The Music Model - as a Model

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Chuck Klosterman’s essays becoming available digitally, a la carte, at 99 cents a pop, is notable for a number of reasons, but perhaps the biggest one is that someone in the publishing world apparently looked at the music model (99 cent downloads at iTunes) and thought – hey, that’s working really well!  Let’s get in on that action!

Meanwhile, all we hear from within the music industry is how they’re in crisis and digital piracy is killing music.  So, what exactly is the publishing world hoping to emulate here? 

I’ve read some articles where people are wondering why on earth publishers would try to sell individual essays or short stories digitally, on the grounds that 1) you’re aiming at people who already know the author, and therefore have probably already bought or read the stuff in print, and 2) if you buy a bunch of these apparently cheap essays, you end up paying more than if you’d bought a print collection of those same essays – a collection with probably lots of other essays as well. 

These are valid points, and familiar ones.  They are the same questions people leveled at digital music files.  And yet… you may be in the huge, breathless horde who knows the Beatles, likes the Beatles, has bought the Beatles’ music – possibly on 45s, LPs, CDs, and last year’s USB stick – but will still rejoice and spend more money on the same songs when they finally become available on iTunes.  It would probably take a sociologist, a psychologist, and an economist working together to figure out why we do this, but make no mistake – some of us do this, and an entire industry is praying we continue to do so.  Actually, now, make that two industries…

What do you think of publishing’s attempt to apply the digital music model to written works?  Leave a comment.