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Is the Internet Killing Writing and the Arts?

December 22nd, 2004 by Bob Bly

Next time you want to download copyrighted material from the Internet illegally, think of my friend Bob.

?I was a singer-songwriter who had an ?artistic development? deal in Nashville during 2001 to 2002,? Bob wrote me in a recent letter.

?However, the music downloading issues of the past few years killed my Nashville deal. Much of the music industry was hit hard from this illegal activity. From 1999 to 2002, CD sales were down a staggering 30%.?

According to an article in BusinessWeek (12/27/04), online thieves download 2.6 billion illegal music files and 12 million movies a month, costing the music and movie industries millions of dollars a year: “The problem is finding a way to protect copyright holders without blocking important innovations such as the iPod.”

As Harlan Ellison explained to me when I interviewed him for the May 2004 issue of Writer?s Digest magazine:

?There is a culture of belief today that everything should be free. The Internet is the glaring promoter of such slacker-gen ?philosophy.?

?People have been gulled into believing that everything should be free, and that if a professional gets published, well, any thief can steal it, and post it, and the thug feels abused if you whack him for it.

?I?ll go to speak at a college, and I?ll have some kid stand up and say, ?Well, writers shouldn?t be paid; they should put their stuff up; and if people like it they get paid for it.? And I think: what the hell looneytune universe are you living in, kid? The question indicates a total lack of understanding of how Reality Works. This kid?s been living off mommy and daddy too long.

?These mooks don?t think of writing as a craft or even as an occupation. They think it?s some kind of dilettante behavior. Much like their own lives.?

So let me ask: Why are people who advocate Citizens Publishing so dead set against business models where creators charge money — and get paid — for fiction, journalism, music, art, and other content?

Why should ?content be free,? as so many Internet enthusiasts insist ? while people in all other professions, from plumbers to psychotherapists, get paid for their expertise, talents, and efforts?

What say you?


This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 22nd, 2004 at 12:03 pm and is filed under Writing and the Internet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

79 responses about “Is the Internet Killing Writing and the Arts?”

  1. Garrick Van Buren said:

    Excellent post. I don’t agree that every download equals a lost sale (or even a potential lost sale).

    A recent Wharton study showed that “every 10 downloads of music resulted in 1 to 2 lost sales.”

    Plus, there’s value in dissecting the flow of money from the a customers purchase of a CD to the artist. From my conversations with musicians, they make their money from live events, not pre-recorded stuff.

    Also, Mark Cuban is makes an excellent point about movie releases, in his post:

    “Let the customer consume the movie exactly the way the customer wants to get it.”

    DVD, download, or theatre.

    This isn’t about getting content for free, it’s about getting content in a convenient manner. We’re always happy to pay for convenience. Just look at the frozen food isle.

  2. Seth Traub said:

    I believe the reason some musicians and record companies are so angered by “illegal” downloading of music is because they have failed to embrace the new medium as an opportunity.

    It is “illegal” according to the laws of the land to download music from file swaping sites. Whether it’s wrong or not is clearly a two sided argument. One side is explained in the post above, so let me offer you the other side of the coin.

    I’d make a safe bet that your friend Bob is of the “older” generation, the generation currently controlling most of the free world. He grew up in a time when capitalism was thriving and was promoting economic growth at rapid rates, industries expanded rapidly and massive prosperity was at hand.

    That unfortunately is not the case today, atleast not in the eyes of the “slacker” generation, which is my generation.

    I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, a time of widespread commercialism and technological advancements. I have no clue what life is like without television, computers, radio’s and of course advertisements. I often wish to escape such things but find that there is no escaping it. People are always trying to get you to buy something… growing up knowing nothing else makes you numb to it.

    So when kids of that generation find something new, something unexpected and exciting like the ability to get something for free without visible consequence, there shouldn’t be any doubt that they are going to become interested.

    When I first heard about file-swapping software (Napster) I was a freshman in college, I was poor and very into music. So when Napster hit the scene I along with every other kid in college(s) started downloading like crazy. It’s a purely selfish act. The thought of a record company losing money on the sale of the CD didn’t cross my mind a single time… Why? becuase I wasn’t going to buy the CD anyways. I used file-swapping networks as a way to discover new music mainly. If my favorite band came out with a CD… I’d save up and buy the CD because I wanted the full package.

    I can’t speak for all people like myself but that was my experience. The idea of being able to explore new music for free was very exciting, if I liked the music enough, I’d buy the CD. If musicians and record companies would see this evolutionary shift in the market and find a way to utilize it they wouldn’t be complaining about lost or stolen money… they’d be prospering.

    Imagine a musician or band forgoes record companies and CD production costs and releases music and albums soley through the internet. Overhead goes WAY down and with the right marketing profits go WAY up.

    Just look at iTunes and other MP3 stores… they are making millions! Why? because they embraced the medium instead of complaining about it.

    In evolution, those who don’t adapt become extinct.

