Broadband only useful for pirates

The manager of popular beat combo dinosaurs U2 has made the bizarre claim that the only reason people want broadband is to steal video and music content.

U2 manager Paul McGuinness said that the only reason the music industry had tanked over recent years was not because outfits like U2 peddled the same boring crap that they did in the 1980s, but because of the introduction of broadband.

McGuinness believes that broadband customers only sign up for the service to download and share digital content.

In an article for GQ, called “How to Save the Music Industry” McGuinness said that that people only want more bandwidth to speed up the download music and films as they didn’t really need it to get their email faster.

He said when poor Bono stepped into the ring to complain about piracy he was mauled online. Bono said that a decade’s worth of music file sharing and swiping has made clear the people piracy hurt are the creators.

“The people this reverse Robin-Hooding benefits are rich service providers, whose swollen profits perfectly mirror the lost receipts of the music business,”  Bono said.

McGuiness said that Bono is a guy who, when he decides to support a cause, does so with enormous passion. But even he was amazed by the backlash when he was mauled by the online crowd. 

McGuiness added that over the last two years since he first alerted the world to the problem, some things were better in the music world, but unfortunately the main problem is still just as bad.

He went on to say that artists could not get record deals. Revenues were plummeting. Efforts to provide legal and viable ways of making money from music are being stymied by piracy.

“The latest figures from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) shows that 95 percent of all music downloaded is illegally obtained and unpaid for. Indigenous music industries from Spain to Brazil are collapsing. An independent study endorsed by trade unions says Europe’s creative industries could lose more than a million jobs in the next five years,” he said.

While he said that this is not crippling bands like U2, artists and musicians need to take their business as seriously as their music.

“U2 understood this. They have carefully pursued careers as performers and songwriters, signed good deals and kept control over their life’s work. Today, control over their work is exactly what young and developing performers are losing. It is not their fault. It is because of piracy and the way the internet has totally devalued their work,” he said.

His answer is embracing subscriptions and working with ISPs to offer subscriptions bundled with broadband and/or mobile access.

This is where McGuinness’s argument falls down. The reason that any agreements have not happened is because the recording industry has, since the 1960s, had a system which generated huge amounts of cash for itself at the expense of artists.

There is an insanely complex royalty system and a lack of ideas about how to change with the times which does not stop its gravy train. Instead it has engaged in a war with the pirates which it can never win. McGuiness and his ilk only serve to alienate artists by attacking the pirates, rather than seeing piracy as a symptom of a bigger illness in their own industry.

Basically the recording industry only wants to back winners who make them a lot of cash. It does not want to think small. A 21st century recording studio should be marketing lots of new bands online and taking a smaller cut of the action. Making money in volume of bands rather than volumes of sales by a single artist. Even big names have lost their recording contracts because the studio does not believe that they can make enough cash from them.

Packaged correctly, and with fresh ideas from the recording industry, everything is completely viable. However it cannot be the out-of-date structure that created U2.

But blaming piracy for the state of the record industry is like blaming patients for hospital bugs.

McGuiness disagrees. He says that it is facile to blame record companies. Whoever those “old Canutes were”, the executives who wanted to defend an old business model rather than embrace a new one, they left the business long ago. The record companies know they have to monetise the internet or they will not survive, he claims.

Part of this problem is because we all want our music for free, McGuiness said. Actually that is not the case. Most people buy content, either online or offline, for the same reasons they ever did.

One of the important reasons why people pirate is because a much hyped product is not available in the format that want and when they want it. This is mostly because of the industry’s bizarre rules or DRM  which is designed to curb pirates.

In Italy, for example, some distributors only release films with Italian subtitles which means an English person living in the Eternal City cannot see films in the language they were shot. So having watched several flicks where an oscar winning female lead’s acting performance is murdered by being dubbed into Italian by the same woman who does Lisa Simpson you get a little peaked about how you wasted your cash and start looking for a torrent.  Equally if you can’t find Dr Who or Sherlock in the shops or telly because Silvio Berlusconi wants you to watch aged male “comics” groping attractive women who are expected to giggle while they make sexist comments at them, your only choice is Amazon or a torrent site.  

If you don’t have anything to watch that evening then it is a torrent you are looking for. 

The same applies to the music industry with its strange systems of release dates and pricing.

Several years ago I said that the way for the music industry to prop up sales of CDs was to provide value added packages. Few have heeded that particular call, although hats off to Peter Gabriel who has done rather well using a sane internet model.