An Interview With Techdirt's Mike Masnick


NEW YORK (Hypebot) – Techdirt.com has grown from a one-man operation founded in 1997 by Mike Masnick to one of the web's leading voices in analysis of issues facing technology, economics, law and entertainment. The site has amassed 850,000+ RSS subscribers and a consistent rating within Technorati's Top 100.

Brisbane, Australia-based writer Andrew McMillen interviewed Mike for West Australian festival One Movement For Music. Andrew is coordinating content for the festival's official blog, OneMovementWord.com, in the lead-up to its October 2009 debut.

Andrew: What are the most important discussions currently taking place about the changing music industry?

Mike: I think there are two key issues:

  • New business models
  • New legal frameworks


    These overlap at times, but the business models are important, because we're seeing more and more evidence that stuff works now. That it doesn't require some big or massive change. Artists who figure things out can make money now and do so in a much better way than they could have in the past. That said, I am worried about some of the efforts that I think are attempting to crowd out other solutions before they've had time to grow.

    On the legal side, I'm definitely concerned. The industry has long focused on a legal path to protecting and extending their business model in the face of any sort of innovation that challenges that old business model. And I think that harms new business models and musicians who embrace them. The innovation that's occurring has been enormously empowering to musicians, and much of what is happening on the legal front could serve to hold that back. And the end result, I'm afraid, would actually be less creativity, less music and fewer useful business models for musicians. And that's quite troubling.

    You wrote in a Techdirt article that you’re in the camp of "folks who never buy single tracks, but always look to buy the full albums of bands I like". How have your music tastes changed in the internet age?

    I prefer to listen to music I've purchased. In fact, I still mostly buy CDs, though do occasionally purchase music for download from CDBaby or Amazon. In terms of what music I like, I listen to a lot of early ska/rocksteady/reggae honestly. So these days, it's bands like The Aggrolites and The Slackers.

    What inspires you to write about the latest in digital content?

    I actually think it's a really important issue, that is, in many ways, an "early warning sign" of some economic changes that are going to impact many other industries, from healthcare to energy to consumer packaged goods to financial services. It's just that digital content lays out the specifics much more clearly (and yet it's still confusing to some people!). I'm hopeful that as people start to understand these issues, when the "bigger" similar issues come to the forefront, it will be easier to point back to what happened with digital content to make it clear how things should play out elsewhere.


    As a heavy reader, what makes for engaging writing in the tech arena? Do you think that you're a strong writer?

    I don't think I'm a particularly strong writer. It's something I actually work on, but I'm just so-so. I'm always amazed when I see really beautiful writing and wish I could be half as good. But, I think what makes a more engaging writing is the ability to tell a story simply, the ability to have an opinion that you can stand behind with facts (rather than just for the hell of it) and the ability to interject some well placed humor. I wish I could do all of those things better.


    The One Movement For Music festival's tagline is "Artist, industry, fan united". What's standing between this vision of unity between artists, fans and the music industry? What do you think it'll take to achieve this unity in the coming years?

    Yeah, actually, this is a really good question, and it's a point I've been trying to make for a long time. There are solutions in this industry that truly are (as cliche as it sounds) win-win-win, where all parties are better off. Yet, so many of the old guard view the industry as a zero sum game — which is that if someone else is making a dollar, it's a dollar I've lost. So the idea that someone could get something for free is viewed as a "loss" even if, in the long run, it brings back $10 dollars (or more). So, because of that view, some have always treated the market as a competition to get the very last dollar, and that doesn't make for a very "united" front between artists, the industry and fans. Instead, you get all grabbing for scraps, even if it means everyone's worse off.

    I'm very hopeful that a growing generation of folks are beginning to recognize that by working together, these new models actually do benefit everyone — including the fans and the industry — in such a way that everyone is happy with the results, rather than anyone having to pull one extra dollar. It may be idealistic or utopian, but I think it's possible. It will require a lot more success stories, a lot more examples, a lot more money to be made — and perhaps a few of the "old guard" to retire. But it will happen, at least to a certain extent. There will never be perfect bliss, of course. But the resulting industry can be a lot more aligned where everyone benefits when certain things happen.

    Aside from Techdirt, where are the most important discussions about the changing music industry taking place?

    I think they're happening all over the place. Hypebot is a great blog. Music Ally. I actually think that Wired and News.com have some of the better discussions on these issues as well.