A view from the tar pit

Mammoth in tar pit

Wow, this is a dumb-headed apologia for the music industry. It’s a weird article anyway, since it spends its first three quarters on prologue and only one quarter an anything like an argument. But still. That prologue sets out a hypothetical meeting between a record exec and his techies in 1996 in which they review the possibility of music downloads becoming an important revenue stream thanks to this new-fangled internet that everyone’s getting so excited about. No, say the techies, CDs are huge chunks of data, and even by the most optimistic measure download speeds and harddrive space aren’t going to come close to dealing with music that weighs 1.4MB a second.

Shortly afterwards, MP3 compression appears, becomes wildly popular and throws all those projections out the window.

Charles Arthur’s article wants to defend charges against the record companies that they acted too slowly to online distribution of music: “the fact is that that overwhelming change happened years before it [was] expected”, and he’s right that the change was sudden. He even manages to compress his 700-word prologue into a pithy analogy: “If you want the same sensation, try imagining how you’d cope if the price of petrol rose by a factor of 10 tomorrow.” Fine – but to follow up, imagine how much we’d be laughing at the car manufacturer who took more than a decade to reconsider their line of 6-litre SUVs.


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