More Than Ad Enough
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Is It Time to Start Charging People for All Music Content?
WE are fortunate enough to live in an age...
IMAGE CREDIT: Abi Hardaker
where we can access any music we want and any music website without charge. Think back to years when we had a printed press and no Internet option; we had to buy albums from a shop and there were very few opportunities to get some free stuff. This was okay for musicians and journalists because there was some money coming their way. I am not sure what percentage of a magazine sale would go to the writers but publications still filled their pages with adverts – another way of bringing revenue in and giving them a bigger budget. The profit that went to musicians is less clear. If we bought an album or single, how much of that would go to the act itself? Unless you were a big name shifting units like nobody’s business, I wonder whether there was much money in it. In any case, people were expected to pay and, in return, they would get a great record or magazine. The advent of the Internet and the introduction of streaming sites have changed the landscape. There is still a printed press and small, boutique magazines are actually faring quite well. I realise how narrow the profit margins are. They have to attend gigs and pay for travel costs; there are overheads and expenses that need to be accounted for.
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A lot of journalists are working for free – in exchange for getting their name out there – and it is tough to make a successful magazine in this age. The same is true for musicians. Albums sales are down on C.D. and vinyl sales stagnated last year for this first time. Singles are not charged and in physical format anymore and I wonder how much an artist makes getting their music streamed on Spotify. I know it takes hundreds of thousands of streams to make a decent turnaround and, for new artists, they get paucity. Unless they get some good merchandise sales and sell gigs out, how much money do they take home? The sad effect and result of this free market is an increase in advertising. I made a decision last year to use an ad-blocking software that meant I would not be inundated with pop-ups and ads every time I visited a website. For the most part, this worked well in terms of my conscience. The bigger sites that I used I donated to and did not feel grubby avoiding the ads. Any others I dipped in and out of did not bother me. I have reversed my ad-clocking decision and have regretted it since. It is not only music websites culpable: go to any website and, in order to make money, we have a slew of adverts that seem to dominate the screen!
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One can right-click on an ad and get rid of it but, before you know it, another one takes its spot! YouTube is the same. Unless you block ads then you have to sit through an advert for most videos – it can range from fifteen seconds to a full minute. I understand the need for sites and artists to make some money but are they actually generating profit? The message I got from a website when I was using an ad-blocking site said that I should uninstall it because they (the site) relied on advertising to make money. The only way they can make money is if I or someone else responded to an ad and clicked on a website. I have never done that nor do I intend on starting! They make zero from me if I simply browse and ignore every ad they put my way. In fact, after you visit these sites, the adverts start to follow you about. I have gone to Facebook and seen an advert follow me from a website like NME. Maybe I have been to The Guardian or somewhere like that and you get the same adverts following you to another site. It is infuriating and creates the reverse of what these sites want: people to stay and give them business. YouTube is the most frustrating of the lot. It is hard to find a video that does not make you sit through an ad. Again, I never click on that advert or buy anything being thrown my way. What sites are doing is annoying me and making the decision to switch adverts off very easy! The fact they operate this way is because a percentage of people do follow ads and make them money.
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They rely on this to get some revenue and make sure they can continue to operate. The flaw is it that most people are going to ignore adverts and there is no way of forcing them to do anything. I think, in order to move forward, we need to look back. It was simpler and more ethically sound when we paid for magazines and papers; we bought our records and we made sure we were not getting something for free. The problem now is the sheer expense of buying music – you have to buy a whole album and what effect does that have on the scene if people are not given a free option?! I have long-suggested paying a small amount for sites we use a lot. If I am briefly looking at a website then I do not expect to pay nor be bombarded with adverts. The ones I rely on and use regularly, yeah, I should be paying for. I am not helping them out regarding adverts so they are getting nothing for me. It would not need to be a big fee. If you charged someone a fiver or tenner a year to use the website ad-free then that would mean they get a definite sum and the person is free to roam without distractions and irritation. One might argue the combined cost would be unfeasible but it is not that big!
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Maybe there was a system whereby we had a data plan and paid a small amount for a certain number of days. We could pay more to increase that and, regarding YouTube and Spotify, we should make people pay regardless. So many of us listen to music for free which means we get adverts but are not made to pay anything. I feel, if we enforced a small charge to everyone, that would reduce ads and more goes to the artists. One might say the downside is people with little money are denied access to music. We have radio stations available for free and, as I say, the charge need not be that steep! If you made someone pay twenty quid a year for limitless access to Spotify and YouTube – a single cost for each platform - you could get a good whack and not have to annoy the consumer. I know how underfunded music magazines are and offering a subscription would be a fair compromise. Even if we were charged a few quid a year to look at websites then I figure they are getting more money from us each than the advert route. As it stands at the moment, I pay to use Spotify and read The Guardian. I do not pay for any other platform which means the inevitable heap of adverts! I do not have a lot of money but feel obliged to fund websites and streaming platforms.
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It is hard to compromise and make people pay but, considering it is a way of preserving the music press and getting artists remunerated; I feel we need to stop tossing adverts in people’s faces. I have stopped visiting some sites because all you get are pop-ups and adverts. I have never been tempted by any and feel it is foolish to rely on this option for revenue. I think more people than you’d imagine would be interested in paying a small fee if it meant they had a smoother and less busy website waiting for them; if they could stream and watch videos without having to wait and have the momentum ended. It is hard to say how the music press will fare in the years to come and whether there will be some sort of legislation regarding sites like YouTube and Spotify and how they pay artists. We have got into the habit of expecting everything for free and, in return, have to buy into this unsigned contract where we get a wave of adverts. For so many reasons, we need to start looking at how we fund music and the press and asking people to pay for what they see/hear. Many might say the adverts we see on websites is a good way of providing free content but ensuring some money comes in. I have never heard of anyone who has responded to an advert, whether that be on Spotify/YouTube or a music website. This needs to be considered. More and more, with endless adverts being hurled my way, I am finding myself less and less conflicted when I reach for that...
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GOLDEN ad-blocking option!