So, Billy Bragg has written an opinion piece for the NYT (man, this paper is like the next Wired!) about how some of the $800,000,000+ that AOL paid for Bebo should be shared with the many musicians who uploaded their music to the site over the past few years.
He claims, “The musicians who posted their work on Bebo.com are no different from investors in a start-up enterprise. Their investment is the content provided for free while the site has no liquid assets. Now that the business has reaped huge benefits, surely they deserve a dividend.”
Turns out that this opinion has garnered a lot of response…
TechCrunch: “Recorded music is nothing but marketing material to drive awareness of an artist. Websites that bring that music to listeners are doing artists a favor. In fact, they’re doing them a favor that they should (and will) be paid for. Young artists and songwriters in particular benefit from these services – Until a few years ago they had almost no way to break into the mainstream without getting a label to promote them. Now those walls are being torn down, and Bragg has the audacity to complain about it.”
Mashable: “The issue I take with that argument is…well…any such recompense simply wasn’t part of the deal. A deal which remains to this day. The arrangement provided by social networks to musicians is exposure within the sphere created by those sites. And a way to promote new releases and live events. And, if artists (a term which is far too liberally applied today, I should add) so choose to do so, even offer an easy way to deliver downloads to fans. That’s all. braggNo financial contracts. No payments based on track playback counts. Nothing like that. All they get is a vast ocean of music geeks to convert into followers. Or at least attempt to.”
On the other side of the argument:
Nick Carr: “When challenged in this way, the plantation owners counter that they are doing musicians a favor by providing them with a place to promote their work. But this, too, as Bragg notes, is disingenuous: “Radio stations also promote our work, but they pay us a royalty that recognizes our contribution to their business. Why should that not apply to the Internet, too?” The fact is, it should. And arguments to the contrary are ultimately specious and self-serving. Exploitation is exploitation, no matter how lovingly it’s wrapped in neo-hippie technobabble about virtual communities, social production, and the gift economy.”
A VC: “I know one thing for sure. Artists, particularly musicians, are entertaining people more and more every day because of the Internet. Entrepreneurs are building a host of great ways to discover and listen online. And if there were an easy and affordable way to cut the artists in for a piece of the action, most would do it in a heartbeat. It shouldn’t be necessary to wait for the $850mm payday to get paid.”
The economics of being a musician are clearly changing, driven by the fact that one no longer needs to create a physical item in order to distribute it to the masses.