  3. Seth Traub said:

    I just wrote a lengthy comment that apparently was lost.. not sure why… what’s with the security code?

    To sum up my comment: In evolution, those who don’t adapt, die off. Musicians and Record Labels MUST adapt to the shift in the market or they will do nothing but continue to complain instead of profit.

  4. Joel Heffner said:

    One of the interesting things about downloadable ebooks/books is that some authors provide free versions and people still buy the paper version. Seth Godin is an example. In addition, best sellers, like The Da Vinci Code have sold very well…in paper and ebook versions. Perhaps the best way to “protect” book sales online is to offer online chapters for free and a paper edition for a price.


  5. Peter said:

    Good entry, even better replies. The Internet is not as bad as these people want to make it out to be, I think it’s just easier for them to blame it for all their problems. They are having trouble adapting their distribution/marketing to this new model, and other people are cashing in on it like Apple with iTunes. One party is kicking and screaming over sour grapes due to a paradigm shift, and the other is reactive and profiting. I don’t understand the first example of the small artist complaining about MP3’s cutting into CD sales, because as the first poster said CD sales is the last place they are seeing a profit margin carried over into their wallet. Also, it’s ignorant because it discredits the benefits of the medium – which are proven to be huge for up and coming artists. By having the ability to sample some tracks before dropping $20 on a CD, it’s no wonder everyone has wisened up.

  6. Peter DeLegge said:

    Bob, true to form, you are excellent at generating a response! This is an ethical issue. (By the way, in my early years, I was a musician and believe it is important to financially support this art). My opinion is that the Internet, early on, has created a mentality that everything should be free. This has resulted in poorer ethics when it comes to things like music. However, I think that the music industry has done a lot to affect that with the law suits (I’m sure I’ll make a lot of people angry saying the next part). I actually believe the music industry lawsuits were a brilliant strategy. They put the “fear of law” into people. There has been a culutre where intellectual property rights have been disregarded, but I think the lawsuits and campaigns have had an impact in changing this, from some of the studies I have seen. The attitudes regarding the Internet and intellectual property rights will be corrected. Increasingly, many people are now paying for the type of music downloads they were stealing only a year ago.

    Peter DeLegge
    Marketing Today

  7. Joel Heffner said:

    “My opinion is that the Internet, early on, has created a mentality that everything should be free”

    Let’s remember that the Web was started by Tim Berners-Lee for the very purpose of providing a mode for the free exchange of ideas. Commercialization has set in, however, it’s the commercializers who must find ways of solving their problem. We should protect everyone’s rights in a way that will help everyone.

    Joel Heffner

  8. Joe said:

    Adapt or die…

  9. John said:

    You should take a look at Lawrence Lessig’s books or blog. He’s one of the most authentic voices on the subject of copyright, the commons, and the rights of the creator/prducer. He doesn argue for Enforced Free Content, but a way of allocating payment that doesn’t inhibit cutural development.

  10. bmo said:

    Ahhh…your socalled friend Bob…has he a last name? a website? a cd? a CV? Or is he just another of the generic and fictitious starving artists the Industry and its beards like to trundle out before us in order to make we, the criminal masses, feel like dirt because we’re not buying overpriced, overproduced skids of crap plastic.

    Artifacts, by the way, not art.

    Too bad you didn’t offer a link to this socalled Bob’s site. Coulda had a listen to his stuff. Marketing op missed. You coulda helped a guy out here.

    And if Bob really did exist, Bob might really tell you that the “development deal” he had in “Nashville” was only ever a rubber carrot to begin with, a dough for publishing rights boondoggle.

    The real threat the Internet poses is not to artists who will create regardless and adapt regardless. The real threat is to the Middle Men, the leeches and gombeenmen who add absolutely no value to art itself, and who in their ever-opportunistic and self-serving casuistry always equate art with Products and Services. Thence the howling and wailing and bemoaning and whingeing. They want their cut.

    Interesting choice with plumbers and psychotherapists as examples of professions/people paid for their expertise. Imagine a plumber showing up at your door attempting to collect a residual for work done three years ago. A psychotherapist asking you how you’re doing and when you say fine, he hits you with a royalty claim. Worse, their reps doing the cajoling.

    Which is not to diminish the value of art or the work of artists. With most artists, money earned through their craft and the use/sale/renting out of their skills allows them the time and freedom to express him/herself through their art.

    And, yes, Lessig is a good start. The Internet is not killing writing and art. It’s killing the chokeholders and racketeers.

  11. Vikk said:

    Glad to see you’re still posting and you bring up a subject that I think about quite often as I try to juggle blogging and internet writing versus my more traditional forms of writing. My answer is to keep them separate. As with all forms of writing, I find writing for my blog produces material that is generated specifically for that audience. True, the subject matter and some of the material can be produced in other forms but even then I find I end up revising the material to fit the format. I’ve also skipped around the interent and read some interesting posts on how writers have used “free” writing that then led to the more traditional, paid writing.

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