Piracy Devastates Music Artists’ Income. Authors, Tomorrow It’s Your Turn

“Over the last 12 years” NPR’s David Lowery recently wrote, “I’ve watched revenue flowing to artists collapse. Recorded music revenue is down 64% since 1999. Per capita spending on music is 47% lower than it was in 1973!! The number of professional musicians has fallen 25% since 2000. Of the 75,000 albums released in 2010 only 2,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. Only 1,000 sold more than 10,000 copies.” Ten thousand copies, Lowery explains, is break-even for independent recording artists.

Why are we mentioning this in a column devoted to the book industry?  Because if you substitute “authors” for “recording artists” and “books” for “albums”, you would realize at once, as I did, that in one significant area the two professions are interchangeable.

The significant area is piracy.  Lowery attributes the plummet in sales directly to illegal downloading.

His article, published in The Trichordist, a website for “Artists for an Ethical Internet,” was in the form of an open letter to a young intern at National Public Radio named Emily who had acknowledged that “while she had 11,000 songs in her music library, “she’s only paid for 15 CDs in her life.”

Because Emily is a member of a vast majority who not only behave the same way but justify their behavior the same way, Lowery felt it incumbent to help her see that “she has been badly misinformed by the Free Culture movement.” The challenge is tantamount to fighting a forest fire with a garden hose, and the reason is that it’s all about a mindset so completely and universally embedded in the consciences of young people that it’s become a rule to live by rather than an ethical value about which there is choice to embrace or resist.

Obviously that same mindset obtains with e-books. Among the reasons that the Emily generation use to justify their freeloading are:

*Compensating musicians is not a problem -  that is up to governments and large corporations to solve.

*It’s OK not to pay for music because record companies rip off artists and do not pay artists anything.

*We don’t take these tracks from a file-sharing site.

*Artists can make money on the road (or its variant “Artists are rich”)

“I also deeply empathize with your generation,” Lowery writes. “You have grown up in a time when technological and commercial interests are attempting to change our principles and morality. Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change–if a machine can do something, it ought to be done.

“I also find this all this sort of sad. Many in your generation are willing to pay a little extra to buy ‘fair trade’ coffee that insures the workers that harvested the coffee were paid fairly. Many in your generation will pay a little more to buy clothing and shoes from manufacturers that certify they don’t use sweatshops. Many in your generation pressured Apple to examine working conditions at Foxconn in China. Your generation is largely responsible for the recent cultural changes that has given more equality to same sex couples. On nearly every count your generation is much more ethical and fair than my generation.

“Except for one thing. Artist rights.”

Read: Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published in Digital Book World as Sales for Musical Artists Plunge. Next Victim: Authors

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3 Responses to Piracy Devastates Music Artists’ Income. Authors, Tomorrow It’s Your Turn

  1. The only way most authors could make money at live performances is that the audience had to pay to escape our singing.

  2. FionaMcGier says:

    I knew this was a very large problem when my own oldest son argued with me that since he pays for internet access (no, his father does!) he therefore should be able to download for free anything he finds on it. Sigh. When I told him that means I won’t make any money on my books, he told me to “find a real publisher, that makes paperbacks.” What was it Shakespeare said, “Sharper than a serpent’s tooth…” and all? If my own son thinks this, how much more so do young adults who don’t have a mother who writes?

    The Internet has changed everything, but the saddest part is that with the knowledge of the world at our fingertips, most of the time most people merely seek porn, play games, or chat about other people with each other. Or they grab whatever they can find for free.

  3. Judi says:

    I think the really sad thing is that many publishers do offer free ebooks. There are a plethora of free reads on Amazon. Authors often give away a free read in the hopes of gaining readers. Yet that doesn’t seem to be good enough. And some of the pirates can get downright hateful and vindictive.

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