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Finally, the Real Reason CD Sales Are Falling

For years, the representatives of the recording companies have issued predictions of doom and gloom for their own industry.  Since suing Napster in 1999 they have fretted over copyright infringement and piracy.  According to the RIAA, file sharing costs the industry $4.2 billion per year. But now CD music sales are down 20% from 2006.  Has file sharing finally destroyed the music industry?  I doubt it.  Even if those lawsuits were having the chilling effect they are intended to spread, shutting down every P2P network on the planet, CD sales would be suffering. Why? It's tempting to say there's no good new music, and that the record companies have brought this on themselves by promoting the Brtiney Spears' of the world.  But I'm sure there's good music out there somewhere, and this sounds more like a subjective criticism than a real hypothesis. What if albums are not just competing for your dollar against other albums?  Most people only spend so much money on entertainment or media, and CDs now have to compete against DVDs and video games.  Most people only spend so many hours a day consuming media, and music has to compete with TV, the Internet, and cheap cell phone minutes. I'm not the first person to think of this, I've seen this brought up on blogs and in forums like Slashdot.  But it has always struck me how little coverage this idea gets in the mainstream press, even the business press.  Finally Aaron Pressman from Business Week has put some hard numbers to the notion that CDs are losing out to other media. His source?  A report from the MPAA, hardly a den of piracy-loving communists.  Time spent on entertainment rose 4% between 2001 and 2005, which doesn't even match S&P 500 growth rate.  People spent less time per week listening to music and more time with TV and the Internet. This tracks pretty closely with my experience (and I realize that this is just anecdotal).  In the early and mid 1990s, I spent a good percentage of my entertainment money on CDs.  As videos started to fall in price around 1995 or so, I bought a few here or there.  Then DVDs hit is big around 2000 or 2001.  Soon after that DVDs of television series started appearing and falling to  $20-$40 a season. My CD spending has slowed to a trickle.  I have never been much of a P2P MP3 pirate, and I never even bothered to install Napster.  I am, on the other hand, a big proponent of downloading all the great free MP3s that bands and labels make available.  I also still listen to some of the same music I bought in the 1990s, now ripped to my hard drive. I only have so many hours in a day and although I can listen to CDs while surfing the Internet, I'm not sure I want to put them in my computer anymore, for fear of rootkits. So where does this leave the music industry?  No doubt they will continue to sue 9-year-olds and disabled retirees, and litigating against technological change is not a good business model.  Maybe the open-source-loving interweb hippies are right and bands will promote themselves using MySpace and YouTube and keep a much bigger piece of the profits.  Maybe not. What they are doing right now, though, isn't working.  It's the limits of human consumption and the invisible hand of capitalism they should fear, not some kids with cable modems.

How to download video games for free, the old fashioned way

In 1998, there was no bittorrent, no Kazaa, not even Napster. But there was still piracy. Not Johnny Depp piracy, which the MPAA likes, but movie, music and software piracy, which the MPAA hates.

Are you afraid of getting one of those scary letters from the RIAA? In fact, many of the old methods still work today, and so far they are under the lawyers' radar.

Some of you are familiar with the old standbys like IRC, Usenet, and Sneaker Net. In 1998, another method (which very few people remember) was even more popular – especially outside of the United States. This method was called PoE, or Pester over Email.

First, the person desiring a video game must find a fan site. Next they find the site admin's email address and send a message such as this one below:

From: Arturo Soriano Murillo Date: 10/24/1997 7:07 PM To: Jason Subject: hi friend hi i am fanatic of simcity 2000 but my files were destroyed and the friend that have the CD he change of state I want to see if you can sendme a copy of the complete version of simcity 2000 i need play more more more yeah cool cool PLEASE PLEASE send me that at the address of [removed] Javier Bravo Camelo Thanks friend

The above may look like a normal email, but it is fact a message formatted for the PoE protocol. The protocol RFC states that each PoE message must contain:

  1. Shallow declarations of friendship;

  2. Fictional, yet uninteresting story justifying piracy of the desired item;


  4. The string “more more more yeah cool cool,� used to pad the message to the correct byte size.

I happened to have a Sim City 2000 website at the time, and I found myself constantly on the “server� send of PoE transactions. I got emails such as this every week from exotic locations such as Argentina, Costa Rica, Russia, their dad's AOL account, Canada, and their mom's AOL account.

I dutifully responded to each any every one, and since 5 MB emails did not really fly back then, that meant I had to copy disks, booklets, and box art and ship everything via airmail (PoE RFC section 2.3.5). This was at great expense to myself--do you how much it cost to send “the sim cti 2000 2me NOW PLEASE� in 1998?

In the end, I couldn't keep up with the volume, fell below five nines uptime, and was eventually stripped of my PoE credentials by Vint Cerf and Al Gore in a brutal, but efficient ceremony that left me wet, naked, and shaking.

None of that happened. Most of the time I ignored these emails and eventually too many spam bots found that email address and I dropped it like an email address that was very hot or slippery and difficult to hold. But before that fateful day, when I could be bothered, I would reply with this standard email. Instructions for downloading video games with no risk of lawsuit:

From: Brandon Date: 3/29/1998 1:19 PM To: Jason Subject: Hi, could you please tell me where I can download the full version of Simcity 2000,

From: Jason Date: 3/20/1998 2:09 PM To: Jason Subject: Re: Sure, but you're going to need to use an older method of downloading the game. Since a lot of people aren't familiar with it, here's what you do: 1) Boot up your computer. 2) Load up DOS, Windows, or the Mac OS to determine which one your system uses. 3) Determine whether you have a CD-ROM drive, a disk drive, or both 4) Type that information down in a word processor and print it out. 5) If you do not have a printer, download it by hand on to a piece of paper. 6) Turn off your computer. 7) Get in your car, put your seat belt on and turn the ignition. 8) Carefully back out of your driveway and in to the street. 9) Drive to the nearest computer, office, or electronics store. (This is much like anonymous FTP). 10) Find the video games section of the store. If you cannot find it, locate a salesperson and click on "help". 11) Locate a large icon, or "box" labeled Sim City 2000. Do not double click! 12) Using the information from step 4-5, determine which "box" you should purchase. 13) Click and drag it up to the counter. Upload your credit card number or ash to the clerk. 14) Return home.

And just in case you've forgotten, don't copy that floppy.[wmv width="320" height="240"][/wmv]