Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tip Jar

A decade ago, one of my friends burned a Barenaked Ladies CD for me, Gordon. I've listened to it all the way through maybe three or four times since then. I particularly like the tracks "What a Good Boy" and "If I Had $1,000,000," and they've gotten multiple plays.

A few years ago I bought an iPod. Latest versions of the iPod have a cool feature: they will display the cover art for any album they recognize from the iTunes library. When I exported Gordon, I noticed that the iPod didn't distinguish it from the albums I'd bought. Unlike the packaging that came with my burned CD, the digital version proudly displayed a full-color cover.

I started to feel a little guilty.

To a certain extent, I'm OK with filesharing and copying. If I listen to a CD that someone has burned for me, or a song someone has e-mailed to me, I don't necessarily feel obligated to pay. Maybe I'll discover that I don't like the album or song. In that case I'll never listen to it again, and the artist is no worse off than if I'd never listened at all.

But I consider myself to be on the honor system. If I like the album or song enough for repeated plays, I need to fork out money for it.

So, Gordon. It was a good album. I liked it. It wasn't too late to buy it and make things right. I stopped into a Zia's some time later and found Barenaked Ladies CDs for sale. Yay! Except ...

I had a choice. I could buy a new CD for $17, or a used CD for much less—maybe around $9.

Under normal circumstances I would have just grabbed the cheaper one. But now I had a dilemma on my hands. The whole point of this venture was to give BNL my money. If I bought the used CD, they wouldn't see a cent of it.

That left the $17 new CD, which ... no. Gordon came out in 1992. It had stopped being new well before my friend burned it for me. $17 is a lot to pay for an eight-year-old album. I wanted to do the right thing, but I wasn't about to let the label gouge me either.

I walked out of Zia's with no CD in hand and very confused.

* * *

My recent writings about unauthorized downloading got me thinking about the Gordon situation. (No, I still haven't gotten around to buying a reasonably priced copy of their CD). Am I the only person who has faced this sort of thing? Maybe there are a lot of music lovers who would be happy to pay artists for tracks they've downloaded, but haven't gotten around to it ... and they already have the music, so there's no point in obtaining it again.

Then I thought, what if there were a convenient way?

Here's my idea. Build a site that uses Paypal or Paypal-like technology. Allow artists to register. Users could go to the site, find the artist they wanted to pay, and donate whatever they chose. They could do this to pay for music they downloaded, or just to support the band.

Users' names could be displayed (unless they wished to remain anonymous), along with messages to the artists.

We could call it Tip Jar. is taken, but it shouldn't be hard to come up with a good related domain name.

Would this pay for every unauthorized download? Doubtful. But it would be a step in the right direction, and the legal solutions haven't particularly worked. The goal is to develop a culture in which people recognize the value of supporting the artists they listen to, and to give them an easy way to do that.

I am not a programmer. If you'd like to take this idea and run with it, be my guest.

You can tip me for the idea when the site is up and running.


Chris Huff said...

I like this idea. Specifically because it corresponds to something in my real world experience -

My primary job is playing solo - acoustic guitar and singing - in restaurants, clubs, private parties, etc. I offer a "pay what you want" for my original music CDs, but oftentimes people will tip me and won't take a CD. Sometimes I make a joke about it, pretend to cry, yell at them etc...but the behavior mystifies me. Granted, I am mostly playing other people's songs - so there may be some skepticism over my writing abilities - but I do slip in the occasional original song - sometimes these songs are quite well received.

I should mention that I am good - I don't suck :-)

A person will give me $10 but then refuse to take a CD or two. Sometimes I think people just want to give but don't want to clutter their lives with extra stuff.

Hope someone executes your idea!

Robert Beaty said...

I like this idea, but I'd want the artists to sign up as themselves, not on behalf of a record company. My biggest objection is that it seems to me that the record labels tend to give only a small fraction of the money taken in to the artists. If the artists themselves signed up, then the money would go directly to them, not to a corporation. And don't even getme started on "Corporate America"...that's a whole huge can of worms in and of itself!

Daniel [] said...

The effects upon incomes may not be what you imagine.

For example, the existence of a resale market for used CDs diverts some buyers from the market for new CDs, but it also increases the willingness of other people to buy those CDs, thinking that they can later resell the item.

Meanwhile, a hypothetical Tip Jar could cause people who otherwise would have bought either a new or used CD to tell themselves “Eh, I'll just download it, but I'll put some money in TipJar.”

With Tip Jar, I'm pretty sure that enabling sure rationalization would cause more losses to artists than gains from those who would be pirating anyway. Consider, for example, what happened when Radiohead left it in buyers' hands to determine how much to pay for one of their albums.

Additionally, I promise you that, at some point, the records of Tip Jar would be subpoenaed, to be used as evidence in piracy cases.

Daniel [] said...

“enabling such rationalization”

cinderkeys said...

Interesting. I wonder how many people more readily buy CDs because they think they can sell them back later. No idea, really. But I don't think anyone would download instead of buy a CD because of Tip Jar. If that's all it took, they'd probably be downloading from iTunes and the like already anyway.

Would it do any good to subpoena Tip Jar data? Unless the people building and running the site were very stupid, it would say something benign about supporting artists -- nothing about compensation for piracy specifically. And as always, the users would determine the actual use. I haven't done surveys and focus groups, so for all I know, their use would have nothing to do with unauthorized downloads.

I like the idea of paying the artists directly. If the site really took off, of course, labels would make artists sign contracts saying they wouldn't do this. But it could work for a little while.

DeppityBob said...

It's a great idea, but I guarantee you that if it ever took off, the RIAA would find a way to get their hooks into it and steal the money.