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FREE RIDE by Robert Levine

FREE RIDE

How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back

By Robert Levine

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-53376-8
Publisher: Doubleday

An argument for (finally) monetizing the cultural offerings of the Internet and making them unprofitable for pirates and other parasites.

Former Billboard executive editor Levine knows that he’s arguing against big money, particularly from Google, which, he says, has a profitable interest in an unrestricted flow of consumers searching for free journalism, free music, free books and free movies and TV shows. Unfortunately for more traditional culture businesses, the free Internet has been a disaster. Consider the devastation Napster and the MP3 wrought on the recording industry, supplanting a model in which consumers bought whole albums of songs for upwards of $20 just to own a handful they really liked. While this may have been inefficient for the buyer, Levine argues, it enabled labels to support artists they believed in. He claims the single-centric iTunes model is hardly better than the free version: The low price of songs, designed to entice people into buying the expensive equipment to play them on, leaves less for the artists and studios that produce them. A similar dynamic had been at work in the publishing industry, writes the author, where Amazon’s Kindle threatened to collapse the royalty structure in hard-copy publishing until publishers and Amazon’s competitors forced it, after an ugly public battle, to adopt higher “agency model” prices on most e-books. Levine’s argument will be most welcome among the captains of the culture industry. While general readers may learn something from his erudition, most will probably be rubbed the wrong way by his focus on blockbuster culture and championing of record-company owners, TV executives and newspaper magnates who have insisted on maintaining a profit model. Nevertheless, the final chapters offer an intelligent analysis of steps that can be taken to fight piracy and support the culture industry, including the artists and writers who create for the content, without soaking the consumer.

A valiant effort to raise public consciousness on an unheralded issue.