The Iowa City Public Library has just launched a new local music project, where the library has negotiated directly with bands to make their music available for download through the library’s catalog. The library paid the bands for their albums, and the musicians agreed to let library members download unlimited amounts of DRM-free music for free.
The Ann Arbor Public Library is also providing unrestricted, DRM-free music to its members. It offers Creative Commons licensed music through the digital music publisher Magnatune. Both of these solutions are an exciting step in the right direction.
But there is still more to do.
I like Iowa City’s DIY approach, forging relationships directly with local bands, and I think we (libraries) should all adopt and improve on this model. I also think we should link our local music catalogs together in a way that lets the cream of our local crops register in other locations, so we’re sharing out, allowing for a greater degree of discovery. But the library says they paid an average of $100/album and I’m not sure that satisfies me. One of their points when promoting this service to library members is that the musicians got paid. I pay bands more than $100 for a single performance at the library. Musicians and writers are told that they should be willing to give their songs or their books away for free because it will get them exposure which will lead to gigs, which pay. They are then told by venues that they should be willing to play or speak for free or cheap because it will get them exposure, which will lead to album or book sales. We can’t keep passing the buck like this, expecting other people to pay for the creation of stuff we value.
We can’t be afraid of money. We need money. I think library systems should of course be providing access to cultural content, but I don’t think the message should be: don’t worry; we’ve got this. I think libraries could be pioneering a serious conversation about how we, as a society that values creativity and culture, can sustainably produce and share our creations with each other. If not libraries, who?