Several readers respond to the question:
While I’m not about to defend torrenting per se – of course people should pay for the content they consume – I think it’s important to question the facts underlying Freddie De Boer’s argument. His idea seems to be that the arts and entertainment industry is being destroyed by torrent sites, yet the hard data doesn’t show an industry in the midst of a torrent-soaked crisis. Sales of movie tickets have been stable for 20 years now while revenue has doubled, US book publishers are showing healthy revenue and profits and, while music industry profits have declined (to a mere $15bn I might add), sales of vinyl are soaring, making a mockery of the idea that people won’t pay for a physical product anymore.
It should also be pointed out that torrenting can’t be solely blamed for any declines in revenue or artist’s income.
Amazon has been selling secondhand DVDs and books for years while the rise of Spotify and Netflix have clearly bitten deep into revenue streams. Add that to the fact that the US and Europe are still trying to shrug off an ugly economic slump and it’s not hard to see why creativity isn’t paying as well as it used to.
Finally, of course, it should be acknowledged that the idea of lots of people earning a healthy income through art is a very recent one. Shakespeare and DaVinci were wholly dependent on rich benefactors. Literary giants like Joyce, Tolkien and Orwell all had full-time jobs outside of their writing. Sadly, some of our greatest geniuses – Schubert, Poe, Van Gogh – died in penury. I’d love to see a world where novelists and musicians can earn a living wage through their art, but it’s hard to argue that it’s the norm in the wide span of human history.
Another builds on the reader’s point that “torrenting can’t be solely blamed”:
Mr. deBoer makes the same mistake I often see regarding this issue: the assumption that the decline in music revenues must solely be driven by the rise of file-sharing. In the 20 or so years since file-sharing started en masse, we’ve seen:
- a major move from priced-to-rent VHS movies to priced-to-own DVDs, eating into the typical person’s entertainment budget;
- an explosion in the use of gaming consoles, also eating into the typical person’s entertainment budget;
- because of these two factors, a drop in the amount of time that people spend listening to music;
- also because of these first two factors, a drop in the amount of shelf space that record stores devoted to music, as they brought more DVDs and games onto the floor;
- the consolidation of the radio airwaves by companies such as ClearChannel (now iHeartMedia) with central programming that lowers the impact of local artists on the airwaves;
- probably spurred by these last two factors, a drop in the number of artists that a record label is willing to gamble on, since they see fewer avenues to sell into;
- the move of music-advertising channels like MTV and VH1 from videos and into original content creation;
- and of course, a new sales model (iTunes) that emphasizes the single and dampens interest in purchasing an entire album.
Given all of these structural changes in the industry, how could music sales not be expected to drop? Certainly file-sharing has had an impact (and a larger one than the torrent supporters admit), but it often gets blamed for the entire drop in sales, while the industry’s sea-change is ignored.
Another reader doesn’t pull punches:
I torrented a bunch of movies last year. 9/10 were terrible. Like really fucking terrible. (Planet of the Apes, I’m looking at you). I’m glad I didn’t pay for them. And I don’t feel bad. Because I wouldn’t have paid to see them otherwise … and certainly not in a movie theater, arguably the worst experience in the Western world apart from commercial air travel.
That may change when Alamo Drafthouse opens in Brooklyn later this year. They take film seriously (they will eject you from the theater for merely looking at your phone during the film) and offer a variety of freshly prepared, wholesome food. And beer. BEER!
You know what I didn’t torrent? The Interview. Cuz I didn’t have to wait to pay Google to watch it in the private movie theater that is my living room.
Another makes that point more delicately:
The author of this article misses the real question. In these days of easier and easier production and distribution, why do we need a “Music Industry”? If everyone in the “Industry” disappeared tomorrow how would the world be diminished? Music would still be performed, recorded and distributed, listened to and loved. The only thing that would change is that a completely unneeded middle man would be tossed into the rubbish heap of history. An even cursory review of the history of the “Music Industry” would show that there are many more causes more deserving of our sympathy and support.
And if you know of an “Industry” exec who would like to make an argument for his continued existence, please let him make his case. I’m listening.