25 October 2005


(If you've got that bass line going through your head right now, you're my age. Probably.) Rather an interesting selection of web materials today, all (in one way or another) coming down to "money."

We'll start off with the most corrupt segment of the entertainment industry: Commercial music.1 The age-old question of "who gets the money" is starting to come to a head concerning legitimate digital downloading of music. This really shouldn't surprise anybody. The usual boosterism in the arts has resulted in claims that one can go it alone and make a mint. The problem with this, though, is simple: One must not only have the marketing muscle, but (a) must have good material that is (b) competing only with bad material. Unfortunately, it's that last element that seems the hardest. That's probably because it is hard, not just that the industry (pretty consistently) chooses the "wrong" bands to promote.

No commentary on the economics of intellectual property would be complete, though, without a little Hollywood-bashing. It's not just that the industry pays only the executives (and occasional superstar performers) what they're worth, if not more; it's that who that is remains somewhat Jim Crowish. Of course, that shouldn't surprise anyone very much after the Hollywood reaction to Joe McCarthy. Neither does an accusation of hiding revenue (some of which might be due screenwriters) come as much of a surprise.

These stories have a common thread: The traditional (that is, current) distribution systems in the entertainment industry—including publishing—both are obsolete and encourage deceptive practices. Sometimes it takes an evangelist who already has money (and doesn't have to succeed to continue to eat) to change things; in this instance, Mark Cuban advocates one means of improving matters.

As an exercise for the student, answer the following three essay questions:

  1. How does, or should, the publishing industry react to the problems illuminated by the commercial music industry's inept handling of music distribution and selection? Conversely, how has it reacted?
  2. What does the third paragraph, and the three items linked therein, tell us about compensation in the publishing industry? Why is this comparison valid?
  3. What does Mark Cuban's proposal imply for the publishing industry?

  1. Classical snobs, we're not off the hook here. Leaving aside the problems with tyrannical conductors for the moment, both the orchestras themselves and classical record labels are hardly paragons of virtue when it comes to paying the actual creators (both performers and composers) their due, aside from a handful of "superstars" who are treated like Tom Cruise. And, for that matter, just about as credible on anything outside of their narrow musical talents.