Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Isn't Media a Commodity?

Benkler and Castells only briefly touch on something we have also briefly discussed in class, the topic of p2p sharing, especially in terms of (free) music, movie, and TV downloads. While I'm human and of course want something free if I can get it, the trend of free file sharing and pirated movies, music, software, etc. does bother me. I suppose it is a human trait to want to keep your money and not spend it if you don't have to. After all you worked hard for that money, so if you can avoid spending it on movies, music, etc. shouldn't you?
However, someone else worked hard to produce that media so why do we believe they should just give it away for free? We wouldn't expect a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk for free just because we don't want to have to pay for it. Now there are the arguments that recording companies and studios make so much money off of their products, which it is implied, is undeserved (and I'm not getting into the unfair payment distributions, that's a whole other issue), so why does it matter if we download it for free? But does anyone really think if all media was either produced by small independent labels/companies, who didn't take big profits, or even self-produced it that there wouldn't be such a proliferation of p2p sharing? I seriously doubt it. This system could also make it harder for the small upstart media companies because people have gotten used to not paying for their media and won't want to start just because its a small company trying to get off the ground and make a profit.
We've seen this trend with newspapers too. People don't want to pay for online subscriptions (full disclaimer, I'm totally guilty of this too) and so the companies have to turn to the dwindling ad revenues to keep their sites and sometimes the entire paper afloat.
People still get annoyed if they have to wait through commercials for free online content, as we've discussed in class. However, someone has to pay for the work to be done. If no one pays musicians, writers, actors, directors to produce the media, they're going to find another job that will pay them and our media supply will decline. They might continue to produce media on the side because they like it, but it won't be of the same quantity and quality as if they could produce it for a full-time job.
While there are many issues involved in this discussion, to me, one of the main points it boils down to, is why do we think its ok to not pay media producers for their time, effort, and products? Isn't it a commodity just like everything else we pay for?


  1. Hmmm... on the one hand I agree that SOMEONE needs to pay these creative artists/producers for what they do. And clearly selling their creative product is the most logical means to make the money to pay them. On the other hand, I don't quite think it's analogous to paying for bread or milk, because bread or milk can't be replicated so easily. For instance, in the case of mp3s, it would take all of 2 seconds and hardly any additional resources to copy those digital files.
    One thing I've thought about is, what price "free"-dom? What does it say about us as a consumerist society that we willingly trade our eyeballs for advertisements in order to get something free? And what's the threshhold for what we would pay to support these things in order not to have to watch/see ads?

  2. Ah, this is always a fun discussion!

    I'll just take up one part of your discussion that seems to be the crux: "if no one will pay media producers, they will stop producing"

    I think Bankler makes it abundantly clear that this is not in any way true. many people out there are happy to create the content for the pure joy of creating it or of improving something or of helping, even. As for quality and quantity, ehhh, maybe quanitity, but I think we have quite enough of that in our news, as just one example. Think of all the crap that is reported as news but has no bearing on us at all. I could stand to lose it.

    And what you say about ad revenues is exactly right-- newspapers and other media will have to depend on the $$ around either their web presence (ads) or some other physical presence (performances, products). The paradigm is shifting and the music industry has a dead format. On some level they know that. It;s not that they are evil and taking too much money (well, they are, but that is not the issue)

    Consider the example of radiohead. They released their last album online and asked people to listen and then 'pay what they thought it was worth'-- they still made money, but to them it was xtra $$ (partly bc the buzz around that stunt created more $$ and fans) and partly bc they were making a statement about having a return to live performances being a source of income.

    I'll still pay someone for the service of performing live, and now that artists can promote themselves online, record execs are mad bc they can't be the middlemen. Boohoo, creative destruction, I say. But I'm not a record exec...