The hysteria over the BBC Beethoven MP3 downloads continues as the BBC PR machine works overtime on the story. Beethoven now has so much street cred that the new BBC Director General Mark Thompson even quotes the inscription "From the heart...may it go again to the heart!" from the Missa Solemnis score in his first annual report. Which should at least raise a laugh from recently ousted DG Greg Dyke.
And a page three Guardian story today screams.. "Beethoven (1.4m) beats Bono (20,000) in battle of the internet downloads."
I may be naive (although I have worked for the BBC, a major record company, and a digital rights management consultancy), but the following facts seem clear:
- The cheapest set of Beethoven Symphonies available on Amazon.uk sells for £12.99 ($24 US) which is a pretty remarkable bargain for 5 CD's.
- The BBC offered the same content over the internet for no charge.
- Around 250,000 people (assuming the same people downloaded more than one symphony) were delighted to get free what they would otherwise have had to pay a minimum of £12.99 ($24) for. (Or £44.99 -$80 US - if they preferred Simon Rattle conducting).
The following fact has not been made available by the BBC, and would really help discussions if it was:
- What additional payments (if any) were made to the musicians of the BBC Philharmonic for the use of the Beethoven recordings for MP3 downloads?
I am sure the 1.4 million downloaders thought they received 'value' from the music they received. But who was rewarded for creating that value? In any supply chain, if the creators of value are not rewarded, the chain will quickly break down.
My concern is not the lost sales for record companies, which the Guardian and others seem to identify as the main 'anti download' argument. I am afraid the major record companies are currently reaping what they sowed in terms of difficult market conditions, and I have little sympathy for them. My concern is for the interests of the composers, musicians, editors and producers without whom recordings cannot be made. Plus there is also problem of the lowering of price expectations for concert tickets with its knock-on effect on audience sizes.
I completely understand the compelling argument that free downloads such as these Beethoven Symphonies widen the audience for classical music. By the same token I look forward to attending the free concert performance that the BBC will be offering of Siegfried at next year's Prom season to bring Wagner to a wider audience. And if that is not financially possible, why do we have to pay a fair rate to the star musicians who sit with us in the concert hall, but not to those hidden away in a recording studio?
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