Evan Rowe is a local songwriter and performer best known as Catalonia, a professor of political science and history at Broward College, and a small-d democratic strategist with no party affiliation. Each week, we surrender our space for his thoughts on the music industry and how they relate to our region. This week, why musical content (along with much of the digital realm) is unable to fit into market mechanisms.
In part three of the series, we discussed public financing for the radio system, in part four we need to delve into music and the marketplace. Whatever anyone's views on the efficacy of markets, the most fundamental economic explanation for how market logic works is supply and demand. Supply and demand models are in essence an institutional process that establishes pricing by calculating a set of variables too great for any planner to know. Thus, the big knock on central planning (i.e. Soviet economics) was that no matter how smart the pencil pushing bureaucrat in Moscow was, he could not know exactly what the price of bread in Kiev should be. And the price of bread under command economics is set by central planners.
There are simply too many variables for the central planning committees to know in order to set an accurate price on a commodity. Thus, in a free market (how free our western capitalist markets actually are is another matter entirely), the foundation of pricing is built around the idea that if I'm an orange producer and I sell you an orange, I lose the orange and you gain it.
But what has happened with the advent of digital commerce is that the
supply on all things digital commerce is now infinite. If I create a
music file and (try) to sell the music file, if I sell 10 copies, the
cost to me is the same as if I sold 10 million copies. This is very
basic and obvious perhaps but it is an enormous shift and it is also, in
my opinion a core component of the economic crisis that is here and
The core problem, be it in music, print media, TV, film, stand alone
software, etc is that whatever the price is somebody is selling their
content, the price is a lie. Because the real price is much closer to
the cost of creating the supply, and the supply, is now infinite. To
ask the consuming audience to individually purchase content on a market
basis makes little sense. It creates blockages throughout the online
economic network with passwords, RIAA lawsuits, proprietary software,
etc. -- all part of the great denial of the current technological reality of
infinite supply. The result of this is low value of human creativity
inside of the network commonly called the internet (or the internets as
coined by George W. Bush) that
stems from the simple fact that we have an economic doctrine in the
country that attempts to place the vast majority of economic activity
into a market system and that ideology is not conducive to dealing with
the arbitrary nature of pricing that is characteristic of online
So instead of trying to sell everything, we need to
reorganize the space so that everyone knows where they stand. If you had
a tax-based or fee-based system paying for the total content pool, then
this arbitrary math could be managed much better. And if you
decentralize the management into local then regional, then national
bodies, then you avoid the price of bread in Kiev problems of central
planning. With this reality, digital commerce can be opened up and free
can be accepted for what it is: Reality. Instead of paying directly for
tracks or news content or film, there will be space in the economy
devoted to the common good. This means you cannot opt out of it.
society deems music important, then it can devote the total resources
for it, and remuneration for artists will come from perhaps vouchers,
online voting, or an accounting system like a music web suffix with a
regulated accounting system that can hopefully pay out on the basis of
consumer preferences and avoid fraud. This will remove the need to
attempt to control or police piracy, and it will remunerate the creators
of the content by pooling the costs of the system and increasing
remuneration to content creators.
But this does not solve a second
problem of modern reality: the over-supply problem. Even if we create
this pool, we will still have the falling cost to produce the content as
an economic force of gravity, and we will still have the vast majority
of content creators unable to be compensated in the same way that
farmers in the 1930s were unable to be compensated by their crop sales
by overproduction farm crops. Unless an artist is connected, and by
connected I mean when concentrated sums of money purchase fame for a
select minority of artists, then the poorer artist cannot expect to be
recognized by enough people to make a living doing it.
My system will
transfer power from an elite, superstar based system to a broader
system. It is not the number of elite artists that will decline so much
as their power (financial/fame/exposure) in relation to other all of the
other artists. You will have your national superstars, but they will be
the cream of the crop that come out of the local, regional, national
model slow cooker. It wont be like American Idol, because American Idol
is as rigged of a game as American political elections are: You only get
to vote on pre-filtered options in both systems.
I asked Kilmo Doome,
for his views on the radio takeover plan and he said: It's not solely
about money. That would follow. The two main benefits I see would be
diversity and exposure. First by opening up access the sheer diversity
(especially in our market) would result in more choices and an
alternative to the currently extremely narrow scope perpetrated by
monopolistic media outlets. And, in tandem this would result in more
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exposure to all artists regardless of style. End result: more choices,
options and awareness for music buyers, i.e. listeners and more options
and exposure for artists without jumping through the endless hoops of
connections with those currently manipulating media outlets.