Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On sharing

Mike Doughty’s new album, Sad Man Happy Man, came out this week.  Mike has been one of my favorite singer/songwriters for years, so I have to pick up a copy.  Only one decision is preventing me from finalizing my purchase: Should I buy the physical CD or the mp3s?  There are a number of arguments for one side or the other, but for some reason I’m really focusing on one thing: Do I want to own a piece of plastic that will eventually end up in a landfill, or do I want to own the rights to data files that provide a lower fidelity experience but don’t require the manufacture and eventual disposal of physical materials?  Sure, it’s convenient that so many mp3s can fit on a portable player, but the environmental benefits of digital music files shouldn’t be ignored.

Music files can be purchased in innovative ways these days, too., for example sells web songs, which play in your browser and only cost 10 cents.  Basically, Lala is selling rights to the music rather than music itself.  You can listen to your music as much as you want, and you don’t even need room in your apartment or on your hard drive to store the product.  (Bonus: Lala will also let you listen to any song in its catalog one time for free, and all users get their first 50 web songs free.)  In a way, it’s music as a service rather than a product.

I’m a big fan of this idea, mainly because it means people get to own less.  Car sharing companies like I-GO and Zipcar let people get by without owning a car.  Tool-lending libraries are springing up in cities nationwide.  Hell, I’m still surprised that so many people buy DVDs when movies are so cheap to rent via Blockbuster, Netflix & iTunes.

Well… I just bought Sad Man Happy Man on CD through Amazon, and it arrives in a week.  I’m sure it’ll spend the next month in heavy rotation on my computer, interspersed with my newly purchased web songs.