The internet doesn’t make us freeloaders

I read this post by @flashboy and I was moved to reply – and by reply I mean agree with him, but using different words.

His post outlines his disagreement with Caitlin Moran’s most recent article. In her article Moran explains why she thinks that the internet is turning us into freeloaders. I haven’t read Moran’s article, so I can’t comment on it directly, but I did read flashboy’s and I think it is excellent. So I’m going to ramble on about some of the thoughts I was having while reading it.

The first thought is about how much it annoys me when people moan about the internet with reference to an old and old-fashioned business model. The most common industry that people talk about when trying to highlight the nasty the way the internet has ruined everything is the music industry. The poor, poor music industry executives seem to have been bullied and had their dinner money stolen by the big, bad, mean internet, or so this particular narrative goes. Well sorry, but that’s bollocks.

I’m no expert on the music industry (or as anyone who has seen my cd collection or heard me sing would testify, on music itself), but the industry only exists to make money from music. Firstly, it is not music, it’s just an industry attached to music, so the art of music is not affected. Secondly, it has made plenty of money over the years. Thirdly, it still makes lots of money as an industry even if record sales have fallen. And fourthly, so what if the industry changes or dies – that’s what happens.

I also don’t believe what appears to be the crux of Moran’s article – that people don’t pay for things now the internet is here. It’s certainly true that the “freemium” model has grown dramatically in recent years and that this model is more prevalent online. But that doesn’t mean that nobody pays for things, or that we are all now pirates.

I think flashboy sums it up well:

“I am a huge, huge fan of people who create things earning a living from it. I am also a huge, huge fan of giving my money to people who create things I like, or to the corporations that enable them to create.”

I think most of us hold that view. However, industries do need to watch and understand their audiences. It is true that content is now easier to find for free and that many people have got used to doing just that – however, this is just the online version of swapping cds, or recording music from the radio. In fact, when I was a kid (and that’s a long time BEFORE the internet) nearly all of the music I had was free. But that was because I couldn’t afford it any other way – yet as soon as I could I stocked my shelves full of paid for vinyl, then tapes and now cds and I’ve filled numerous devices with digital files of music – in many cases owning (and paying for) music on all formats. So the fact that people get something for free doesn’t mean that an industry is irrevocably damaged. Instead what it should point to is the fact that this particular industry seems to have had its head stuck in the sand for far too long and no longer knows and serves its customers properly.

An industry that doesn’t serve its customers properly is doomed to die – internet or not.

Finally, the thing that caught my attention and got me a little hot under the collar is the assumption that we have got worse morally. This is a line that is trotted out in lots of different guises (“I remember when you could leave your back door open..”) and in nearly every case doesn’t bear scrutiny. Numbers go up and down and new opportunities arise for nefarious individuals, but overall, the moral compass doesn’t go down (or up), but instead turns in a different direction as we consider different things to be more or less “bad”.

Thirty years ago drink driving was something everybody did after a night out – how else would you get home? Now, thankfully, it’s very much taboo. We now believe that it’s more acceptable to download content for free (although I still don’t think it’s much greater than me taping from the radio), but that doesn’t mean we are morally weaker – and it certainly doesn’t mean that the internet has caused it.

With some cases of the supposed weakening of the moral compass the internet has merely made it more visible – the Twitter abuse cases are examples of this. Previously people made stupid, insulting, racist etc comments in pubs to their friends; now they do it on Twitter. It doesn’t mean people are more stupid, insulting or racist – just that their comments are more visible. And possibly more visible to columnists and commentators who may not experience that in their daily lives, but now can on the internet.

Anyway, rant over – read the article by flashboy cos it’s better.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The internet doesn’t make us freeloaders

  1. Bazza

    You need to ration your use of the word ‘ narrative’ you use it too much, like Kevin McLeod !!!

  2. I’m not entirely convinced by the argument that downloading ‘free’ music is the same as swapping CDs. With the latter, (and as we are talking pre-Internet, we are also talking mostly pre-CD, the original tape or record was purchased, and the music was copied – albeit illegally – onto a paid for tape. With the Internet, however, it is too easy for people to have a whole collection of music which they have obtained without anyone paying for it.

    I was (as you can imagine!) quite strict with my children about this, and although I’m not going to pretend that pirated music never appeared on their iPods, they knew that they were effectively ‘stealing’ – preventing the copyright owners from receiving the income which was due to them from their creative efforts. It’s interesting to note then, (or perhaps not), that as they got older, they each decided to buy a paid subscription to Spotify.

    Where I do think that the Internet has helped the music industry, however, is in the existence of services such as said Spotify (and I’m sure other equally good legal music sharing services are available!). My children now pay more per month than they probably would do if they only spent money on CDs – but as a result have access to a huge amount of music. This means that more artists benefit from their (as students, very limited) purchasing power.

    One last point though: When you were taping your friends’ CDs Patrick, I bet you had never heard of the word ‘copyright’ and therefore didn’t know that what you were doing was wrong. The moral compass of the nation can only be judged against true north – which is what the majority knows in their hearts is wrong, even if they choose to ignore that fact and do it anyway.

    • Hi Margaret, I agree that there are differences, the point I was making though was that “free” music existed long before the internet arrived – although I will concede that the internet has made it easier. However, the bigger point is that record (or digital download) sales are only one way that the music industry makes money and if they distribute properly, sign up to more services such as Spotify and understand their customers better in this digital age the industry will make just as much, if not more, money through all the other aspects of the industry (concerts, t-shirts etc).
      The fact is that the internet exists and people use it. To complain that it has affected your business model just shows that you can’t keep up.

  3. Pingback: Favourite Posts of 2012 | 1000kmstowindermere

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