But my admiration for Robert Levine’s Free Ride (with its gentle and understated subtitle How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back) led me to jump at the invite from my friend Duncan McKie to attend the recent music industry convention on March 23 at The Royal York, where Levine was the keynote Breakfast Speaker.
The key message of his Fall 2011 book, published by Doubleday, is that every single part of “the culture business” – newspapers, magazines, television, movies, books and music – is under siege from the “information wants to be free” online economy. And the preference for consumers to get online stuff free . . . and to regard copyright as an outdated concept that interferes with true freedom . . . is driving every single one of these industries, and the creators they represent, over the cliff. Meanwhile technology companies build billion-dollar businesses on content that belongs to others . . . like authors, to give one example.
Common wisdom tells us that the music industry’s problems with pirates like Napster were solved by iTunes, and that it provides a useful model to solve this problem in other industries. Right?
Clearly iTunes is good for Apple, and for consumers who feel good about paying something for their music. But it’s bankrupting the music industry. The people working there know it. The artists who are getting less studio time, as quality suffers, know it, too. And that’s why Robert Levine (with whom I chatted before his speech) was invited to confirm the crisis to a deeply worried Canadian audience.
Robert Levine deserves great credit for demonstrating that “we can’t go on this way” . . . this means you, writers and publishers. Sadly his book is weaker in the area of providing solutions. But reading it makes us aware of just how big a problem creators now face, as the big Internet players fund advocacy groups that frame the debate about “freedom” as opposed to fair return for copyright holders.