How To Not Compete With Free

January 19, 2007

Let’s start with this article from Techdirt, describing how entertainment executives slack off from developing new business models using the claim “you can’t compete with free“.

I’d say a company definitely can compete with free. It’s just that the entertainment companies aren’t selling just the content anymore. They’re also selling a service, and must deal with a convenience factor.

Take for example my recent experience: commenter Podophile mentions a singer, France Gall that I should check out. On my lunch break, I went to a Barnes & Noble record store. They didn’t have any of her CDs. So just now, I fired up iTunes. There’s just one song available – I was hoping for an entire album.

So what next? I looked in two of the most obvious places and found nothing. I could fire up Amazon and order the CD, but then I’d have to wait several days to get it. The little pirate in me is saying, “just search on the internet, you’ll find some stuff, somewhere… and most likely, for free.”

If I had seen an entire album available in iTunes, I would have bought it right then and there. The convenience aspect of receiving something instantly would have made shelling out $10 for a digital download a real possibility. But since I was unable to fulfill my impulse, the record company didn’t get my money.

So it’s funny then, to read an article such as this, which describes how certain record labels don’t like the sharing feature on the Zune MP3 player, and have disabled sharing for particular songs they sell.

Talk about annoying. Let’s say I buy a track from the Zune Marketplace, load it on my Zune, and then try to share it with another Zune user (the act of which ought to be embraced as “viral marketing”), but find I can’t? What did I initially pay for? In my mind, part of the implied service in the purchase price should be the convenience of being able to share the song via the Zune. Since that’s not an option, I’d be better off buying a physical CD and ripping it to get content for the Zune, something the record companies likely don’t want, but I’d practically be forced into it.

My point is this: I want media when I want it, in the format of my choice. If it’s not available when the impulse strikes, I’m a disappointed customer, and this represents a failure of customer service. The music company is now several steps behind the free option.

This situation could be turned into an opportunity. If a paid option is faster (or more convenient) than the time it takes for me to track down a CD to rip, or to find a site online that offers said media for free (I’m thinking a torrent) I’d likely use it. My most recent iTunes purchases were two Bangles singles, for example, that I had to have just then.

I liken the current state of the music industry to a restaurant that doesn’t accept credit cards and has no takeout and no delivery. The only cash accepted is one dollar bills, and they’re only open from 9 AM to 2 PM on a Sunday. I’d really like to eat the food but barriers are set up everywhere for me to enjoy it.

Eventually, I’ll just choose another restaurant, or give up and dine at at home.


  1. engtech says:

    DRM has 10 more years before they realize it’s causing them to lose customers.

  2. webomatica says:

    Sadly – you’re probably right.

    I’m actually okay with “weak” DRM or low quality, cheap digital versions for sale, but when it seems the content owners make it difficult to enjoy a product because of piracy fears, that’s where I get annoyed.

    My previous employer had a pretty cool hardware product that was crippled by draconian DRM – but that’s a story for another day.

  3. Podophile says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. While France Gall was never well-known in the US, several of her early albums were re-released on CD here a few years ago. I found them at the Virgin Megastore on Market for $9.99 each in 2004. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be on the iTunes Store. Surprisingly, very little of her music is available on the French or German iTunes store either (where she was actually a star in the 60s and 70s). And even if her entire catalog of music was available on the French store, American customers wouldn’t be allowed to buy it.

    Until the record companies all get on board, and international barriers are erased, legal downloading will never have a chance to surpass file-sharing in the marketplace.

  4. webomatica says:

    Hey podophile – I was just thinking about stopping by the Virgin on my way home just now. I’ll have to check it out. (I did find some amusing videos on YouTube, though!)

  5. Podophile says:

    Wow… Who knew there were so many France Gall videos on YouTube? They even have Laisse Tomber Les Filles, the original version of Chick Habit. I’ve probably watched every Serge Gainsbourg video on YouTube, but never thought to search for France Gall. Thanks for the link.

  6. webomatica says:

    Yeah… definitely retro – stuff sure was different back in the 60s!

    By the way – I did stop by the Virgin Megastore and got “Baby Pop” and “France Gall”. 7.99 a piece. So the music industry still got my money – despite a lot of inconvenience. Now I have rip-friendly CDs, though.