[Music Monday] Does The Average Consumer Care About Legal, Digital Music?

[Music Monday] Does The Average Consumer Care About Legal, Digital Music?

[Music Monday] Does The Average Consumer Care About Legal, Digital Music?
[Music Monday] Does The Average Consumer Care About Legal, Digital Music?

Before I go on with this article, let me be clear – most references are anecdotal; I don’t have a survey or research results to refer to, but I think this will ring true to most consumers of digital entertainment – not many of us, including me, think of the legal aspects of something we want to hear/view/play. Having worked in intellectual property based-industries for some time, I avoid pirated content and always try to find legal ways to get music, movies and software. Full disclosure – I’ve done my fair share of downloading and torrenting, and I often download TV shows that have not aired in Indonesia, and sometimes movies I missed watching in the cinema. I’m no saint.

I’ll admit that I avoid illegal music and software, because I know what goes on behind the scenes and how they make their money. I also feel less guilty (but guilty nonetheless) about downloading TV and movies because I also know how they actually make their money (and outside of the cinema, it’s based on upfront royalties, advertising revenue share, cable subscription share, and so on). I’ll probably write more on that later… but here’s the point: I happen to have insight into these industries. What of the average consumer who does not?

Music used to be easy. If you wanted to hear a song, you wait for it to be played on the radio or TV, and go out to buy the album if you really like it. Back then, I didn’t care about legality or not – I would record a song to a cassette when it played on the radio, so I could listen to it later. Who didn’t do this in those days? The more technically adept made mix tapes from various sources for personal enjoyment; and there is always this one guy in school who sold mix tapes. Did we care if it was legal or not? No. We just wanted an easy way to listen to the music that we want.

Today, the Internet is arguably the most effective music distribution platform, bar none, legal or illegal. Various online music stores and illegal music sites use it to deliver music to whoever is paying our downloading, anywhere in the world (with some limitations for legal services). And surprise, surprise – the average person still doesn’t care about legality. Plights raising awareness that musicians depend on legal music for income goes on deaf ears, especially when they see some musician or other parade their Bentley on an infotainment show. Since perception is everything, many people don’t realize that Bentley ownership is not common in the music industry, and that musicians really do depend on music sale royalties as one of their sources of income.

And of course, many people download illegal music  – at least, illegal in the music label’s eyes – because it’s simply easier and costs less. There’s a difference in people taking pride in buying an original branded handbag or shoes, and original music. In physical products, the difference in quality is perceptible, yet in audio products, for most people it’s not, especially if you compare music files side by side, with the same bitrate specs, one legal and one not. And that’s even if we argue that audio quality is the number one concern for the average user.

I’ve always been championing Nokia Music as one way to attack this – it’s easier and it seems to cost less, as for the consumer, the music is free, and Nokia takes care of all the royalties payable to music labels and artists. Esia’s Music Box is also a relatively cheap and easy way to get music, whose business model was replicated by Langitmusik Hits (albeit not so simple, since they have to support a larger range of phones). There have been similar bundled music programs from Nexian and Ti-Phone in the last year also.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – make it simpler and easier to get music the legal way. Promoting the legal aspect of a digital music service is a waste of energy – save that for the government and the content creators and owners. You can’t fight piracy because piracy is not an issue of breaking the law, it’s an issue of convenience and demand. Inspiring awareness of legal music is a good cause, but most users will likely react better to how to get to the music they want easily.

Ario is a co-founder of Ohd.io, an Indonesian music streaming service. He worked in the digital music industry in Indonesia from 2003 to 2010, and recently worked in the movie and TV industry in Vietnam. Keep up with him on Twitter at @barijoe or his blog on http://barijoe.wordpress.com.

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