Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Who's Really Losing?

37signals, a web application company, are the authors of Getting Real. A collection of short to-the-point essays, Getting Real is less how-to book and more a philosophical guide on creating, anything. Like most books you can buy a paperback copy for $25. If you prefer e-books and pdfs they’re available for $19. Pretty standard. But what if you don't want pay for it? What if you've never heard of 37signals? No problem. They've also published the entire book online for free . Yes, the entire thing.

Since it was released they have sold over 40,000 copies. All while there has been a free version available to anyone with an Internet connection (which would be all of their customers as its only available online).I know, that's not the music industry. Those are books, they're different. Are they? Maybe not.

Radiohead released their 2007 album In Rainbows under the “pay-what-you-will” model and saw 40% of downloads get paid for, bringing in nearly $3 million. The unintentional star of RIP: A Remix Manifesto, Girl Talk is selling his music under a similar model. While this model is not for every artist and every medium, I believe it is proof that other business models exist.

There is little doubt that the recording industry has lost money due to piracy, a shitload of money. And the lawsuits and “consumer educational” and government lobbying are attempts to regain control over a market and consumer the industry thought it had mastered. These grasps at life will not stop until someone, someone big fails. Then those left standing may wise up and get creative about reinventing their business.


  1. The fact that you mentioned books is my point exactly. The thing is they aren't different. Both music and books come in physical and digital formats. All of this due to our changing world. Everything is going digital. While I doubt you can stop people from downloading music through p2p sharing, people will pay for what they really enjoy when presented with the opportunity. Your book example proves that as well as Radiohead and Girl Talk. The music industry and these lobbyists really need to get hip, and change their ancient business models.

  2. I think the books are a little different. I like seeing my favorite books on my bookshelf and I would not want to read an entire book online. I'd rather hold the book in my hands and when I'm done reading I can pop in a book mark and come back to it later. When I'm listening to a song I can't tell if it's playing on a cd or directly from the computer so I'd be happy with either form.

  3. @Melissa
    The books example was provided not to show preference for a physical object but to explore the possibility that consumers are still willing to pay for creative works even when free versions are available. Though, the total number of purchases is likely to be lower than in the past and it may be harder for new artists to develop a market for their work.

  4. I'm a big fan of the pay-what-you-will model. I think this idea has a lot of potential. One-price-fits-all marketing isn't perfect. I think many people pirate songs because the current price is deemed as being too high in their minds. This results in the person thinking, "Well, the artist either gets $0 from me and I don't get to listen to the song since the price is too high, or they get 0$ from me and I DO get to listen to the song because I'll just pirate it!" The pay-what-you-will model gets rid of this conundrum, allowing people to pay what they think is fair value for the song instead of being locked into the one price fits all model.