Digital album sales up on 2010, but it’s not enough for the BPI.


The start of this week has seen two headline news stories from the BPI; both of which are very interesting to music industry enthusiasts, and both of which are wholly contradictory and potentially confusing.

First up, the stellar news that digital album downloads in 2011 have already surpassed the total number of equivalent sales in 2010. Brilliant stuff. Even in a recession, the public are legally obtaining music, ensuring that musicians are able to sustain their careers and give us even more of the good stuff our ears crave morning, noon and night.

As with most aspects of life, you can’t have the good news without the bad. Swiftly following this announcement, it was reported that the BPI have ordered BT, in its capacity as an ISP, to block access to file-sharing portal, The Pirate Bay.

Placing both stories side by side offers an interesting view into the mentality of the British music industry at large. It’s definitely good news for artists, songwriters and labels that legal download sales are increasing. Any business needs to shift product in order to reinvest and continue to sustain the model that delivers the content that is so valued by consumers worldwide; it’s simple business sense. At face value, trying to stop consumers attaining said product for free is also simple business sense, right?

Well, arguably, this is wrong. In the BPI’s press release delivered this morning, the success of artists such as Adele, Coldplay, Lady Gaga and Ed Sheeran were credited in aiding to ‘smash the 2010 total [of album downloads]’.

Adele is signed to XL Recordings, Coldplay are signed to Parlophone, a subsidiary of EMI, Lady Gaga is signed to Interscope, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group and Ed Sheeran is signed to Atlantic, a subsidiary of Warner Music Group. All of the artists mentioned by the BPI are signed to multi-national companies, who all have adequate budget in which to bring a new artist, or promote an established artist to the music-buying public. We’re under no illusions here that budgets aren’t the mind-boggling figures seen in the 80s and 90s, but be confident in the fact that there’s cash in the kitty to spend on prime-time advertising slots, out-of-this-world music video and innovative online marketing gurus to spread the word that there’s a new tune on the block.

Bearing this in mind, let’s consider the other news story touched on, the BPI’s insistence that BT block users’ access to The Pirate Bay. Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI, has been quoted in numerous media outlets as describing the file-sharing site as ‘no more than a huge scam’, furthering his statement by describing the portal as ‘Counterfeits-R-Us’ and stating that the site is damaging to economic growth.

But hasn’t his organisation just reported an outstanding example of economic growth in some of the most testing economic times that the Western world has experienced?

Following the Motion Picture Association’s successful bid to ensure that Newzbin2 would be blocked from British internet users’ access, the BPI has (quite rightly) seen that any bid by itself to do the equivalent to The Pirate Bay could be accomplished. And there’s no softly-softly approach being used here; if BT do not comply with the BPI’s demand, the telecommunications company will have to consent to a court order – costly for both organisations involved, should BT wish to wait for legal proceedings, which, according to reports, it will.

Aside from the needless expenditure both companies are bound to incur in the latest instalment of ‘Entertainment vs. Pirates’, it is probable that the BPI is acting in the best interests of one sector of the recording industry only; the major and large independent labels.

This is where the whole affair starts to turn sour in my mind. The labels who actively work with, lobby and consult the BPI are on the whole, labels with artists like Adele and Ed Sheeran who are seeing success from music retailing. But what about the unsigned artists or minor independent labels who don’t have the distribution reach or marketing budget to get the word out?

Peer-to-peer distribution is a network so complex, far-reaching, in fact it could even be described as all-encompassing, that for artists and companies with little to no budget have an incredible distribution tool at their fingertips. Through one, simple upload, music from every corner of the Earth can reach one person sitting in their bedroom with no travel involved. Of course there is the money debate – why should musicians deliver their craft for free? Here’s the thing; there have been numerous studies, each proving that people who file-share actually input more revenue into the music industry than those who do not. One clear example of this is the Demos survey – eight out of ten people who used file-sharing networks had purchased a CD or vinyl in the previous 12 months. And consider this, how many people use sites like The Pirate Bay in order to preview music before purchase? How many end up buying gig tickets, merchandise or special edition paraphernalia in support of artists they may have never encountered before? I’ll bet that unsigned dubstep duo you saw on a Saturday night in a club in Outer London aren’t on iTunes – so how else are people meant to discover them and eventually support them?

Therefore, my opinion is such; don’t spend out valuable financial resource on trying to fight The Pirate Bay – you may as well be fighting the indie artists who are aspiring to the level of success of the BPI’s darling such as Adele and Coldplay. What’s so bad about pooling the money that the organisation and BT could eventually waste on the same old legal proceedings and working with the peer-to-peer networks to try and utilise the most amazing distribution tool that music has?

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.