Once you’ve built a reputation for being evil and stupid, it has to be hard to find new ways to live up to the reputation. The American recording industry deserves credit for its unceasing efforts to destroy any remaining vestige of respect or sympathy you might have had for them.

Need examples? Well, there’s all the usual things recently. New lawsuits against college students – lawsuits which no one can afford to oppose, regardless of their merits, so typically there’s a quick settlement for all the money the student has in the world. Lawsuits all over the world. Warning letters to people using BitTorrent. Acts of straight, thuggish intimidation – for example, raids on Kazaa offices, executives’ homes, and ISPs with no notice. And all of this despite the fact that file sharing simply doesn’t impact CD sales. A recent study confirmed that conclusion in hard numbers, although it’s only the latest of many such studies. Declining CD sales are a combination of unappealing new music, increased competition from DVDs and video games, a declining economy, the recording industry’s failure to reduce prices, the bland sameness on corporate-controlled radio, and the natural end of our purchases of CDs to replace our vinyl records and cassettes.

But that’s all familiar stuff. Let’s look at some background before you learn about the latest insult.

The industry claims to be terribly proud of the online stores from Apple, MusicMatch, and the rest where you can purchase legal downloaded music. (Don’t be fooled by the hype. Keep in the back of your mind that the numbers of songs downloaded are insignificant, the online selection is thin, and the restrictions on the files are unnecessary and annoying.)

Focus on price. Typically an online song is 99 cents, and an album is $9.99. Think about that. That’s almost what you’d pay in the store for a CD. The CD comes in a package with artwork and information – a package someone has to pay for. The CD is delivered to a store or delivered to your online merchant in a truck somebody has to pay for.

In contrast, the online song is delivered to your computer at a marginal cost to the recording industry and the merchant of almost nothing. The merchant has to maintain some equipment, but pays most of the money to the recording industry. (Recall that Apple is losing money on the iTunes service.) The industry pockets more money from your online purchase than it does if you pay its extortionate prices for CDs.

That’s why it’s so outrageous that the recording industry plans to increase prices on downloaded songs. The first price increases have already been put into effect and more are planned. There are albums online that are more expensive to download than to buy from Amazon!

Offhand I can’t think of any industry that has ever acted so aggressively to destroy itself. As far as I’m concerned, the immoral behavior is on their side. I have no qualms about file sharing or downloading free music. If you’re uncomfortable with it, simply stop buying music. But for goodness sake, don’t support these people or we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

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