Gold JeansNothing Quite Like Alienating Your Target Demographic. When I see articles like this one, I just can’t help but get pissed off. First off, let me explain that I don’t think Napster is necessarily the greatest thing to happen to the music industry and that all music should be free. However, I do think that the music industry is the first entertainment industry to feel the brunt of the digital age. The fact that they have responded to this change so poorly is their own fault and not the fault of 3 college kids with access to a few computers.

Back in 1996 I read a book by Nicholas Negroponte entitled “Being Digital.” The basic tenant of the book was that for all the talk of the world entering the “Information Age,” the reality was that the information age was over and that we were actually entering the “digital age.” The difference being that anything that could be delivered digitally would be and that any industry that was not aware of the change and prepared for this change would face severe hardships.

Brick and mortar retail stores have already witnessed this first hand – each year more and more purchases are being made on-line and dollars that normally funneled through traditional retail channels are drying up. Of course this doesn’t apply to all retail systems. The simple fact remains consumers do have brand loyalty when it comes to some retail stores and continue to purchase from them in spite of lower priced alternatives. The reason? Convenience and service. It’s the basic rules of sales, you don’t sell on price, you sell on service. If you sell on price, then anyone with a lower price will beat you. Sell based on service and you’re selling a superior product.

For some reason the RIAA simply have not woken up to this fact. With the advent of broadband, music was a natural for digitalization. With so much time being spent by students and knowledge workers in front of computers, digitalizing your CD collection and having the convenience of listening to it on your computer was a logical evolution. So when Napster reared it’s head, it responded to a need that was already in existance – a need that the RIAA was not attuned to. Instead of finding a way to adapt and capitalize on this new business model, they instead went “sue” happy. Should they have sued Napster? Yes – if only to give them some time to play catch up. But now they are suing college kids simply to “send a message?”

And let’s face it, it’s not the artists that they are protecting but the record labels. The money that’s being “lost” isn’t being given to the artists (the one’s who created the music) but the channels that distribute the music. We’ve seen the same thing happen with CD-R and DAT (Digital Audio Tape) technologies in the past, yet instead of responding to modify their business model, they’ve simply dug in their heels and spent millions trying to stop progress.

Digital music isn’t going away and I think most people genuinely want to be legal and honest. In other words, I think that the general public is willing to pay for a service that would provide digital music that was inexpensive and at the same time of high quality. Using an on-line file sharing system is ok, but the quality of the product received is too random and often times less than desirable. I wouldn’t pay for a service based on this model. Most of the stuff that I download isn’t of high quality, so of course I expect it to be free. In fact, I think the quality issue is the main reason that CD sales were boosted by Napster. Napster came into existence and CD Sales boomed. The RIAA killed Napster and CD sales have dropped. When I download a file I have to edit the mp3 tags, clean up the title listen to make sure the bit rate isn’t funky, or the last 30 seconds of the song isn’t missing. This is a lot of work and the end result is never 100% consistent. As a result, when I find an album, or an artist that I really like, then I go out and buy the CD and rip it to mp3 for my collection.

But what if I could subscribe to a service where I could be provided a high quality digital product? A service where the titles were correct, the ID3 tags were properly filled out and the bit rate was ideal. I would pay for this and I think most people would. An affordable high quality service, man I just gush thinking about it. But what do I know, perhaps suing college kids is a better business model.