Movies versus Music

It takes me a while to listen to the podcast each week, so this may not be entirely topical. I was thinking about Josh Topolsky's encounter with Ari Emmanuel though and about JT's contention that the movie/TV industry needed to undergo a shift in delivery of content in the same way as the music industry did.

(NB: I'll use ‘JT' rather than ‘Josh' because I don't feel comfortable using the first names of people that I haven't met. Absurdly formal I know, but it's how I was raised).

Now, I'm not associated with either industry, although I have played in a number of crappy bands. I think that the problem with this view is that there is a fundamental difference between the two in terms of the products they sell. For music labels (and artists in particular), there are revenue streams other than recorded music they can access.

For example, when I was a poor student in the 1990s, I would tend to buy more CDs than I could afford. At that point, the cost of buying an album in Australia was pretty similar to the cost of seeing most mid range touring artists, around $30. So, I would often have to choose between buying a gig ticket and buying a CD. Most of the time, I'd choose the CD because it was a permanent product and didn't mean that I'd spend a night in a smoky room drinking massively overpriced, watered down beer and not being able to see the act because I'm a little short. With the CD, I could listen to the songs repeatedly, try to learn to play them and gain more utility (I've studied economics) from my purchase.

Now, however, going to a show is vastly more expensive. I went to see LostProphets play in Sydney a few years ago and the ticket was $80. In 2000, at the same venue, it would have cost maybe $25. In that time though, the Aussie dollar massively increased in value against the US$ and UK pound, so for the band it was much more lucrative to tour than it was before. It seems to me now that there are more tours, at vastly higher prices, which sell more tickets. I think, therefore, that the net expenditure by a lot of people on music is pretty similar to what it was before.

So, if I'm Cliff Burnstein or Peter Mensch (the owners of Q Prime, who manage Metallica, Muse, Red Hot Chilli Peppers among others), the reduced revenue received album sales may well be countered by increased payment to artists from tours and merchandise. Another personal example: I've liked Muse since seeing them at the Reading Festival in 2003. So, I've bought a few of their albums. Their last one though, I pirated because I didn't like the songs that much. However, I went to see them in their headline shows in Sydney in 2007 and 2010 and at the Big Day Out in 2010 as well. So, from my perspective, I've spent about $300 on that band, so from their point of view, and that of their management, the net outcome is improved. I still don't like their last album, so I deleted it, so as to be a bit more ethical.

For the movie business however, there's no corresponding alternative revenue stream. If I download a movie (not that I do of course. Ahem), I almost certainly won't buy it on DVD. There's no way for the actors and production staff involved to do anything else to get my money. There's also a lot more people involved in making even the cheapest TV show than in producing most albums, so the loss of revenue has a broader effect. I think that's why Emmanuel and the rest of his industry are so scared. Once those revenue streams are gone, that's it because they can't also sell a singular transcendental experience like a rock show. Sure, actors can appear in stage productions, but they'll play to a couple of thousand of people at most per night, instead of the 50,000 that a big band plays to every night of a world tour.

I think as well that many people see a moral difference in the two types of piracy. If you become a fan of a band, you may be more likely to see them as real people because it's a more intimate relationship than being a fan of someone who you only see when they are pretending to be someone else. So, you may be more likely to buy an album of a band you like or at least go and buy some of their back catalogue. Conversely, for an actor or director enjoying one of their movies doesn't mean that you'll enjoy the rest of them. I'll go and see Ridley Scott's Prometheus now that it's been released here, but there's no way in hell I'm going out to buy Thelma and Louise or Robin Hood, no matter how much I enjoyed Alien or Blade Runner.

I know that JT has a lot of experience in music, but I understand that he was mostly involved with dance and electronica. I realise my example might not apply to musical forms where live performance is not as central but it's something I've been thinking this week and thought I would share. Any thoughts?