Whacking A Straw Mole… And Missing Badly
from the hank,-you-need-better-aim dept
It’s been a few months since we heard from Hank Williams (not the singer, but some guy who writes for Silicon Alley Reporter). You may recall he was the guy who got numerous basic facts wrong about copyright online, and then displayed an ignorance of basic economics in attacking my critique of his claims. He’s been quiet for a bit, but he’s back, claiming to play “whack-a-mole” with the arguments being made by myself and others concerning the economics of free music.
Tragically, when you’re playing whack-a-mole, it helps to actually whack the mole in question. Instead, Williams appears to have stretched out and tried to whack-a-made-up-straw-mole in the corner… and even missed that.
Williams repeatedly puts words in my mouth that I never said, and then tries to knock each of those strawmen down. He never once quotes anything I actually said, preferring to pretend I said a bunch of stuff I haven’t said. Amusingly, he even fails to knock the false things I never said down. It, again, makes me wonder if Williams’ writeups are really just a super clever satire — though, those who know him tell me this is not the case at all. Williams is actually serious. So let’s go check out what he says I said, and what he says in response:
Masnick regularly argues that the music business should be making money other ways than selling “shiny discs”.
Actually, that’s not quite true. I have always said that musicians should focus on selling scarce goods. Shiny discs are in fact one of many scarce goods. So selling more CDs is not a bad idea — if you can do it. The problem, however, is that the market definitely appears to be moving away from shiny discs. Some have figured out how to still keep that market alive — such as Trent Reznor — by giving people a good reason to buy the shiny discs. So we’re all for still selling shiny discs if you can. But, I think we all admit that’s not the eventual path to music industry success any more. So, this is a strawman argument from Williams. He then attacks a post I wrote nearly two weeks ago (a bit slow on the response, eh?) criticizing Warner Music for bitching about the royalty rates it had agreed to on video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band:
And in the Guitar Hero/Rock Band case, Warner wants a greater royalty for using their music in the wildly popular video game. So here, it sounds like Warner is taking Masnick’s advice, right?
Only if Warner misread my advice as badly as Williams’ has. The focus is on selling scarce goods, not the infinite goods that are already created. So, again, we have a strawman, as Williams seems to want to pretend I said something I didn’t say in order to knock it down. Let’s move on…
Warner is still wrong, Masnick says. They shouldn’t be demanding more money for the use of their music. They should be happy knowing that Guitar Hero is great marketing for Warner Music to sell, err… shiny discs.
Straw piled upon straw piled upon straw. Again, my complaint was never with the effort to sell shiny discs alone, but my complaint with Warner’s actions has nothing at all to do with the label trying to sell more shiny discs. The point is that through the games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band new fans are introduced to certain music, which allows the musicians in question to make money from a variety of business models, involving selling scarce goods associated with those acts.
So: According to Masnick, music labels shouldn’t plan on selling music in the traditional way. But they also shouldn’t demand substantial licensing fees from a big, profitable video game franchise, even when that franchise is entirely based around music — because that franchise helps them sell music in the traditional way.
Well, no, that’s only according to three levels of false strawmen created by Williams. But, amazingly, in those 3 levels of straw, there’s some truth — though, Williams’ big swing at the straw heap is a big miss as well. It’s true that record labels shouldn’t plan on selling music the traditional way. I don’t think anyone denies that. That market is increasingly in trouble. And, it’s also correct that they shouldn’t demand substantial licensing fees from big, profitable video game franchises — especially when (this is the part Williams not-so-deftly skips over) they already have signed licensing fees for the music.
The point (also skipped over by Williams) is that there are a wide variety of business models that musicians can choose from these days that use the music as a promotion for those scarce goods (which include things like concerts, access to the musician, the creation of new music, etc.). I never said that being in games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band help musicians sell music the traditional way. I said it acts as promotion for the artists, which allow them to build up a larger fan base on which they can use these myriad business models that focus on selling scarce goods.
Masnick says he’s not against selling music. But when you look at his arguments, he really doesn’t leave much on the table. If you can’t charge the biggest media companies in the world for your product, who can you charge?
Where to start? The strawman here is the false belief that the only thing the musicians have to sell is the music itself. That’s clearly not true. As for that first statement about me not being against “selling music,” that’s correct — in that if you can sell music, more power to you — but it won’t make sense once more artists realize they can do better using the music to promote the other scarcities they sell. But to say that there’s not much left on the table suggests either an inability to read what I actually have written — pointing to tons of business models that show that freeing up the music actually puts a lot more on the table — or just willful ignorance.
Techdirt is both a blog and a consultancy, so you’re supposed to take this seriously — someone is supposedly paying for this advice. Why?
Well, actually, we’re not a “consultancy,” but at this point, expecting Williams to understand the difference between a consultancy and an expert network is apparently too much to ask. And, we would never expect anyone to take anything seriously just because we’re a business (though, not a consultancy). We expect people to take us seriously because they read what we have to say, look at the evidence (both on a micro and macro level), recognize that the evidence is compelling and then make a decision that it’s worth paying attention to. If you skip that first level (the actually reading what we have to say part), then it’s no wonder that you might be confused about the rest of our business model. The good news is that our business model works, both for us, and for others who embrace it. Williams can keep denying it as long as he wants, but we’ve got plenty of evidence where it counts.