Joe consumer is being ripped off every time he walks into a retail music outlet, according to delegates at the nme.con NetSounds conference in London Monday.
Amid calls for a digital panacea to the increasing threat of Napster and its open source equivalent Gnutella, delegates debated why it is people are downloading thousands of megabytes of MP3 each day. Arguments centred around the moral dilemma -- or not -- facing consumers who "choose to rip off musicians", as Fionnuala Duggan, VP of New Media at EMI Recorded Music, put it.
Focus shifted dramatically with the arrival of Oasis founder and outspoken critic of the Big Five (music companies) Alan McGee, who recently set up independent label OEPPoptones. McGee says "£14.99 is a completely unjustified amount" for consumers to pay for a CD and must be a factor in the battle against piracy. His comments met with ritual applause as delegate after delegate questioned the cost of buying music.
The BPI (British Phonographic Industry) parried by asking what price could be put on a piece of music that continues to bring joy years after it was first bought. But despite the BPI's insight, opinion seemed to wrest McGee's way as President of Liquid Audio, Kevin Malone asked: "Why should I have to pay £15 for a CD when I might only want one of the tracks from it?"
Blame for the epidemic in digital music piracy was laid at the door of retailers and the music industry for overcharging and with selfish consumers who will "use any means" available to get a free lunch. One delegate went so far as to quote a reference which stated: "To consume was to destroy." That, he said, was what happens when consumers ignore payments to artists.
But it was the major record labels that came off worse during the course of the day. The question, "Why should I sign with a traditional record label when the opportunity to deliver music via the Net exists, with myriad benefits, including complete control over my music.?"
The major record labels were described as dinosaurs that had failed to move with the times and act defensively to protect their interests from the MP3 Demon. One delegate challenged McGee saying it was a nonsense to suggest "that all record labels are rubbish..." McGee shot back, "Nobody said all record companies are rubbish... All major record companies are rubbish."
And while some were scathing of McGee's enmity toward the major record labels, he was not lacking on theories on how the digital era would affect consumers. "There is going to be three different ways to get music. The traditional way -- going into retailers and buying music, and there will be downloads as well. But going on three years, it will go to subscription. If you have 20 videos at home, you have your favourites like Scarface or The Godfather and a lot of films you only want to watch once or twice and I think music is going that way. More people will buy more music using the subscription model."
Delegates seemed in agreement with McGee's subscription idea. As one put it, "Paying a few pence when you want to listen to a particular track seems to be the way forward, it's just a shame there's so much bad feeling between the actual music makers and the industry itself."
Are consumers being ripped off, or is £14.99 a fair price for a CD? Does the price of a CD encourage piracy? Tell the Mailroom
The music industry is rightly scared of Napster, but only because it's the last remaining business that hasn't woken up to the Web. Will the music industry ever change? Go with Scot Petersen to read the news comment.