Financial Times, The Guardian and Sydsvenskan are reporting that a study by MCPS-PRS Alliance, a British collecting society, and Big Champagne, an online media measurement company, shows that more people downloaded the Radiohead In Rainbows album in illegal ways than on the bands own website. This despite that the album originally was free to download on the latter. Illegal exceeded legal – in spite of free.
There is two main reasons for this. An awful lot more people are hanging around at The Pirate Bay than on artist sites. Not strange since it’s much more interesting to enter a site that is updated hundreds of times a day than a site that is updated 10 times every second year when a new set of songs is released. The second reason is a bit more important to embrace and understand. For millions of fans file sharing networks are the main source of music. And their behavior is to search for a torrent to find new music. When they hear the news of a new Radiohead album the first thought that enter their mind is to go the site they visit regularly where music always is available first and in a reliable fast stream. Illegal has become the habit of generation.
This study shows the scope of the problem the music business is about to conquer – free isn’t enough. But it also clearly shows the possibilities. If you twist and bend your mind a bit it becomes quite clear that it’s in “free isn’t enough” that we can compete with a site that we get no income from. I can’t remember how many times people have asked me “how could we compete with free”. The rhetoric answer is always “you have to be better than free”. If you look at it, it’s not very hard. No illegal file sharing site I’ve seen is providing any context worth the name. And hey, context + meta data etc is what the music business profession is supposed to be, and is, about! And we are very good at it. If we just provide other entrepreneurs with the content (all our content) we will see magic. The music business has to improve its faith in its own competence and trust that professionals in other fields is doing as good a work.
And, again, it’s time for labels to show a charming and lovable side of themselves, and by that I mean only a charming side. That’s what Radiohead did and of course this whole thing have been a huge success for them – both for their attention and bank account. A well deserved success in the era of an attention economy.