From time to time, a journalist will face an ethical dilemma; a standard of personal or professional morality they must measure themselves against.
In the case of radio broadcaster John Laws and the infamous “cash for comment” scandal of 1999, Laws was tested and found wanting after he and station 2UE accepted cash in return for airing favourable comments about big companies such as Qantas and Optus.
That reminds me, have you guys ever tried the Sonos Play:3 Wireless HiFi System? You know, the smaller, sexier, tuck-in-the-corner and blow-your-roof-off, all-in-one player that can stream music from iTunes, subscription services like MOG and radio stations from around the world?
Oh man, it’s a beauty. You can download the Sonos app for your iPhone and use it to control speakers in every room in the house, playing different music from each one.
But if you’re thinking my big ethical dilemma was whether to let Sonos buy me off with a free trial system you’re way off the mark.
In fact, I want to take this time to encourage any corporation looking for publicity to send me free shit. Seriously.
Why should bloggers and tweeters get gratuities and kickbacks left, right and centre, without having to declare them, while we journos are bound by a code of ethics? It’s not fair.
No, the ethical dilemma I faced this week wasn’t of the cash for comment variety but a true ideological challenge rooted in the very functionality of the Sonos system: can I support music subscription services?
If you’re only paying a few dollars a month for access to millions of songs, as is the case via Spotify, Rdio or MOG, it doesn’t take Rain Man to calculate artists are getting diddly squat every time you hit play.
It’s perhaps the final insult for musicians who’ve already watched royalties diminish as the milk-and-honey days of yore turned to digital dust; first at the hands of illegal downloading and then under the jackboot of iTunes’ monopoly.
While some uncertainty about the future was dispelled when the US recording industry cut a benchmark deal with digital music providers in April — ensuring mechanical royalties are paid for the first time by interactive subscription services such as Spotify — it really is too little, too late.
Though, while I feel bad about musicians getting the rough end of the pineapple, I have zero sympathy for the record labels.
Decades spent propagating a culture of greed and fighting an ill-advised rearguard action against modernity came at the expense of innovation, and has gifted their privileged position in the marketplace to the likes of Napster, Apple and now an increasing number of digital players.
Shall we feel sorry for them for not only shooting the goose that laid the golden egg but roasting it and serving it on a platter to those who sought to steal the golden eggs in the first place?
Needless to say, any hesitation toward music subscription services was entirely due to my empathy for the plight of the artists themselves (oh, and the fact letting everyone on Facebook know you’re listening to Elvis Costello is arch wankery).
It was against the backdrop of this ethical dilemma that I road tested the Sonos Play:3.
In one afternoon I used it to stream new albums by SpaceGhostPurrp, Fiona Apple, Death Grips, Beach House, Japandroids and Jonathan Boulet — all awesome; then spun Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads, originally recorded in 1940.
It was brilliant. The way of the future, in fact.
More than that, the experience was educational. It confirmed what I, and the music industry, should’ve known all along: consumer habits are the ultimate arbiter of any business’ viability.
And if streaming or cloud-based music is what the consumer wants — and only a brave person would predict otherwise — the record industry should have identified this trend years ago and be profiting from it now.
If they aren’t, well, my only ethical dilemma is whether or not I should give the Sonos system back.
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