Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Different Take on the Demise of OiNK

This afternoon, popular alt/indie music scene blog Stereogum highlighted one user's reaction to the arrest of OiNK's creator and the closing of their file forums. I thought it was an important enough perspective that it deserved a repost:

Yes, it provided a way to get free versions of widely available popular albums, but it also archived and cataloged the last 50 years of music better than any other place on Earth. Many of which are not readily available for purchase anywhere. It was an excellent record of one field of human achievement and now its gone ... How about the Clash's "Vanilla Tapes" that were lost on a subway train 30 years ago? On Oink, but not in stores.

It was the digital music version of the burning of the Library at Alexandria.

They destroyed the greatest historical archive of rock so they could make a couple more bucks off Rhianna's "Umbrella".

He has a very interesting point: Music represents a very important part of our culture, and as such a dynamic and quickly growing form of culture it's very difficult to create a complete repository of it. Additionally, the copyright holders are not keen on the idea of having repositories similar to libraries at which interested parties could "borrow" and listen to music not otherwise available.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to use this fine gentleman's post to kick off my own.

This is not unlike the availability of written works. Because the very vast majority of published written works are no longer under copyright, publishing companies no longer have any reason to attempt to print and sell them. The Library of Congress used to have a very complete collection of works published (and previously published) in the United States. In fact, The Library of Congress used to require the submission of a copy of every piece of writing published in the US. This is no longer the case, but the Library of Congress still represents (probably) the most complete collection of written works in the United States.

The Public Library system begins to address this issue, but only really for writing. Public Libraries don't have particularly good collections of modern music.

So what does OiNK represent? In a lot of ways, OiNK was an interesting allegory for music to the way that the Library of Congress used to operate for written works. Every time an album came out, important or not, popular or not, it was probably posted on OiNK. Because the userbase had a large number of aural enthusiasts, much of the influential and important (popular or not) music of the last fifty years - in fact, most of the music published in some sort of digital form - could be found on the forums. Even better, the majority of the music posted was of archival quality, simply due to the stringent posting requirements.

The same argument could be made for movies. It seems as though the culture-creation companies, as they dub themselves, would like to put a minimum price on culture. Is this really the way to foster a creative culture?

Let's consider the CD. Ten years ago, people, enthusiasts included, purchased CDs to listen to music. Today, the purchase of a CD has begun to transform into something very different: a means to support an artist. The purchase of a CD or a record has become the same action as purchasing a pin or a t-shirt. Music is free, and the way we show our appreciation for the music we enjoy is by buying merchandise from the band.

Let me repeat that: Music is free. It's free. Buying music has turned into something you do when you like it, instead of something you do when you want to listen to it.

So what did we lose with OiNK? We lost, just as the poster said, the largest and most complete repository of modern music in existence. Does this mean that music is no longer free? No. Does it mean that albums will no longer leak onto the internet? No.

What did the Record Companies who shut down OiNK gain? They gained the ability to marginalize independent labels just a little more by removing one of the best passive marketing tools that independent artists have. One thing that they definitely didn't gain was more CD sales. I guess it was worth it, since more and more artists are signing to independent labels instead of the big four.

What did the Record Companies who shut down OiNK lose? They lost face, and they lost, arguably, one of the most important marketing tools that they have so far refused to utilize. What's more important, or more profitable than a CD sale? A fan. And if the music isn't good enough to create a fan out of a listener, shutting down OiNK isn't going to increase CD sales.

So the record companies also lost something else: They lost an indefinite number of fans. Fans are people who hadn't heard the music yet, but who would have gotten into it if they had. Fans are the people who go to concerts and buy merchandise. Fans are the people who will buy the same song as a Single, on a CD, and on a record because the art is different.

Fans make you a whole lot more money per person in this day of free music than the average consumer. Maybe the record companies should consider that when they slap fans in the face and say "stop stealing."


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