The latest TED video, where Rob Reid spoke, was hilarious and saddening at the same time. He poked fun at the criteria in which the content industry tries to explain their losses and woes over online piracy. Even though its complicated and sometimes unclear, I’m sure those numbers came from somewhere rational (rather than ringtone piracy).
The video brought the way that policy makers and industry insiders explain their losses into the limelight. What is still rarely talked about is the expense to the user. Or really potential expense. If a 160 GB Classic iPod is worth $8 billion dollars worth of copyrighted content, how much is it worth with entertainment legally obtained?
I decided to do my own math for this one:
One song is 3 MB and every song is about $1 dollar. A 160 GB iPod is holds a 163,840 MB of content. If you were to just purchase songs (and ignore the fact that digital storage devices always have a bit of storage used for its own internal programming) it would actually cost and individual about $54,613 to fill it. This is way lower than the claimed $8 billion dollars but still a large sum for the average iPod owner. Considering how fast Apple comes out with the next generation of their products, if one actually bought a new device every 2 years, they would be paying as much as a house costs to use the device to its full capacity.
Its understandable that the creative producers want to be paid, but Iwonder what mp3 player creators expected when they set the storage capacity for their devices. If one of the greatest features of new iPods and mp3 players (if you ignore the iPod touch which also offers a remarkable suite of apps that all it to have multiple uses) is the growing amount of gigs they can hold, yet it’s unlikely anyone can reasonably expect to fill this capacity before they launch a new device, it makes me wonder about the tug of war in consumer’s minds. They want new greater iPods because they want more space for all of their music, movies, and files. Yet the current system doesn’t allow them to attain those files in a cost-effective manner. Maybe a dollar per song is a little too expensive for a $250 device that can hold $40,000 worth.Or maybe its unreasonable to market 160 GB iPods like having that amount of content is normal.
Ownership is important. Before, thanks to space and other physical limitations, very few people expected to own 40,000 songs. There just wouldn’t be enough shelf room. Some music buffs would find a way to make it possible, but the average person would have a CD collection of anywhere from 15 – 100 in cases. 40,000 songs on CD (if you allow me to generalize and say that a CD has 10 songs on it) would be 4,000 physical CDs. Besides the pain it would cause to try to find one song in that jumble, it would take up an inordinate amount of space to store them. If that’s not feasible, why does having that many songs on an iPod make sense? Especially if they are all being sold at CD price rates?
We need to defend copyright as an institution. But between the devices offered and the price of the content, consumers may not have the chance to maintain what they believe is their fair share of our cultural goods. The licensing system may help grant people access but its not the same as being able to say you have the latest print of your favorite book. We created devices that support increased ownership but the current institution for creative content strips it away. At some point, something has to give.