Sunday, 21 April 2013

Where's the money at?

So here’s an interesting query; how does anyone make any money anymore?

Here’s an example. For the Nick Cave ‘review’, I got the album for £4.99, digital download and all, from Amazon. But how much of that £4.99 does Nick Cave – and his Caverns (I’m sure I should know the name of any of his musicians, but, well, no, sorry) see? You can bet your bottom dollar that a lot of that goes to Amazon for hosting fees and arbitrage, and the record company probably eats some of the rest- but it’s £4.99, for the love of your deity of choice; there’s only so much to go around.

This is extremely pertinent considering that yesterday was Record Shop Day. Which is nice, except I haven’t had a record shop anywhere near me for about ten years. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the idea. I respect the thinking behind it – the socialization of an slowly desocialised media – because, over time, gigs are becoming more of a hassle and downloads directly less so – and I love the idea of a record shop, but if you live in certain places, it’s going to cost more to get to one than to spend that self-same money on, well, music.

This is just me talking – and, we all know, I love talking – but if I had wanted to go to a record store today it would have cost a bare minimum of either £20 in train tickets or approximately £30 in petrol money before parking, etcetera. And I don’t live in the styx, the back of beyond or the quiet places; I’m near a big town, with decent services, and absolutely no record store.

Shit, even HMV shuttered their bars a few months ago and won’t be coming back.

As I say, I really do understand the joy of a record shop and, more than anything, I get that there’s a happiness to owning the physicality of an object – hell, I’m jealous of Somik’s Postal Service vinyl like you wouldn’t believe. But I gave up my record players and walkmen and cd players and, well, minidisc players a l-o-n-g time ago, because of three things:
-    (I)   Convenience
-    (II)  Ease of Use
-    (III) I don’t have to wear trousers to buy MP3s.

On the last point, I probably should, but substitute it for I don’t have to leave the house and you get the same meaning without the mental image.

Even if something’s not available on MP3 via all the major music outlets, it’s easier to buy it Used and New these days than anything. An example; I was thinking of writing a Bloodhound Gang article for the blog – don’t judge – and it would have cost in the region of £8 to get four used copies of their albums on CD then translate them into MP3s rather than £32 to buy them on mp3.

Now, buying Used and New means that the artist isn’t, frankly, seeing a dime.

Let’s say you buy an album from Amazon for a penny plus £1.25 postage. The seller gets approximately 70p of that – although fees and percentages change – and the postage costs for that will be between forty and seventy pence, depending on packaging and package size. So the seller sees between 30p and nothing per CD and Amazon takes 55p off the top, and – while I don’t know and wouldn’t like to guess and am not maligning their business practice – I doubt the artist sees any of that 55p.

(Bear in mind that all figures are approximate, and my maths is appalling.)

Then there’s Charity Shops.

This is a more lateral example, but I finally got round to reading some Iain M Banks recently. Now, I’m broke at the best of times, so I thought charity shops might be the way to go. Except that, of course, buying books from them means that only the charity sees any money; the book’s already, in theory, been paid for once, but second-hand sales from this area only benefit the charity.
Given the circumstances surrounding Mr Bank's recent terrible, terrible news, I’d really, really like to actually be giving money to him as an author. 

Except there, you run up against the same problem; the digital editions come in at £4.99 and the print editions at £6.99 new, which is – to my mind – the only way I can see of making sure that at least some of my purchase money goes towards the author. A used and new copy can be had for most books for £2.81, and the copy I bought in Oxfam – which sparked off the idea for this article – was £2.49.

I would love to live in a world where I could comfortably afford to pay just under 300% of the market rate (where market rate is the cheapest rate) for a product just to support someone, but I spend my time alternating between stony broke and marginally less stony broke, so if there’s a cheap option, I’d rather pay less and swallow the guilt.

Except the guilt’s not settling.

The days of lavish record company advances and gross and net points are, most likely, long long gone, and it’s harder and harder for bands to make their way out of the MySpace Morass or the Social Networking swamp as a whole in order to even get noticed; actually getting an album out there seems to be simultaneously easier – through access to technology and means of production – and harder – in terms of access to consumers and a large customer base. Meanwhile, consumers who can’t afford the more expensive option will plump for whatever’s available if they’re anything like me, and nobody benefits from that, except –

Well, in this case, except for charities. So that argument isn’t wonderful, because if a charity benefits, then in theory many people benefit. But I’m reminded of the example of Sandi Thom, and the swirl that settled around her Basement Broadcasts back in the day, which seemed like clever usage of limited means but, as was thought back in the day, might in fact just have been a relatively clever media campaign (and here, as in many other places, Charlie Brooker puts it better than me.)

This is possibly the most Marxist article I’ve ever written – I mean, using the phrase Means of Production was probably the tip-off for most of you – but I simply don’t understand the new media landscape in terms of art = reward.  Business and art – in this case music – go hand in hand in so many ways, because you can’t eat your chords and drink your bassline. But the argument that’s central to eBooks – how you can charge the same for content without providing a physical product that causes costs for materials and production, which digital products don’t have – applies to music, too. The only CDs I’ve bought recently have been from charity shops and the only music I have access to without a serious hike is via iTunes or Amazon.

In some ways, I guess I’m just bitter that there isn’t a decent record store anywhere near me. I like the idea of tracking down rarities or limited edition new releases or owning physical manifestations of media (even if I digitize them later). It’s engagement with culture on a level more than just the sterile click click click of online buying; you actually have to talk to people. But given the choice between travel costs and spending the money on music, I know where I throw my wallet down.

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