A Psychological Explanation For RIAA Short-Sightedness
from the would-rather-lose-money-than-let-someone-else-make-it dept
At times it's been frustrating trying to understand why this is. We've often just assumed that it's caused by a general inertia: that is, it's not easy for someone who's had a successful existing business model to accept the idea that the market has changed and the business model needs to change. That requires effort and effort is not as much fun as coasting on inertia. However, reader Bill Corry writes in with another intriguing possibility. He points to a story in the LA Times discussing some recent behavioral economic studies on how people deal with fairness vs. rationality, suggesting that it explains the RIAA's actions. I'd actually seen all of the studies mentioned in the past, but hadn't associated them with the entertainment industry's struggles. The key part:
Consider one more experimental example to prove the point: the ultimatum game. You are given $100 to split between yourself and your game partner. Whatever division of the money you propose, if your partner accepts it, you each get to keep your share. If, however, your partner rejects it, neither of you gets any money.So, perhaps the industry is to be forgiven. It's not that they're completely blind to the fact that they're giving up potentially millions of dollars in forgone profits from not embracing new models that also benefit "freeloaders." It's just that we're all hardwired to make bad economic decisions when that happens.
How much should you offer? Why not suggest a $90-$10 split? If your game partner is a rational, self-interested money-maximizer -- the very embodiment of Homo economicus -- he isn't going to turn down a free 10 bucks, is he? He is. Research shows that proposals that offer much less than a $70-$30 split are usually rejected.
Why? Because they aren't fair. Says who? Says the moral emotion of "reciprocal altruism," which evolved over the Paleolithic eons to demand fairness on the part of our potential exchange partners. "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine" only works if I know you will respond with something approaching parity. The moral sense of fairness is hard-wired into our brains and is an emotion shared by most people and primates tested for it, including people from non-Western cultures and those living close to how our Paleolithic ancestors lived.