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Download Drama

img  Tobias
It seemed like such a simple and good idea: As part of its "Beethoven Experience"-Bonanza, the BBC offered all of his nine symphonies for free download from their homepage. In fact, it was such a simple and good idea that about a million people took the opportunity to lay their hands on these masterpieces. This hasn't sat too well with the bosses of some record companies, as one can imagine. For who's going to visit the local HMV and spend 15 Euros for a work that he can get with a 100% discount online? Anthony Anderson, who takes care of business at Naxos, worried that actions like this one could depriciate the value of music and lead people to believe that "it was ok to own such files" (which, ahem, it is). And Ralph Couzen, director of Chandos, lamented the fact that while he had to pay orchestras top salaries, the BBC was giving their music away for free. The BBC meanwhile countered that it had merely been trying to gauge download-potential.

Ok, that argument is a tad naive. Did the BBC seriously think it was not going to upset the players of the already shrinking classical record business? This debate has absolutely nothing to do (as most observers contended) with the question of whether the BBC is abusing its subsidised position - for once in a while it is an enjoyable fact that a public broadcaster is using the taxpayer's money for excellence. It is also improbable that music's intrinsic value will sink, as the files are all of inferior sound quality and will still leave those who downloaded them with the possible desire to obtain them on CD.
It's quite obvious that Naxos is complaining, since their philosophy is that it's the work that counts, not the interpretation. But companies like Chandos shouldn't worry, should they? For from their point of view, different interpretations will always make it interesting to buy a piece twice.

It's quite obvious that executives no longer believe in that last argument. Which brings one of the most important points of the current crisis of the recording industry to the light: Courageous and truly individual interpretations have not been a top priority. And that makes companies vulnerable to cheap re-releases and this BBC-action.

Just think of the following hypothetical possibility: A sotware mogul decides at the end of his life that he would like to spend some of his money for the well-being of mankind, has all Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler symphonies recorded and places them on the Internet for free. With the retoric taken by Anderson and Couzens, that should effectively destroy the Classical Music business in the wink of an eye.

Unless labels can not come up with their former strengths of interpretation and marketing, they will have to witness players like the BBC run away with the prize.

And now, decide for yourself.


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