Will people pay $.30 extra for high-quality DRM-free music?

Of course they will, and The Economist’s skepticism baffles me:

For years, I have been hearing avid downloaders claim that people are basically willing to pay for music but aren’t because the music industry is screwing it up—overcharging for their product, and crippling it with DRM. This is true at some level; I would snap up a Porsche at £1.20, but that is not an indictment of the firm for refusing to sell one to me at that price.

Ever since I have had enough disposable income to purchase music, rather than download it, I have made a point of doing so. This means that I had converted from a downloader to a buyer before I entered college in 2002. The iTunes Music Store is all about impulse and immediacy to me, and I’ve (occasionally) unwisely taken advantage of it, knowing full well the dangers of lock-in. For me, the promise of higher-quality, DRM-free songs at a mere 30% markup is a no-brainer.

I suppose this means that I’m not what they would describe as an “avid downloader.” But I would go one step further and claim that, for those who are, digital music has always been chiefly about convenience. I predict that the existence of a legal DRM-free method for obtaining the same, weighed against the threat of arbitrary and capricious lawsuits, will be enough to tip the scales.

As for the analogy: a Porsche is not a song; they do not cost the same to manufacture, they are not manufactured in the same way, they are not sold in the same way, and they are not governed by the same laws. The price given (£1.20) does not bear any resemblance to the cost to produce a Porsche.

Let’s turn the premise on its head. If it cost $50,000 to produce a Porsche, and the company charged $200,000 for the same car, and that car came with an arbitrary restriction (can’t go any faster than 100 MPH, say), and then no one bought the car, you would rightly point out that the company is overcharging and underdelivering. The onus falls upon the company to readjust their business model, and their choice to (for example) sue the living daylights out of their customers rather than re-examine their assumptions about the market is certainly worth an indictment or two.

But if the grand experiment fails, and people continue to download music for free despite being offered the chance to compensate artists for it, I don’t expect I’ll shed many tears for those involved. The music market is oversaturated with would-be stars. The “recording artists” most heavily promoted by the industry are the most God-awful. There is little to admire in the industry’s predatory business practices. For truly dedicated musicians, micropatronage is now widespread, and live music venues certainly aren’t going anywhere. The real victim here is copyright law, which Congress and the content holders have abused recklessly in their desperate attempts to maintain the status quo in an industry in grave need of change. Luckily, free-market alternatives exist.

Well, I'm here

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