Once upon a time, Trent seemed to offer the ultimate sanction of piracy when he told Australia to steal his shit. We fast-forward four months to find Trent’s calling for a tax on all ISPs. And you’re thinking, “I know stuff happens quickly on the internet but damn.” Well, let’s unwrap this for a second and follow Trent’s logical trajectory.
Back in Australia, Reznor objected to UMG’s wallet-gouging pricing, the bulk of which he’d never see. So he honorably condoned any and all Aussies’ virtual five-finger discounts. Then came his plan to release Saul Williams’s The Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust via web only with two options: for free, or at a great bitrate for what he’s later called the “insultingly low” suggested price of $5. In the end, the numbers (over 80% took it for free) shocked and saddened him, and he blogged his disappointment into the very same same series of tubes that left him despondent.
CNET recently interviewed Trent to try and clear up his position on things. There he lays bare the root of why he’s so disappointed in you:
I had thought–and this is just based on how I experience music–given the opportunity (his voice trails off). Why do I end up stealing music? Usually because I can’t get it easily somewhere else or the version I can get is an inferior one with DRM, perhaps, or I have to drive across town to get it to then put it on my computer or it’s already out on the Internet and I can’t pay for it yet.
If I think of it a month later walking through Amoeba (record store), hmm…do I want to just buy a piece of plastic and give most of the money to the record labels, who have to be thieves because my experience with them has always been that? And you have a lot of reasons why you didn’t do it. So I thought if you take all those away and here’s the record in as great a quality as you could ever want, it’s available now and it’s offered for an insulting low price, which I consider $5 to be, I thought that it would appeal to more people than it did. That’s where my sense of disappointment is in general, that the idea was wrong in my head and for once I’ve given people too much credit.
So what does all this mean in regards to people’s attitudinal shift with respect to music? He goes on:
It kind of gets into the bigger picture that you’ve had to face as a musician over the last few years, which in my mind was a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s pretty far down the hatch with me now: the way things are, I think music should be looked at as free. It basically is. The toothpaste is out of the tube and a whole generation of people is accustomed to music being that way. There’s a perception that you don’t pay for music when you hear it on the radio or MySpace.
Which brings us to Trent’s solution for the financial situation these shifts in audience expectations has created:
In my mind, I think if there was an ISP tax of some sort, we can say to the consumer, “All music is now available and able to be downloaded and put in your car and put in your iPod and put up your a– if you want, and it’s $5 on your cable bill or ISP bill.”
Unfortunately, CNET doesn’t follow up on that point. But since we know Trent’s out there somewhere keeping tabs on web culture to better inform his forward-thinking rants and disheartened confessions, feel free to give Reznor some feedback. Obviously the price-point variable is an issue, and one that isn’t effectively addressed by Trent’s hypothetical; tell folks that the industry and starving artists’ problems are solved for $5 a month, and most will say “Sounds good! Here’s $5. Now give me all of history’s recorded music, thanks. (Movies, too, while we’re sliding down this slippery little slope.)” Of course it wouldn’t be that tidy, nor that cheap. But still it’s a discussion worth having; fill in the logistical deets as you see fit. The floor is yours.