Modest Proposals: Spam and the Music Industry

The old “music industry” in the United States is dead. This has been clear for a decade now. Parts of it fall off occasionally, e.g., the entire retail store establishment. Those in charge cannot acknowledge that things have fundamentally changed to their disadvantage. Instead they’re driven into ridiculous extremes: suing children, crippling computers and their own CDs and DVDs, attempting to dock the tuition accounts of college students, and buying risible legislation.

They have no choice. The music industry distributes its product via trucks through warehouses, and there is cash involved. Therefore they are in part controlled by organized crime. In the golden years of the 70s and 80s, so-called “cutout” or remaindered discount records were a cash equivalent, and everyone had some good times with the resulting piles of $50’s. Lew Wasserman helped out his old buddy Ronald Reagan with slush money, and later there was a polite to-do about the Mafia and MCA.

Now imagine the reaction of the wise guys to the elimination of trucking and cash, the elimination of warehouses, and the elimination of networks of middlemen. The made man in the corner office isn’t happy.

It’s clear we need to get these guys out of the picture. They’re trying to make money off something dead, and they aren’t going to let it go. But they’re armed, and wealthy, and very good at using legislation and muscle to keep a good thing going. What to do?

Another problem has been getting worse the last ten years: spam. Annoying email, most of it for illegal or fraudulent businesses, is gumming up the works badly. The spammers are winning the arms race, too: it gets harder and harder to filter their crap without losing legitimate communication. Worst of all, it can’t be legislated out of existence because it originates offshore and is transmitted by zombie armies of compromised computers controlled by crafty Russians. So now we have another organized crime problem: the damn Russians won’t stop spamming us and we can’t do a thing about it.

I propose that we solve both problems simultaneously.

A mission of music executives, internet portal and technology managers, and suitably anonymous government figures will be sent to a Godfather-like summit with the Russian mob’s top leaders. And we will say this to them:

“We know you’re businessmen. And we respect that. We’re businessmen too. And we have a problem for us that’s an opportunity for you. If you want to come in and wipe out the guys who are holding back our music industry, the business is yours. Clearly you know how to sell on the Internet, and how to sell music for that matter. You’re digitally sophisticated and you know how to get paid without trucks and wads of cash. Come on in and enjoy, and we’ll overlook the crime wave as you whack all these bastards.

“In return we ask only one thing: stop the spam. It’s bad for business for us, and it can’t be a long-term business for you either. Technology changes, you know that. If you walk away from spam we’ll hand you the key to digital music, and that’s not going away. Deal?”

The result in my utopia would be a short, exciting series of gangland murders, followed by the emergence of slightly too expensive but totally functional music download services. And spam will go to about 5% what it is now; the government and tech people can take credit for this.

I for one am willing to pay 10% more on my music downloads for this deal.

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