The Kindle Fire is expected to be one of the top selling Christmas gifts this holiday season, according to sources including the San Francisco Chronicle and Consumer Reports.
This brand new e-book reader by Amazon.com is the latest technology device to make reading convenient. Similar to Apple’s iPod, the Kindle Fire allows consumers to carry around all their favorite reading material – books, magazines, newspapers – on one device. The iPod has the same functionality as the Kindle Fire, except rather than books, it stores hundreds of thousands of songs.
An important distinction between these two devices is that the publishing industry was able to launch e-book readers with virtually no resistance about copyright law infringement. Yet articles and posts pop up daily debating the legality of sharing music. The conversation is shared equally among musicians, industry officials, and consumers who stand firmly on one side or the other of the copyright issue.
One example of the passion surrounding this issue is a post written by NPR intern Emily White. The post titled “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With,” inspired 796 people, and counting, to leave comments about the ethics of acquiring music. But if you look past the worn out argument, Emily introduces her main point about listening to music at the end.
“What I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices. With this new universal database, everyone would have convenient access to everything that has ever been recorded, and performance royalties would be distributed based on play counts (hopefully with more money going back to the artist than the present model). All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it.”
Emily is calling out for convenience. In the past if you wanted new music, it was easy to borrow a CD from a friend, rip it into your iTunes library, and listen to it forever on your iPod. It was just like borrowing a book. With the take-off of the internet it became easier to borrow music (or steal it, depending on which side you’re on) from the music libraries of anyone on the internet, which led to a decade long debate on ethics and music piracy. Now the music industry has opportunities to produce the easiest method of listening to music – acquiring music legally must be easier than hassling friends for CDs or tracking down an elusive song in forbidden online libraries.
Some services, such as Pandora and Spotify, have already explored the avenue of legal music steaming. Apple and Amazon.com allow downloads of single songs for as little as 99 cents. Amazon.com also has hundreds of free books and songs available to download. With more and more people carrying around smart phones, e-book readers, and other personal devices that connect to the internet, consumers want access to media immediately, wherever they may be. The easier it is for the consumer to access the music they want through legal channels, the more likely it is for music piracy to fade out.
Here’s the big question. Why was the e-reader able to come out without the heated debate in the publishing industry that is still occurring in the music industry?
Comedian and novelist Rob Reid has one answer: “The day the Kindle launched, rather than trying to sue it out of existence, the six major publishers all were there with 90 of the top 100 selling books available on the Kindle. The result of that was an immaculately integrated experience that piracy can’t match.”
The invention of MP3 players and the idea of digital music sharing was so far ahead of the music industry that piracy exploded because it was so easy and there were no other options. Where the music industry is still trying to catch up, the publishing industry was able to observe, learn from mistakes, and come to a solution that worked for consumers, writers, and companies alike. Rather than trying to fight the technology change, the industry needs to control it.
With cooperation among major record labels and services giving consumers what they ask for the control will come. In the mean time, most of us will be walking around with 8 billion dollars worth of stolen music on our iPods.