Memo to the record labels: You don't have to treat your customers like criminals. Canadian pop singer Jane Siberry has been experimenting with a voluntary pricing scheme for downloading songs over her website. Fans are offered the choice to pay nothing, pay later, pay what they wish, or pay $0.99 for each song they download from her. The results might come as a surprise to the record labels as the majority of people opted not to take the free track; in fact the average price paid for a track came in at $1.14 per track. But should it really come as a surprise that people will pay voluntarily for music? People often throw a dollar into a musician's bowl when they're playing on the subway -- people who are fans of the musician and actually go to their website should be even more inclined. What's more interesting is that the typical explanation for why people give to the subway musician (or donate $100 to NPR in exchange for a tote bag) is that they get some sort of recognition from others for their generosity. In the case of Jane Siberry the transaction is completely anonymous, meaning that people are happy to support a musician if only for personal satisfaction. This experiment doesn't prove that the donation model would work on an industry-wide scale, rather it simply shows that music fans aren't thieves, and that they do want to support the musicians they like. The labels should see this as a reason to least explore alternative models of pricing and distribution.
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