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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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July 12, 2005

Classical Myopia and the BBC's Beethoven

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Posted by Wendy Seltzer

As the BBC prepares to announce the tremendous success of its free Beethoven downloads, the Independent reports that classical labels are less than rhapsodic:

This week the BBC will announce there have been more than a million downloads of the symphonies during the month-long scheme. But the initiative has infuriated the bosses of leading classical record companies who argue the offer undermines the value of music and that any further offers would be unfair competition.

The BBC made all nine of the Beethoven symphonies available for free download, with commentary, as part of their Beethoven Experience.

You'd think that arts leaders struggling to expand their market to younger generations would welcome evidence that downloaders want to give classical a try. Any classical afficionado knows that one performance of Beethoven's Ninth isn't a direct substitute for another, just as baseball fans don't stop watching just because they've now seen the Red Sox win the Series. Instead, hearing and appreciating an intial performance is the first step toward wanting to hear the other greats, in concert or on CD. Those pop fans who realize Gianandrea Noseda's Pastorale fits on their iPods may well be moved to try more.

But instead of welcoming this new audience with offerings of their own, the labels complain that downloads are "devaluing the perceived value of music." They make the same error intellectual property maximalists do -- thinking that "exclusion" equals "value." If few people want to pay for your product, it doesn't have much market value, no matter how much you want to charge. The RIAA's 2003 Consumer Profile indicates just 3% of U.S. music purchases were classical, while BPI reports that in the U.K., classical CD sales totaled under 14 million for that year. Against that small market, a million downloads in two weeks is huge. Labels should focus not on the hypothetical hordes who might buy high-priced CDs, but on the real likelihood that free downloads introduce a wider audience of potential purchasers of a wide range of classical music.

I for one, hope the BBC extends this experiment. Listening to the BBC Symphony's Beethoven First now.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Culture


1. The LOST SOUL on July 14, 2005 8:49 AM writes...

"the offer undermines the value of music and that any further offers would be unfair competition"

Yes, whoever said this is a LOST SOUL that has never understood the need and value of public and school libraries or for that matter the Internet. The LOST SOUL surely has no social conscience, ethical or moral principles

I can only guess the LOST SOUL is a millionaire hat buys everything and accepts nothing for free or as a loan so as not to undermines the value of everything.

Public libraries and now the Internet eliminate the need to buy newspapers and books, a huge saving of resources, money, time and the environment. That is unfair competition?

I can only assume the LOST SOUL has never loaned anything to anyone either so as not to undermines the value of anything. You see, lending is surely unfair competition and undermines the values too to the LOST SOUL, since the lendee then does not have to rent or buy whatever was lent. Surely bad for business. Imagine telling a mother that she should go and rent a car insted of pretending that you lend her your unused car while her car is being repaired. Perhaps that is what the LOST SOUL will do.

Rafael Venegas

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2. Michael Blowhard on July 16, 2005 1:17 AM writes...

But there's the little thing about the BBC being taxpayer supported, no? Why should a subsidized outfit be doing its best to compete with private retailers?

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3. Good and Bad subsidies on July 16, 2005 8:13 AM writes...

Why should a subsidized outfit be doing its best to compete with private retailers?

Every outfit is owned by someone. The owners always expects the outfit to do its best in whatever it does.

Here the issue of what is "subsidized" is raised and whehter the subsidies should exists.

Many things are subsidized: public schools and universities. public libraries, public security (police), public parks, public hospitals, and so on. The private sector esquivalents must compete with the subsidized. Raise the cost of private education and more parents will send their kids to public schools. That is how competition works.

To pretend that the people (the government) cannot have public services because they are unfair competition is unreal and even unjust, since many of the vital services are not even provided by the private sector because they are unprofitable or impractical. For example, I have never hear of a non public library that is open to the general public. The only non public libraries I know of are all within facilities that limit accesss to a few.

Here in Puerto Rico our University (with over 50,000 students) is highly subsidized. The cost to students is about 25 percent of the real cost. I have never hear anyone, including the private universities, complaint about this subsidized system. Som believe that the public university should be subsidized even more so as to make the unversity frees, since it is still too expensive for the very poor. The private sector universities are also highly subsidized though low government loans to students and other programs. Banks do not complain about these low cost loans, which they, anyway do not offer.

Enough said about about the GOOD subsidizing of public services. Let us talk about the BAD subsidizing of the private sector. There is plenty of that, in the form of direct payments (for example, tabaco farmers in the USA) and tax exemptions. People, if they knew, would be amazed how little taxes some of the biggest and profitable well connected and lobbied industries pay in the land of equal opportunity, the USA.

Long live the BBC and its GOOD subsidies.

Rafael Venegas

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