July 13, 2006

DRM, the RIAA, and Jim Baen

If you've read this blog very long, you know that I violently dislike the RIAA and what they are doing to music. I've got a healthy dislike for the music industry in general -- one of the reasons I podcast is so that bands that haven't been signed to a label get attention and can possibly make some money without having to sell their souls to corporate music. And I'm picky about the labels I do play -- Centricity is a great bunch of people, and they're not RIAA.

One of the things RIAA keeps saying is that music downloads, especially free ones, are hurting artists. People downloading music for free don't buy music, they say. And if that were true, the music industry would have died a rather well-deserved death several years ago. Artists would survive -- people support musicians they like, and without the overhead inherent in supporting the recording industry bureaucracy they could actually make a living.

The sad thing is, it's not necessarily true. If record sales are going down, it may be because people actually don't want what they're selling. And this is where Jim Baen comes in.

Jim Baen, for the poor benighted folks who haven't heard of him, was a giant in science fiction. He bought books because they were important, not just because they'd make money. One of his pet projects was the Baen Free Library. It is, as it's name implies, a bunch of books, by popular authors, that you can read for free. They're available as downloads in ever open format there is -- HTML, RTF, various open-format e-book formats. I actually downloaded MobiPocket Reader when I found the Free Library, just so I can carry books around on my PDA.

Baen wanted people to read science fiction, and he was willing to give it away to get them to read. And he believed that people would buy books even when they were able to read them for free.

And he was right.

Sales of the books available for free, not to mention other books by those authors, have actually increased since they were offered for free online. Imagine that.

I've got a bunch of stuff from the Free Library. A couple books that I've read, and just can't find -- they're lost, loaned out, or something. A couple that I've wanted to read, and haven't found in the bookstores. And a couple by authors who I've been curious about, but have never picked up.

This free library thing is going to end up costing me some money.

Music is the same way. I've been able to get a lot of free music since I started podcasting. I'll spend even more, buying stuff from many of the bands I've been playing. It's funny -- when you get a taste of something, and it's good, you're willing to pay money for it. Grocery stores have known it for years. Jim Baen knew it. Podcasters know it. But the RIAA is so stuck in the '80s that they can't figure it out, and they will kill the music industry because of their obtuseness.

And maybe we should all than the RIAA for that.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 04:31 PM | Comments (19) | Add Comment
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