twelve most important forces in underground music"
by Guitar World magazine. To date, we have released more than
100 records, and our bands have toured the world and been covered
by every major music outlet in the US (and many overseas). The
point of all this self-congratulatory claptrap is not to brag,
but to establish the fact that even though you may have never
heard of us, we are a viable and growing label.
But I digress. As has been well established your organization,
the RIAA, is suing 216 people for illegally downloading music.
While the legality of the RIAA's obtaining the downloaders'
identities is being debated, you have said that they will sue
more people in future to stop them from "destroying the
Unfortunately, the problem is not downloading, which is only
one part of much bigger problem. Downloading, using services
such as Limewire, Kazaa and the late Napster, does not work
very well. These services are frustrating and mediocre at best.
Downloading is time-consuming, often has iffy results (songs
skip or are incomplete), and sometimes the downloads are not
even what they claim to be. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, which
recently launched the popular Itunes Music store, said the same
thing. ""It's not hard to do a better job than Kazaa,"
he said when introducing the Itunes Store. In less than 6 months,
users have downloaded over 10,000,000 songs from Itunes, which
is still only available to Mac users. The success of Itunes
proves that people will pay for downloaded music, if it is delivered
in an intelligent way at a fair price. If the RIAA and the major
labels you represent stopped wasting time suing people and spent
your time building a model that is as usable as Itunes, or added
more product to the Itunes catalog, you would make more money
and would certainly stem the tide of illegally downloaded music.
So, the real problem is not downloading music; the real problem
is the burning of CDs. Anyone with minimal computer ability
can burn a copy of a CD. They may not be able to download a
song, and may barely understand e-mail, but burning CDs is simple.
It's too simple. And that's what is killing sales. Why would
anyone buy a CD for $18.99 (or even
$12.99 at Universal's recently announced lower price) when they
can burn a CD that costs them less than a quarter (with no loss
of quality, which is why this argument differs from the old
It's as simple as this: I know many people who have never downloaded
a song, but I don't know anyone who doesn't have a burned copy
of a CD.
So why are you going after downloaders? Is it because you know
they cannot stop people from copying CDs? Is it because the
major labels you represent don't want to lose their tight-fisted
control of the music industry, and since they can't control
downloading, they want to eliminate it. In the past, if a new
label took off, or a new sound or group became big, the majors
would simply buy it. But they can't "buy" downloading.
And that's what scares the people in power. While they all admit
the pie is shrinking, it's their pie and they want all of it.
As it now stands, the majors control almost all the outlets
of artist exposure. And how can you sell records without exposure?
Radio is controlled through payola (or its modern form, consultants),
the print media is controlled through quid pro quo agreements
(ads for coverage and vice-versa), retail is controlled by co-op
dollars (which also includes in-store play for videos), and
they even buy their artists way on to opening slots on tours.
So, with few exceptions (MTV being one, but I could be wrong),
the access to fans is controlled by the five major labels. But
the labels you represent can't control what people download,
so all they can try to do is control people's access to downloads,
or scare them.
So whom did you go after? The fan. The one person you need most.
Instead of asking why people would illegally download and burn
CDs, you are suing people and alienating them even further.
Instead of asking what is wrong with your business model and
recognizing that it needs to be fixed (as Apple did with Itunes)
you have chosen to stand back and fight against twelve-year-old
girls and 71-year-old grandfathers. Do you not realize that
it is only by embracing new technology that they can survive,
because in the end, technology will always win? Do you not realize
that people see a lot more value in a
$19.99 DVD then in an $18.99 CD? Do you not see that people
are tired of cookie-cutter artists and mediocrity? Your problem
is not only downloading and burning, it's the product as well.
In the past, consumers could buy a single (a 45 or cassette
single) if they liked a song. Now, those formats have been eliminated,
forcing consumers to buy a full-length CD. Now that the public
has the ability to sample records and make informed buying decisions,
they are opting to not support crap. It's a simple choice, you
can either pay $18.99 for one song or you can download it or
burn someone else's copy for yourself. The opposite holds true
as well. When Itunes first launched, the band Coldplay's singles
were all over the Itunes charts, probably because so many people
had heard them, but were only familiar with one or two songs.
After people sampled the songs and decided they liked what they
heard, Coldplay's album went from the 50s to the top 10 (and
eventually number 1 I think) on the Billboard charts. At the
same time the album started to rise up the charts, the number
of downloads started to drop. People liked what they heard and
they went out to buy it.
There will always be someone who takes advantage of a system,
but just like the people who used to trade cassette tapes and
make copies of other people's albums, they are not the majority.
People want to support the artists they like, they just don't
want to be screwed in the process. So they took the opportunity
when it presented itself, and the music
industry, or the 5 major labels more specifically, will be forced
to change. If they don't, they stand to lose their piece of
And we all know that the "music industry" has gained
enormously from the invention of the compact disc. Many titles
have been revived as consumers went out to replace their worn
vinyl albums for the longer lasting and supposedly better sounding
CD. Let's be honest, for awhile, the same technology that is
supposedly "destroying the music industry", i.e. digital
recording, helped to usher in some of the most profitable years
the industry has even seen.
music industry is only the first to fight this battle, but it
won't be the last. As compression software gets better and bandwidth
increases, the movie industry will have a similar situation
on their hands as well. Right now, only the biggest tech geeks
are downloading movies. But in a short time, perhaps everyone
will. It's the same problem - why pay money to watch dreck like
"Gigli" when you can download it for free. If the
movie companies would stop releasing mindless, plotless movies
then people will go and see them. But just like the music industry,
they continue to raise prices, so the public suffers for their
lack of foresight and vision.
Hopefully, other industries that have taken their customers
for granted (sports teams beware) will learn their lesson now,
and change before it's too late. For
the RIAA and the rest of the "music industry" it's
do or die time. Choose carefully.
Ross, CEO Go-Kart Records