Japan and US: two cultures of piracy

MIT professor Ian Condry has analysed the two “cultures of piracy” shaping the music industries in Japan and in the US. Both countries are inclined to blame declines in sales on music sharing among young people.

The internet plays almost no role in the decline of the Japanese music industry, which has been ascribed to sharing via mobile phones and cd burners. One industry survey found that more people had recorded music (66%) than purchased it (53%). In Japan, a new album may sell for some $25 or more but be available for rental for only $3 within a week or two of its issue. Music copying is so common that many youths refer to a newly purchased album not as a cd (shii dee) but as the “master,” (masutaa).

While the American industry has resorted to legal actions against its own consumers, Japanese industry leaders are seeking to understand why music fans think it is ok to share music. CD rental stores are so common there that the industry has no hope of shutting them down. Instead, they are seeking ways to rebuild consumer loyalty rather than demand obedience. They hire resident anthropologists to map patterns of consumer interest and to understand the values consumers place on their relationship with companies. Such research helps to fuel innovation within companies, including sparking the development of new products to better fit the lifestyles they unearth.

Following the logic of the Japanese companies, Condry asks his students whether there are some forms of music they would always pay for and finds that many of them cite music which struggles to survive or where they have a strong identification with the artists. He suggests that like the Japanese fans, American students are swayed by loyalty and reciprocality rather than legality. The solution to the music industry crisis, he argues, is cultural not legal or economic and it involves changing the relations between music producers and consumers to emphasize shared interests rather than economic exploitation.

From Technology Review Daily Blog.