Canadian singer and musician Jane Siberry has made all her music available from her website at self-determined prices. This means people downloading her music decide what price they would like to pay, and if they don’t want to pay anything, that is fine. This may sound like a reasonable idea for someone who has not made it into the music business yet, but in her store Jane quite a few published CDs as well as web-released collections to choose from.

I learned about Jane and her innovative approach to music distribution and sales from American Public Radio’s “Future Tense” podcast for December 1, 2005. Their podcast segments are short (usually less then 5 minutes) and generally fairly interesting. The theme of the podcast is “Public Radio’s Daily Journal of the Digital Age.”

According to the December 1st podcast, Jane hopes many people will download her music for free. She states that one of her primary goals as a artist is to share her music with as broad a range of listeners as possible. What better way in the early 21st century than by offering free music downloads? People ARE still paying for some of her music. But clearly this philosophy and approach toward music distribution would be considered totally radical by traditional media moguls.

Not surprisingly, Jane has a very active user and fan forum area. In a thread about market theory, I read some thought provoking comments by Russell Mcormond of Ontario, Canada. He quoted Thomas Jefferson from 1813:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it.

Russell also made some apt comparisons between the differences in creating and distributing something physical, like a loaf of bread, and something ideological and creative, like digital music. This reminded me of Nicholas Negraponte’s discussion of a collection of “bits” and free/unlimited distribution of those bits via a distribution network, in “Being Digital.” In his post on Jane’s site, Russell wrote:

With this in mind we can open our minds to explore new opportunities that simply do not exist with tangible bread. With bread we have ingredients and time that are put into *each loaf*, meaning that it matters very much whether we are making one loaf or 6.5 billion.

With art we can explore ideas that pay for the “one” regardless of how many people enjoy the work. There is both a social and an economic benefit to this: we are no longer stuck in the mindset of the existing entertainment industry that talk about their primary customers as thieves, and they no longer have the costs associated with counting and policing copies or audience members.

This line of thinking falls right in with what I have written and podcasted about previously concerning a new economics of idea relevance and distribution. We are in an age where increasingly, in order to be relevant, many things must be digital. This is an extreme statement, I know– there are many things which are not digital, never will be, and have great value none-the-less. In an ideological sense– talking about the world of ideas, I think this is now true, however, in the context of wanting to be relevant in a global dialog sense. People turn to the web and Google increasingly for information and answers. So in this environment, if people want to be relevant they need to provide others with the broadest possible access to their ideas. Jane and Russell are extending this idea into the realm of music. Of course they are not alone, the entire Creative Commons movement also has this in mind I think.

Does this work? I can’t speak for others, but a bunch of Jane’s songs are now in my iTunes and iPod music collection. I don’t think that would be the case if she wasn’t giving her music away. So if her objective was to have more people listen to and enjoy her music, she just succeeded with one new listener in Lubbock, Texas. I call that a success. 🙂

Btw, if you want to download all the songs in one of Jane’s albums, choose the “SHEEBANG” option. I think that is short for “the whole sheebang!” Click here to go directly to Jane’s online music store. Toto, we’re not in the iTunes Music store any more!

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