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The Current Effect of Internet on the Music Industry

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In the future we might well have to pay for much more of the content on the Internet than we do now. But, in some ways, this is not a bad thing. At least it will work properly. Bear with me on this one...

I might be exaggerating here, but for far too long we've been spoiled. Peer-to-peer access services, like Napster, and latterly torrenting sites have made file sharing of music and movies easy and "free" for the price of an Internet connection to anyone who was willing to do something a little bit "illegal". Little wonder, then, that old-school record shops have vanished from the high street and the movie business is in the doldrums. The record industry (what's left of it) has now secured a number of high profile court orders against these file sharing sites - but the party was over even before they shut down thepiratebay.com. Here's why:


As I said, we've all become too used to having too many things for free for too long. So the Internet regressing to a state where the only free content is that provided by independents would be massively bad news. Right? It's not such a leap to imagine this will happen - in fact it already is happening. As content providers begin to develop ever more effective ways to convince people to pay for the electronic content they are able to receive (Kindle, for example), the amount of free-to-view content that is out there is greatly decreasing. At the same time, content providers are working on new ways to monetise what they put out, such as ad-support, subscriptions, or the hated micro-payments system. Micro-payments is still unfashionable at the moment, seeing as everyone hates the idea so much, but Microsoft is still making it work selling downloadable content to gullible geeks on Xbox, so it could easily rear its ugly head again before too long. Apple's iStore is another example of micropayments, making it possible to download a song for 67 pence (when you could easily listen to it for free on YouTube).


The other thing that has happened is that content has become much richer as bandwidth has increased - at the moment it's possible to stream premier league football, films, live television and all manner of other things through a browser without even downloading anything more exotic than Flash Player if one knows where to look. It isn't hard to imagine that big corps will want to crack down on this too, as they already have, for example, in the case of the Mega Upoad trial.


The trade-off for this kind of freedom to hear or see anything you like online has been that it's traditionally been rather low quality, generally meaning a non-HD video or a compressed MP3 sound file that may be OK on a laptop PC or tablet, but will generally be shown up by today's high-end home entertainment theatres. The movie business and the Recording Industry Association of America know this, and have gone after those people sharing high-definition content much more readily than they have gone after the people simply sharing a few MP3 files.


It's possible to imagine the future being a two-tier Internet, where much richer content will be available to those willing to pay a little bit more for it. To those who don't want to stump up, web 3.0 might look a lot more like the early days of the Internet, existing much more in words and pictures than high-definition video, and being made by low-budget independents rather than glossy MTV-style productions.


How will all this affect the music business? There was a quote from Lou Reed, that appeared after he died in one of the newspapers, that "MP3's sound like sh*t." People are starting to realise that MP3 was over-rated - FLAC and Apple's lossless format have already superceded it, while at the same time people are looking to invest in ever higher quality digital audio systems, which of course highlight the limitations in the 128KB MP3 files that they've downloaded from the Apple Store, which sounded fine on their old iPod docks, but might be exposed on a quality Hi-Fi.


Because an MP3 is a compressed music file, there is always going to be some loss (MP3 was originally invented to save space on computer game discs - that's what it's for). People are beginning to realise that, to an audiophile, an MP3 is just never going to be good enough. The upshot is that people are having to replace their entire music collections all over again - or they're going back to CDs or vinyl. Record companies are starting to release glossy disc editions of music again, with proper artwork and sleeve notes, as people are realising that there was something to be said for owning it.


There seems to be an over-arching pattern of technology being released to the public before it was quite ready, or being asked to do things it was never really designed to do. This suits the hardware provider, much as it may annoy the record industry, since it all has to be replaced again in a few years time at the consumer's expense. Me, personally, I look forward to the day where technology just works - in an adequately high definition - having been built to last by manufacturers who actually care. Hell, I would even be willing to pay a little bit more for it. Well, I can dream...


Frankie Fraiser

In the future we might well have to pay for much more of the content on the internet than we do now. But, in some ways, this is not a bad thing. At least it...

Frankie Fraser - 4th November 2013

Article Ref: #InternetOnMusicIndustry