On Convenience

Yet again there was a big Internet kerfuffle regarding digital music and piracy. It’s been at least fifteen years now. What needs to be said has been said. There is however, a side issue of convenience that I think is being misunderstood.

I think David and I agree on at least one point, which is that Emily’s suggestion that buying music isn’t convenient doesn’t really make sense. It’s gotten pretty easy over the last few years to pay for the music that you like.

Jonathan Coulton

You can see how both David and Jonathan easily agree that paying for music is convenient. It takes very little effort to legally purchase music on Amazon or iTunes. The process is pretty seamless and the music is properly organized. Most of the time you click once and an entire album of music is ready to play.

What they are missing at is that convenience isn’t just about the process of getting the music, it’s about the size of the catalog. If you buy music legitimately, you will often have to use many different stores to get all the music you want. A large percentage of that music is unlikely to be legally available on any store, especially foreign music. Look how many people have to keep switching between different iTunes countries to get the music they want. There should just be one iTunes store with all the music from all the countries.

If someone goes to iTunes or Amazon and searches for music, and no result shows up, that is inconvenience. Now they have to go to all the other legal music stores to see if it is available there. Or they have to try to find the official web site to see if it is there. If they just go to Pirate Bay, all the music is in one place. Convenience means always getting the search result you want, and not going on a wild goose chase. When I say all the music, I literally mean all music recorded from every label and every country and every artist throughout all of history. Just one important missing track is an excuse to pirate.

In addition to the size of the library, the ability to buy in bulk is necessary. Piracy sites don’t just have albums and singles, they have discographies. These discographies go way beyond any boxed set sold by a record company. They even include pirate concert recordings. They sometimes include foreign releases of an album if they had different track listings. I can’t go to the Amazon MP3 store and click one button to get every track that a given artist has every so slightly contributed to.

In the article that sparked this discussion Emily talked about how she ripped 11,000 songs. She did this by sitting there and ripping CDs. That’s not all that convenient. Neither is clicking on every single album and track in an online catalog. If you want to sell me some music, sell discographies. One click to get every Zeppelin track ever for $20. Sold!

There’s also the matter of DRM being inconvenient, but that is mostly gone now for music. When people say it’s still inconvenient it is because the catalogs are severely lacking, and there is no way to buy in bulk. If you want to build something that we will come to, build the music library of Alexandria. The Pirate Bay is already almost such a library. You have to meet or beat that to have any chance at competing.

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