Debunking The Claim That Giving Away Music 'Devalues' It
from the debunker's-forum dept
One of the popular claims from critics of this site is that giving away music (or even offering it much cheaper) “devalues” it. We’ve posted many times explaining how price and value are two different things. A lower price does not inherently change the value of a product. The simplest way to think about is the example we’ve used before: all of us value air a whole lot. We use it to stay alive. And yet, we don’t pay for it directly. But I don’t think anyone claims that this “devalues” air. Value is more a determination of the demand curve. How much you value something tells you whether or not you’ll buy it at a certain price. If you value something highly, and it’s offered at a lower price, you’ll buy it at that lower price. That doesn’t mean that the value to you has decreased, it means that you’ve received a surplus (you got more in value than you paid). That’s a good thing.
Yet, recently, the whole “low prices devalue music” thing has come back again. There was the former record label exec who suggested selling albums at $1.60 and got trashed for wanting to “devalue music.” Then, of course, we’ve written a few times about the indie label Asthmatic Kitty, which had worried that having Amazon offer its new album at $4 might devalue the music, since they believe music “is worth more than the cost of a latte.”
Thankfully, Ian Port, at SF Weekly has come along to do a nice job of debunking those claims:
Several have argued that selling an album for less than a cup of coffee or a bottle of water would devalue the art of music. But people — at least, young people who don’t buy much music anyway — don’t judge the artistic value of music by what it costs. If they did, they would look down on artists who give away free MP3s and whose albums were obtainable on file-sharing sites. They don’t.
The devaluing-the-art argument misses two other important points: First, coffee and water bottles can’t be downloaded quickly and anonymously at no cost, while digital music can. Second, paying $3 or $4 for a tangible good (i.e., a cup of coffee you watched a person make especially for you) seems intrinsically reasonable in this day and age, even, I would guess, to a 13-year-old. But paying $10 to download a digital file that’s a copy of a copy of a copy — all of them made at no additional cost — somehow doesn’t.
I’m not saying musicians shouldn’t be paid for their work. Selling digital albums for $1 or $3 would not stop superfans from paying $10 or $20 or even $50 for elaborately packaged CD or other hard-copy releases. Vinyl lovers will still pay cash money for virgin 180-gram translucent red plastic with big art. And even the $1 digital album, if it made piracy less attractive and increased sales volumes, could bring artists more revenues than they’re currently getting.
It’s good to see more people pushing back on the silly “low price devalues music” claim.