Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The RIAA continues to cut off its own atrophied members

That's one of the nastier titles I've come up with for my blog posts...

For people into serious media analysis... stuff beyond the realm of content and editorial, and more on the level of changes in technology, attitudes, and forms... you might be interested in the RIAA seeking royalties from broadcast radio, and thus attempting to change a long-standing relationship between commercial enterprise, distribution, and music.

First impressions: this is just another sleazy move by the RIAA, which has been drifting down the dark hole of greed and desperation ever since Napster showed up on our monitors. There are much deeper implications here, though, because this change in policy reaches back through the history of broadcast and electronic media. If you dig into the current legal policies regarding royalties, you get a pretty complicated mess, established over the course of broadcast radio.

So for the sake of simplicity, let's look at some of the effects this will probably have.

1) The labels, and the artists, will most certainly get more money from the major distributors. Broadcast giants like ClearChannel will most certainly be able to pay these new royalties. Certain forces won't be threatened with dispersal, just because some new royalty requirements appear.

2) This will become a big, perhaps prohibitive, burden to some other radio stations, like the few remaining college radio stations. This has a multitude of further implications... online distribution, (what's left of) Internet Radio, and "sharing" (God no) might become one of the sole remaining forums for consumers to discover new artists.

These two, taken together, suggest a general narrowing of the musical market. This could be good for the RIAA in the short term (hey, they're the ones peddling the top-40 stuff that will stay in the fiscal filter), but something tells me it'll be bad for them in the long term, because it'll rip the diversity out of their market, and this is never good for the health of the media.

There's another effect this new arrangement will have:

3) The RIAA is going to damage a formerly positive relationship with radio stations and broadcasters. The broadcasters have probably been one of the last real allies of commercial record labels... now that relationship will be soured, and this could have any number of unpredictable effects on the music mass market.

Considering all these variables -- and I'd love to hear some more info, if anyone has it, because there are a LOT of variables here -- this push by the RIAA starts to look like a matter of short-sighted desperation. Both broadcast radio and the CD industry are dying slowly, drowning in the influence of new technologies, and as I see it, the RIAA, a bloated beast unable to adapt, is responding by cutting off its own atrophied appendages.

I don't think this is going to save it.

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