Is there anyone or anything more universally despised throughout the blogosphere than the RIAA? Seriously, when was the last time you read something positive about the RIAA? My guess is never. Chances are you’ve read dozens of stories about the RIAA’s heavy-handed anti-piracy maneuvers, and even more that portray the organization’s leadership as hopelessly out of touch with reality.
The interesting thing about this is that the RIAA doesn’t seem to be aware that the blogosphere exists. If they are, they certainly aren’t taking it seriously. The RIAA comes across as being completely dismissive of its critics. It’s almost as if they think that acknowledging their critics might be seen as a sign of weakness. In my darkest nightmares I fear Karl Rove might be secretly running the RIAA.
You would think that such an unpopular organization would at least make a token effort to get in the game. Blogs are conversations, after all. How hard could it be for the RIAA to start a blog and join the conversation?
While the RIAA may be living in the past, they’re aren’t living in the stone age. They do have a website. A very old-school website with lots of outdated content, but a website nonetheless.
Take a look at the RIAA’s website and it starts to become obvious why they aren’t blogging. One reason might be that they seem to be completely devoid of new ideas. Another is that it’s not always clear what their message is, or who they’re talking to.
The RIAA’s website devotes a lot of space to the issue of piracy, but they fail to do so in a way that might actually reach the demographic most likely to pirate music. Instead, their website seems to be targeted at their members – recording industry executives looking for reassurance that the RIAA is doing everything it can to protect their best interest. Ironically, by taking that approach the RIAA is clearly NOT doing everything it can to protect the labels’ best interest.
While the RIAA could argue that they don’t need to cater to bloggers or the Internet at large, that would be a mistake. The future of the music industry will be decided by people who are not now, and will never be, members of the RIAA. Think consumer electronics companies, hardware manufacturers, software companies, programers, and even musicians and indie labels who have no intention of following the RIAA off the cliff it is currently headed for.
While the RIAA may continue to claim some sort of moral victory over piracy, they’ve failed to gain any mind share among the masses. In the process, they’ve turned the organization into a perennial punch line, and their website is just one example of that.
The RIAA’s website features find plenty of PR-speak, news about the latest piracy crackdowns, and information about “educational” programs designed to teach kids about legal music (I assume this program teaches kids about music created by lawyers).
What you won’t find is a discussion about how the music industry is being fundamentally changed by the Internet and digital technology. And you certainly won’t find any discussion of how the industry should react to those changes. That’s blogosphere stuff, and the RIAA apparently wants no part of it.
Even if you were the sort who is inclined to follow the RIAA’s every word, they’ve made it almost impossible to do so. The site has no RSS feed and no mailing list, which I suppose is not a problem considering most if the information on the site is a half decade out of date.
The closest the site gets to human voices talking about the issues comes in a section devoted to guest columns. Unfortunately, there are only four articles in the section, one of the more recent being a March 2001 screed where Miles Copleand answer the question “Are Record Companies Greedy”.
From Copeland’s article:
The accusation that record companies have been slow to respond to the Internet may be a valid one, but there is good reason for this. We can’t figure out how to make a business out of it, pay royalties (honor the contracts we already have with the artists) and not lose our shirts. The funny thing is, NEITHER CAN ALL THE INTERNET GENIUSES. They are going bankrupt, left, right and center. Most Internet companies seem more like stock market scams than real businesses. I have a strong suspicion that the Internet revolution will turn out to be like the French Revolution. The revolutionaries will spend much energy and talk about overthrowing the “old regime,” only to soon find themselves with their heads in the guillotine.
Let me be the first to say that Miles Copeland used to be a visionary. However, this statement sounds more like the ranting of a madman. It might explain why today he’s promoting something called the Bellydance Superstars, while some of those Internet geniuses have figured out how to make money from digital music.
It’s a sad state of affairs when we look back fondly on Hilary Rosen’s tenure at the RIAA. While we all loved to hate her, Rosen at at least tried to engage the opposition, and there was some indication that she listened to music and was conversant with the technology.
Mitch Bainwol on the other hand doesn’t seem quite human. It’s pretty clear he was chosen for his political connections as opposed to any knowledge of the music industry. He’s shown absolutely no interest in engaging in a discussion of the issues, and he doesn’t seem to notice when he gets raked over the coals in the blogosphere for his litigious actions and his outlandish remarks.
The fact that the RIAA isn’t blogging is symptomatic of a larger problem – the organization’s failure to realize how the media landscape has fundamentally changed over the past five years. Consumers are now creators and participants. The old approach of force feeding media to the masses doesn’t work anymore – well it might work for a very old and out of touch demographic, and that seems to be exactly who the RIAA is catering to these days.