NPR: On The Media – The Developing Music Industry

This podcast addresses the subject of the ways the Internet, with its file-sharing capability and ease of selling downloads, has completely altered the future of the music industry.

One of the main themes, on which I would like to place emphasis, is the reaction of the music industry to products like Napster and other music-sharing sites. Napster was the first major music-sharing Internet site that allowed users to share entire musical libraries with each other for free. Once the use of the site picked up, it resulted in a major loss of album and track sales for major music labels and artists.

One of the ideas discussed in the podcast is that, unbeknownst to the general public, there was in fact a great effort on the part of the music industry’s biggest players to adopt Napster with proper licensing laws in place, which could have become what iTunes is to us today. The industry was slow to adapt, however, preferring to pretend to some extent that the Internet would leave it alone.

It’s obvious now, however, that this is exactly the opposite of the truth. First Napster, then Limewire, Bittorrent and other sites allowed for easy, rapid file-sharing which, although it was not entirely safe, still beat having to buy a $15 CD when the single track you wanted was available online for free.

iTunes changed the game by making a legal, fully licensed service available for free to anyone, with a fair fee attached to individual songs or whole albums. Whereas other sites had been forced to close down due to legal complications, iTunes was ironclad and easy to use. It still is popular, but the newest face in town is growing even faster: streaming audio sites.

Streaming audio is music that a given site (Spotify, for instance) buffers and loads, plays once, and then leaves behind for the next song. The listener doesn’t own the music, but he or she doesn’t have to. They get to listen all the same, the only expense being the occasional ad.

What do you prefer? Owning your music, or streaming it? Why?

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