How do you put a value on music?

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So in recent weeks and months, the hot topic in the music world has been streaming. Is it fair to the writers, the artists or the public? Just how do you put a value on music?

Taylor Swift’s recent out burst against Spotify seems like a good place to start. It seems all too convenient that whilst she was working her way up to fame and fortune, she was happy to let her fans stream her music, either paying a monthly subscription or the advertisements on the site paying for their consumption. Either way these fans were LEGALLY listening to Swift’s music.

The simple act of removing her music from Spotify means just two things, Swift is turning her back on the millions of fans who choose to listen to her music through Spotify, and Swift wants those loyal fans to pay more for her music. The same fans that she owes her career to. Now I don’t want to make any assumptions about Miss Swift, but I’m guessing she’s not doing too bad for herself, not short of a dime or two.

The last time the music industry refused to get on board with the latest technology (downloads), Napster came along and caught the Major Record Companies napping. Even after this industry changing moment, these companies still needed persuading to get onboard with iTunes, and now it’s happening again with streaming.

IF this kind of attitude defined how the industry worked, then we would all be listening to limited edition vinyl and paying £30 a time for the privilege. But it doesn’t, as with all free markets, the industry is controlled by simple supply and demand. Demand being the key word. The consumer controls every aspect of the industry, from which genre is hot right now to how we consume the content. There are more artists, more albums and more songs in the market then there ever has been. Which is great for consumers, we have choice. But it de-values the music. If you increase the choice, increase the supply, but keep the demand the same, then the price falls. Simple economics. The consumer cannot afford to keep buying music no matter what the price.

At the other end of the argument we have Apple buying U2’s album and then giving it away for free to iTunes users. In this deal both parties set a very specific price on music, a price that meant that U2 made more money than the traditional record deal that has served the industry well for so many years. Regardless of how you feel about U2, it’s clear that this deal cannot work for the vast majority of musicians. In fact it’s close to being a unique deal, and that’s why it’s worked so well for them. Interestingly, given the public outcry about this deal, Prince basically did the same deal with the Mail on Sunday back in 2007 with much the same response then.

Somewhere in the middle of all this we have Radiohead, who cleverly offer their album for free. Their only caveat was that if the consumer felt they wanted to place a value on their purchase, they should pay what they felt was just. And, they did. In fact Radiohead on average were paid MORE than they would have been had they released the album through the traditional model. A model that has always been skewed against the artists and writers, and in favour of the record companies themselves.

We live in a society where a lot of software is becoming free, Companies are launching as Kick Starter projects, Microsoft and Adobe are both going down subscription routes and Films and TV are available on demand, online or through subscription services. In fact there is very little left in media that isn’t available 24/7 online, books, radio and magazines have all joined the digital revolution. If content providers don’t get on board with the latest technology, or keep a grasp on how the consumer wants to consume their media, then the consumer will just take it for free.

It’s not that we don’t put a value on media anymore, it’s that we put a higher value on how we consume it and technology allows us to integrate media in to every aspect of our lives. Our pockets now contain our favourite books, playlists, movies and access to on demand services across the board. I hope this time the music industry will understand the power of the consumer and the technology in their pockets.