Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Value-Free or Value-Priced?: The Rise of the (Nearly) Free

In December of last year, I wrote a think piece (rant) about how I thought people who steal music don't actually value it because they aren't willing to pay for it. That which you don't pay for you don't value. Like interns.

Call this an addendum to my position, then. Or maybe an appendix, full of useful information.

In May of last year, I started getting emails from Amazon informing me of their "50/$5" deal, where the site's editors pick fifty albums to sell for five bucks. "Yeah, right," I thought. "This'll just be the e-version of a record store bargain bin. Can't wait to download the .mp3 version of Don Johnson's Heartbeat."

It turns out that Amazon wasn't just trying to clear room on their e-shelves... I'm also told that's not how computers work. Whatever.

Amazon's editors actually managed to pick out a pretty good batch of records to offer for five bucks apiece. That first go-around included records by Wavves, TV on the Radio, Kanye, and Etta James. And subsequent iterations didn't slouch, either. The following months saw albums by the GZA, Phoenix, and Radiohead get knocked down to the price of an imported beer at the bar.

As if fifty cheap albums weren't enough, the site expanded the promotion to a hundred records in December of 2009. I've picked up albums by Art Blakely, Raekwon, and John Coltrane for five measly dollars. I just now downloaded Fang Island's self-titled debut and Iggy Pop's Lust for Life.

And that's not even counting their thoroughly random discount system. For no reason I can discern, the site sold new albums by Grizzly Bear, Vampire Weekend, and Sunn 0))) for as little as two bucks. Two bucks?! YOU CAN'T GET A BIG MAC FOR TWO BUCKS.

I'm not simply shelling for Amazon, either. There's deals to be found everywhere! That was the housewife-iest thing I've ever said. Other than that time I decided to pretend I was a middle-aged woman on Twitter.

Amie Street offered Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion for the better part of a year. And just about every typical-length record is $7.50 on Lala. And you know I love those mfka's.

That's not counting the inestimable amount of 100% free music available on .mp3 blogs. I'll admit that those exist in a kind of legal no-zone, but I take heart in the hosting policies of most blogs. The supremely excellent metal blog Crustcake has an .mp3 policy which says that they're "only trying to promote you or your artist(s)...If there are any [.mp3's] you're not so keen on us having up here on the interwebs, please contact us." I used to write for them, so I know they're sincere on that front.

Blogs are a notorious source of leaks, though usually of songs rather than whole records. I know LCD Soundsystem got a little miffed when a couple of songs from their new, Charge-Shot!!!-approved record leaked onto We All Want Something to Shout For early this month. So download those songs at your own philosophical peril. I'm gonna buy the sucker (I love LCD enough to spend sevn fitty on 'em!), so I downloaded them shits right quick.

"But," you might say, "even if there are tons of albums out there for dirt cheap, they might still not be the albums I want!"

If you said that, I'd probably tell you that, even if you can't get the album you want for $5 or less, you can still probably find it for $7.50. That's a whole lot less than CDs usually cost, and you don't have to get in your 1998 gold Saturn S-Series and drive to Coconuts to get it. Also, I'd snicker because you said "but."

I'd also point out that a good price point can lead you to a lot of content that you might not have otherwise checked out. The A.V. Club's Noel Murray talked about something like this in a post on the site's blog in March of 2009. He pointed out that while Netflix Instant doesn't have everything you could ask for (a fact lamented by Mr. Aziz Ansari), it still does have quite a bit of good stuff. I probably would have never gotten around to watching Tony Kaye's (magnificent) three-hour abortion documentary Lake of Fire if it hadn't been priced right at $0.00 and available to watch, you know, instantly.

There have been a ton of records, movies, and TV shows that I never would have discovered if they hadn't been free or close-to-free.

So you'll understand if I don't have much patience for people who say they don't buy music/movies because they're too expensive.

Stupid person, meet the internet.

Note: In case you don't know, that's a picture of Matthew Lesko, that crazy dude from the infomercials who's always yelling about how the government will give you money to take a shit or something.