Volume XI, Issue 43 ~ October 23-29, 2003

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Burton on the Bay

Pricing Themselves out of the Market

Life is a copycat and can be bullied into following the master artist who bids it come to heel.
— Heywood Broun (1888-1939): Nature the Copycat

These days in the music world — and perhaps many other aspects of life — life really is a copycat. It shouldn’t be that way — and the contemporary master artists certainly don’t want it that way. But as we know, things don’t always turn out as they should.

Today, across the nation and in much of the world, copycats are pretty much accepted, especially when it comes to music on CDs. Those doing the copying to save money or time exclaim, “What’s the big deal?”

The current controversy is centered more on audibles, primarily music and the words that accompany it, but the written word is also vulnerable, as are innovations in styles, electronics, automobiles, mousetraps and just about everything else in this world of ours including visuals as basic as photographs.

Surely, there would be no problem if people today thought as did the late artist Georgia O’Keefe, who wrote:

I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at — not copy it.

But these days Georgia’s thinking is considered old fashioned if not ancient history. Shame on the new breed. Copycats are thieves, no way around it; thieves plain, pure and simple whether their copying involves music, photos, paintings, technology, inventions or words.

Works of the Brain
Look at it this way, if you will. It is 1:40am, and I am toiling at my computer as words come more freely when the owls of night are seeking their prey. Writing this column will require two hours, maybe three or more depending on how the words are filtered through this brain.

An hour was spent mulling appropriate thoughts and assertions associated with the subject; then there’s the writing and finally editing and spell checking — not to mention making sure my electronic messenger does its job. Total time spent, perhaps three or four hours of work that taxes the brain as much as digging a ditch taxes the muscles (with me, I’m sure there are readers who might suggest this brain is muscle).

Would it seem fair and appropriate that when this is ultimately researched, thought out, written, edited, spell checked and sent on to Bay Weekly headquarters in Deale, that anyone else could copy it for use elsewhere for their financial gain? I don’t know why anyone would, but that’s not the point.

Plain and simple, to do so would be stealing from me. I will have worked to put this together — and they would take it. So what’s different, I ask, if I did physical work, was paid and with the proceeds purchased a fishing reel, only to have someone promptly swipe it?

Of course, this won’t happen, not with my words, but today it is happening in many other spheres, most notably in the world of music. The crux of the problem is that many who would frown on the thievery of a trinket would — without any impact on their conscience — play copycat with the artistic endeavor of people who have recorded a tune.

How they howl as the recording industry strikes back and begins to take legal action. “Not fair,” they say as if their chicanery is any less morally blemishing than shoplifting a pack of cigarettes from a convenience store. Curious thinking.

The Price of Greed
Much as I dislike copycats, I must admit I don’t find it easy to sympathize with the music industry. I understand its dilemma: losing millions upon millions, possibly billions of bucks annually. Music buffs, and not just kids, are copying music for pennies on the dollar if not for free. But methinks the industry asked for it.

The industry was wrong; it was greedy. Its recording stars wanted too much moola, as did everyone else associated with the making and marketing of CDs.

So to speak, they priced themselves out of the market. But many think they can’t do their music. To kids it’s much of their culture: it’s their basic rap with one another. To many adults, it’s their avenue to cope with stress when driving, it’s our relaxation at home or on the deck. When entertaining, music can be the life of the party.

With CDs priced at $18, many, especially among teenagers, could not afford as many as they thought necessary to build an updated library. Enter music-sharing Napster, the Web and CD burners. For a time it was legal. But the music industry hurt enough that it finally kayoed the Napster concept in the courts. But ingenious copycats found new ways.

Today, music is exchanged blatantly among young and old alike; with youngsters it’s traded as much as were the marbles I played with as a kid — except with the smooth stones it was legal. Illegal downloads are the in-thing. Even industry moves to prosecute violators and cut CD prices by as much as a third haven’t made much of a dent in copycatting. Too late.

A Lesson Free for Learning
Yet as has long been said, two wrongs don’t make a right. Morally and legally, copying is wrong. Yet I know several parents — people who would raise hell with their children, ground them or otherwise punish them for pilfering something worth little — who turn their computers over to them so they can download CDs; parents who have been known to ask that the little thieves cut them a copy or two. What’s the big deal?

It is a big deal, and one with a moral for our times. The greedy recording industry got in a pickle because it acceded to the even greedier demands of its talent. It paid performers more and passed the additional and prohibitive costs on to consumers.

They’re not alone. It’s World Series and NFL time now, when most of us can give thanks that we can catch the action on television; the prices to enter the ball park at least on a regular basis are beyond the reach of many of us. How many families can afford good seats — and popcorn, hot dogs and beverages for the length of the game? A C-note won’t suffice. Today one pays more for a hot dog and soft drink than was paid for a seat not too long ago.

The owners — many in stadiums at our expense — paid the greedy players what they asked and passed the cost on to us. How long can this continue?

Others who might learn about pricing themselves out of the market are fast-food chains, where fries, hamburgers and a cola set one back as much as a nutritional and balanced meal in a family restaurant. Movie theaters where popcorn, candy and colas have reached the point that operators could offer free admission and still make a neat profit via their concession stands.

Consumers are vulnerable, but only to a point. There usually comes a time when enough is enough; no more thank you.

Are those who gouge us listening — and learning? Enough said …

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Last updated October 23, 2003 @ 1:18am