Value vs. Price

We seem, as a culture, stuck in this horrible space where all we care about is the price of things and not the value we gather from them. As far as I can tell a significant number of folks aren’t even aware there is a difference.

I would, for example, never be able to put a price on my health, or that of any of my family or close friends. Priceless doesn’t even begin to describe what health, wellness and well-being means to me. “Value beyond measure” is how I would describe it. Other things are easy to calculate the price I’m willing to pay.

We recently kicked our ISP, Comcast, to the curb. Why? Because while I value connectivity, their price compared to the quality of the service they were providing was way out of sync. It was easy to get a better quality of service, providing the same product, for a lower price.

Another example – We subscribe to a bi-weekly produce delivery service that gets us a big box of fresh, direct from the organic farm, fruits and veggies. The quality of the produce is through the roof good. Light years better than anything we can buy at any of the local grocery stores or produce stands, or even the local weekly farmers’ market, and the price is less than we’d pay for the same quantity of lower quality stuff. That’s a no-brainer.

Other stuff gets fuzzier and more subjective. Music, for instance. I’m not a Taylor Swift fan. I’ve got nothing against her music, it’s just not my cup of tea. But as a musician myself I understand her reasoning behind pulling her music from Spotify. The royalties they pay don’t even come close to what I’d judge to be fair compensation for any artist for their work, and because the music is available to users of the service on-demand there’s virtually no incentive for a listener to purchase their own copies of the music.

Most of the time I agree with Dave Grohl’s rants about the music business (his keynote at SxSW from a couple of years ago was spot-on), but when asked about Taylor Swift pulling her tracks from Spotify I think he was dead wrong.

In an interview with Digital Spy Grohl said:

“You want people to f**king listen to your music? Give them your music. And then go play a show. They like hearing your music? They’ll go see a show. To me it’s that simple, and I think it used to work that way,”

This is almost, but not quite, as tone deaf to the reality of being an up and coming musician today as U2 giving away their latest LP via iTunes as a promotional stunt. It’s saying there is no value in recorded music. Effectively it reduces recorded music to a promotional tool to sell concert tickets. While that might be an OK point of view to have when you’re U2 or Dave Grohl, it’s not a luxury most folks who wish to create new music have.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love Dave. I dare anyone to name a band that has been as consistently good for as consistently long as the Foo Fighters, or any working rock guy who continues to so obviously care about music as Dave Grohl does. I think his bank account has obscured his judgment and priorities here. He’s effectively eliminated from the conversation any musician who is primarily interested in composition and the art of recording. If what gets you excited about music is the process of crafting beautiful recordings, and writing great songs then you’re supposed to accept the notion that your creations have no value because the market (meaning people who consume recorded music) seem to have decided that the only price they’re willing to pay for it is $0.

The thing is though, I’m not buying it (no pun intended). I think the root of the problem is that rock stars and record companies lack vision and have panicked. I think Ms. Swift may be on to something here. If, as an artist, you refuse to give away your work away then it’s entirely possible, provided the quality of the work is high enough, that the market’s perspective will change. Right now way too many major artists have given up. Some, (like U2) because their own relevance (and the market’s interest in new material from them) has waned know that the value of their product is zero, and have priced it accordingly. Some, (like the Foos), have decided that releasing recorded music is part of a multi-pronged marketing strategy designed to sell concert tickets. So the whole thing has become muddled.

It may be that what needs to happen is that the record labels, who are still, inexplicably the gatekeepers to the distribution of recorded music, need to collectively refuse to play this game. Instead of individual artist whims dictating distribution strategies a real systematized approach needs to be adopted. But that requires a painful decision that the existing leadership within the recording industry doesn’t seem to have the courage to make – tell the U2s of the world that new recorded music is not a marketing tool for concert tickets. If you cannot sell new music, stop making it. By giving it away you are devaluing the whole inventory by encouraging the perception that correct price for new music is FREE.

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