To download or not to download?

Ought the law pursue people who share their music disks on the Internet?

The debate rages in France after a 28 year old teacher was fined 4000 euros and given a suspended prison sentence of two months for sharing his record collection, video games and films with the world’s web users thanks to the software “Peer to Peer”.

Some artists have welcomed the decision by seeing it as a sign of willingness to defend their rights as authors at last.

But many others, including big stars such as Mickey 3D and Mann Chao, have signed a petition “Liberating Music” to restore free downloading. They present it as a revolution taking back music from the pockets [hands] of big companies and giving it back to the people.

It is difficult to take a stance in this debate. Certainly the plaintiffs from the big record labels who spend a fortune promoting their music from reality television programs – do not drive us to tears. But how do we feed and develop genuine young talent if everything becomes free.

From that comes a good idea which is taking root in France: “The Haping” the organization ADAMARA is behind the project, as Julien explains it to us.

So, it is a card which is sold for five euros which represents an album. Thanks to this card which is paid for in advance, so in newsagents, independent record shops, cyber cafes, especially close to shops, you can go to a site on the Internet thanks to a code and then download a whole album plus some videos, some extras, some information about the band, some information about concerts too, in the end, lots of things. It is a complete service on the Internet. You can even recreate the real thing with the sleeve and the CD label.

We know already about the paying sites for downloading: iTunes [1], FNAC [2] and others. But at nearly a euro a track, they are nearly as dear as the records in the shops. The quality of MP3 is far from being as good as that of a CD. And then once the site providers and the record labels have added their percentage there is hardly anything left for the artist. In ‘Le Haping’ they have resolved all these questions as Sophie explains to us:

It is a sort of co-operative shop. So the artists for each card sold are going to get 75% for the sales. So that is clearly advantageous for them. Right away they are going to pay less for the distribution than if it were distributed by FNAC. In FNAC, they are going to have their albums and they are going to pay a fortune. They are going to put them there for two weeks then, then they come back. They will not be sold. They will be in a corner. So there, with these cards not only are paying much less, so that is more affordable for small artists. They get 75% of the sales so that’s a lot by comparison to the usual. And then even if the cards are not sold, they can be used as business cards, right! It is really a benefit for everyone. So for me, it is a good deal for both artist and the public.

You can download in audio quality or MP3 quality so the CD audio quality is of course better when you can have the disk itself which is the way to listen to the music correctly. And to position it commercially, FNAC or Virgin [3] makes a euro a track. Legal downloading is euro per track so if you have 15 tracks on your CD that makes 15 euros. With us it is 5 euros all the time whether it is 12 tracks, 6 tracks, all that plus videos, extras. We try to have a quite interesting offer for young people because at the moment when they go to FNAC with 20 euros, they get there and they leave with only one CD so it is harder and harder for the young to buy a little culture and to allow the musicians to make progress.

In the end, if they buy with credit card, scratch cards gave access to the service for those who don’t have any. They are also a means of communicating:

Interest, that is already having a little card which is quite well made which represents the album. It’s also being there on the ground and making the product known on the ground and that is important for us because on the Internet there are such a lot of things happening that it is a bit difficult.

We have a presence in more than 300 points of sale at a national level now in all of France. We are trying to enlarge that a little bit to, why not, European countries such as England, Spain, all that because we took part in, well my boss took part in, Midem 2005 the Mecca on the international record market and met some people where were very interested in the idea and we are going to try to have some advertising promotion all over the place.

We are not yet at the point of signing the business, but the echoes [signs] are good:

The system is starting to be well known but we must change people’s habits a bit, so that is a bit difficult. But, if not, yeah, it is starting to move a bit. On the concert sites, the cards sell well because five euros that sells well, it is not very expensive. We do not yet have the exact monthly sales figures but that is staring to work quite well. The new catalogue is on its way with artists who are a bit better known too, so that is going to enable the system to be carried forward a bit and to sell a little bit more, we hope.

When we discuss illegal downloading, Julien and his colleagues easily take a position:

We present ourselves as a sort of alternative to piracy on-line, free for independent musicians, for small independent bands who have trouble selling CDs and who have themselves downloaded directly from the Internet. So we are setting ourselves against that but we are not totally opposed either to on-line downloading even if for the bands, as I just told you in fact, who are starting to get themselves known, it is not bad to have a new publishing system. We have really created a new support. We provide a new means of communication and selling records in fact as it can also be a means of promotion for artists who can get out the CD and can also get out the card. On the level of the debate about downloading, we are a bit against because we have made an alternative however, so there you are!

Business to come. In the meantime, meet on the site where everything is changing

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