I love Prince.  He’s basically a genius.  I honestly can’t think of anyone else in the music industry who is nearly as cool as he is.  Recently he has allowed British newspaper Mail on Sunday some 3 million copies of his new record to distribute with a printing.  Granted, he obviously received some quantity of money for the stunt, and mark me, it probably was quite hefty.  Nevertheless, I’m sure the Mail on Sunday readers were really happy to get the record, and Prince will be happy to sell out his upcoming 21 London shows.  Who loses?  The guys who are becoming, more and more, obsolete, in a more and more obvious way.

Music marketer Jack Horner is quoted in Wired today saying that “there is a very clear devaluing of music” in Prince’s move.  Devaluing might not be the word I’d use for it, but I guess that Prince is not working on making me obsolete.  “Music” in and of itself is not being devalued: rather, the mechanisms that traditionally surround the distribution of music are.  Music, I would argue to the contrary, is being exalted – forget this distribution and enrichment of arbitrary firms that control what we receive and when we receive it.  Prince has entirely circumvented the old system in favor of a distribution tactic that gets to more people faster.  And I get the feeling that outside of record companies and marketers and record stores, mostly everyone else is happy as a pig in shit.

Wired also points out something else cool about this game: Prince has proven that it’s not the songs that are what makes life hard for recording artists, it’s the length of time copies are floating around out there.  If Brendan buys a CD the day it comes out, then none of the other four people in our house have to buy it.  Nor does Maynard, probably, and by proxy, neither do his housemates.  Quickly, that’s 10 people who have received a copy of an album from the sale of one.  It’s not like the songs don’t mean anything to us – we did buy the album, didn’t we?  Rather, it’s possessing the copies of the album that keep us from obtaining others.  Makes sense to me.

On the other hand, Prince has just distributed about 3 million copies of his new record very rapidly – within 24 hours, these CDs got distributed across England.  If that’s not efficient, I don’t know what is!  If I could get my morning paper and get the album, I wouldn’t have to wait for Brendan to buy it, rip it, and give me the CD, a process that, because we’re lazy bums, sometimes takes upwards of two days.  Suddenly, I have it in hand – and Brendan probably does too.

“Music distribution,” writes Wired‘s Van Buskirk, “could become a competition to see who posts things first.  In a sense, music distribution would no longer be about space – it would be about time.”  At least as much as I’ve seen in the indie community, it already is.

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