History Repeats Itself: How The RIAA Is Like 17th Century French Button-Makers

from the no,-seriously... dept

As regular readers know, I've been working through a series of posts on how economics works when scarcity is removed from some areas. I took a bit of a break over the holidays to catch up on some reading, and to do some further thinking on the subject (along with some interesting discussions with people about the topic). One of the books I picked up was one that I haven't read in well over a decade, but often recommend to others to read if they're interested in learning more about economics, but have no training at all in the subject. It's Robert L. Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers. Beyond giving readers a general overview of a variety of different economic theories, the book actually makes them all sound really interesting. It's a good book not necessarily because of the nitty gritty of economics (which it doesn't cover), but because it makes economics interesting, and gives people a good basis to then dig into actual economic theory and not find it boring and meaningless, but see it as a way to better understand what these "philosophers" were discussing.

Reading through an early chapter, though, it struck me how eerily a specific story Heilbroner told about France in 1666 matches up with what's happening today with the way the recording industry has reacted to innovations that have challenged their business models. Just two paragraphs highlight a couple of situations with striking similarities to the world today:
"The question has come up whether a guild master of the weaving industry should be allowed to try an innovation in his product. The verdict: 'If a cloth weaver intends to process a piece according to his own invention, he must not set it on the loom, but should obtain permission from the judges of the town to employ the number and length of threads that he desires, after the question has been considered by four of the oldest merchants and four of the oldest weavers of the guild.' One can imagine how many suggestions for change were tolerated.

Shortly after the matter of cloth weaving has been disposed of, the button makers guild raises a cry of outrage; the tailors are beginning to make buttons out of cloth, an unheard-of thing. The government, indignant that an innovation should threaten a settled industry, imposes a fine on the cloth-button makers. But the wardens of the button guild are not yet satisfied. They demand the right to search people's homes and wardrobes and fine and even arrest them on the streets if they are seen wearing these subversive goods."
Requiring permission to innovate? Feeling entitled to search others' property? Getting the power to act like law enforcement in order to fine or arrest those who are taking part in activities that challenge your business model? Don't these all sound quite familiar? Centuries from now (hopefully much, much sooner), the actions of the RIAA, MPAA and others that match those of the weavers and button-makers of 17th century France will seem just as ridiculous.

If you're looking to catch up on the posts in the series, I've listed them out below:

Economics Of Abundance Getting Some Well Deserved Attention
The Importance Of Zero In Destroying The Scarcity Myth Of Economics
The Economics Of Abundance Is Not A Moral Issue
A Lack Of Scarcity Has (Almost) Nothing To Do With Piracy
A Lack Of Scarcity Feeds The Long Tail By Increasing The Pie
Why The Lack Of Scarcity In Economics Is Getting More Important Now

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2007 @ 7:46pm

    I would say more of there problem on people not buying stuff is the fact that the keep changing things up and ticking people off.

    1. Advertise a movie. Lots of money. Problem, they advertise them all wrong. You see a commercial showing parts of the movie. "That looked funny. I want to go see it." You get to the movie and the funny part of the commercial (or other part) isn't even in the movie. Seen it happen over and over. No longer go to movies. I have no idea anymore what I will get.

    2. DVD's. Wait and wait for DVD. You see all the commercials for its release. Go out and buy it. Great, you like it. 3 months later. MAFIAA. "O hay guys we are releasing this movie again but now it has a bonus disk. Extra parts stuff. Come buy it again." 6 months after that another version. I have done that. I have 3 versions of Stargate the movie. 2 of I Robot. And a few others. I Robot was the last movie I bought. My fault but they have now killed themselves. Tired of the same movie re-released just to get another 15 to 20 from ya. Don't even want to start on TV shows onto DVD. Even worse. Not for the re-releasing but the price. "You saw them all free, now come buy 1 season for 100.00 bucks." (X-files and a few others) Most are not that bad but still bad enough for being free over the air waves.

    3. Going out to see movies. Maybe they (MAFIAA) should go after movie theaters. The prices they charge to see the movie and get a little something to munch on. Please.

    This all still goes for CD's too. Over priced. Crap. You hear a great song on the radio. Go get the CD. No wonder you never hear the others on the radio. They suck. To buy the same thing online (full album) gonna cost you 2 to 3 times as much and you get none of the art work and such.

    And they wonder why they are losing sales. That still gets me. If they are losing so much money from sales and "piracy". How are the still making profits? Didn't they make a profit overall last year still? Guess it wasn't enogh for the CEO's Bonus. He shouldN'T go without his 3 houses.

    I don't download movies or music. Why would I want to. Most of it sucks anyway. Stop putting out crap and when they FINALLY make something worth wild. Make it priced for buying.

    O yeah. Stop paying actors 20 million a pic. I've seen better acting at my kids 5th grade play.

    Have a good one

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