Whether or not downloading music is illegal no longer matters to the record industry and artists. The new question is how to capitalize off of new technology in order to stop plummeting profits. Last week, online music stores took a huge step forward in their quest to replace brick and mortar record stores as Penn State announced that included in all students' Information Technology fees would be a subscription to Napster.
The new version of the infamous online trading service was released earlier this month. With over 500,000 songs available, it is the largest of all the online stores. For $9.95, Napster offers a premium service, whereby users receive unlimited downloads and streaming audio.
Oddly, not all Penn State students reacted positively to the announcement. Some, in fact, are protesting. One student said, "Almost every single student I have talked to is outraged that their money is going to a program that they don't even want... (and that) their money is being sent to the music industry without their consent."
An extra $10 for a student population as large as Penn State (about 81,000 students total) would surely add up to a significant amount. But does that really matter? Wouldn't that money be better suited going to the innumerable number of artists whose music college students download instead of buying? Ten dollars seems to be a rather low restitution fee. The agreement appears to be a convenient way for artists, record companies and Napster to all make some money without robbing college students blind.
Online music services like iTunes and Napster are the future of music. The record industry is slumping and looking for any way to attain new customers. Right now, the demographic that rules the CD buying industry is oldies. Yes, oldies. The New York Times recently reported that Rod Stewart, Sting and Barbara Streisand -- not Beyonce Knowles -- receive top shelf space in record stores like Borders Music. An older demographic, unfamiliar with newer technology and used to buying records, continue to do so. Younger kids, who have downloaded instead of purchasing, cannot stop or change their habits. When you give someone a taste of freedom and then take it away from them, the feeling is hard to give up.
And who can blame them? The original Napster was like being a kid in a candy store for any music fan. Any album you wanted to get, at any time, was at your fingertips. Penn State's deal is the closest anyone will come to replicating the golden age of music downloading while at the same time avoiding legal issues.
While Universal hopefully set a trend by cutting the retail prices of their CDs -- all of them -- to $12.98 on October 1st, these adjustments will not stop piracy. The delay in getting albums into stores -- no matter how tightly guarded they are, they still appear online days or weeks before they are released -- takes months, and the record industry is not willing to change their practices.
Colleges, like Penn State, are beginning to provide a safe way to download for their students, a model that Penn should follow as well. The advantages significantly outweigh the drawbacks. For one, Penn insulates itself from accusations of enabling students to use its networks to illegally download music by providing a viable alternative to doing so. More importantly, they protect their students by giving them discounted access to an incredible wealth of music without the hindrance of lawsuits and copyright violation letters.
If Penn signs a similar deal, take advantage of the new resource and know that in doing so, you are in some way giving back to the music industry while shaking its very foundations.