Why I Started Paying for Music, Movies, Newspapers and Magazines Again

After a decade of downloading, I’ve seen the error of my ways.

When I was in high school, back in the late 90s, one of my friends got a job at a local record store. Considering that I bought almost every hip-hop CD that came out back then, and had been doing so since I got my first stereo years prior, being a big music fan was an expensive habit.

But my buddy had a cool little hustle going on for himself, and I reaped the benefits. Basically, I’d walk in the store, slip him 5 dollars, and he’d hand me whatever CD I wanted under the counter. He’d then pocket the 5 dollars. This was back when a CD cost something like 18 bucks. So it was quite a hook-up. I was resigned to never pay full price for an album ever again.

Hundreds of CDs later and well into my college career, when I had much less disposable cash, my friend got caught, and he was subsequently fired. My source of discounted new music was gone. I was pretty depressed.

Still, I’d become somewhat accustomed to paying less than retail price for my entertainment, and surely I couldn’t go backwards in life, could I? Not when music and movies were essentially free online. And so while I certainly bought a CD or two here or there in the ensuing years, I became a big user of peer-to-peer networks to get what I wanted. When those fell out of favor, like any sensible person, I moved to BitTorrent.

But then, things began to change. Gradually. Spotify launched in the United States in 2011, and it was so cheap that it bordered on ridiculous. For 10 dollars a month I’d have access to millions of songs. Even if I had access to those millions via YouTube, there was something about it being so cheap that drew me in. Never mind the fact that artists weren’t (and still aren’t) making any money off of the service. Hopefully they would one day. I instantly signed up.

The New York Times was next. When they initiated their paywall in 2011, like most reasonably intelligent (and cheap) people, I quickly found a way to break it. Would it have killed me to pay the 30 dollars or whatever it costs for digital access? Probably not. But I could break the paywall, so why bother paying, right?

Earlier this year, the New York Times tech team— who must have been asleep at the wheel this whole time, or been hired away by Buzzfeed— sowed up the hole in the paywall. This great newspaper that invests hundreds of thousands of dollars in original reporting and creating great content that I consume while sitting on my ass and doing nothing productive, I could no longer read for free. Fuck! It took me all of 10 minutes to sign up for a subscription.

Paying for media became a habit. I signed up for Amazon Prime, where I now regularly fork over cash to rent movies that I watch on my television via my PS3. I have a kindle, too. And I buy at least a book a week on there. On Sundays, I purchase the actual print versions of the Times and the Wall Street Journal. And after years of letting all my magazine subscriptions run out, I’ve signed back up for a bunch of them.

I don’t really want a pat on the back for this. I realize many normal people have had no problem paying for these sort of things all along. To that I might say, hey, I’m a struggling writer and musician— who isn’t these days?— and I’ve never really had extra cash laying around for this sort of stuff.

Or, maybe I did have the money, and I just knew I could get it for free, so I did. When you know you can get access to something for free or at a discount, chances are you’ll go for that option, even if you know that on a very basic moral level it’s wrong. I knew my friend was pocketing that 5 dollars. I didn’t care. Fuck it, I’m a bad guy.

But that type of thinking— and guys like me, who work in media but haven’t done anything to help support creative industries— is why these businesses are crumbling on all sides. You can’t just take take take. You have to give back. Because these systems are vital to the creation, transmission, consumption and exchange of ideas. And those ideas are what make our society great.

What do you have to lose, really? When a CD was $18.99, okay, I get it, that was an inflated price. But think about how cheap things really are now, comparatively. On iTunes, a pop song that could have potentially cost something like 50 thousand dollars to produce, costs a mere $1.29. That’s insane.

A movie that costs hundreds of millions of dollars to make can be rented on Amazon Prime for $2.99. On Netflix or Spotify or Google Music, it’s a damn free-for-all, and it costs less than what a top shelf drink at a bar in one of these fancy farm-to-table restaurants costs.

You probably won’t remember that drink. It’s one of many you’ll most likely drink during your lifetime. But a great piece of music or a movie or some breaking news— those things can be life-altering. The people who produce these products deserve to be paid. I’m finally down with forking over my money to support them. Because it’s cheap and convenient and really, why not?


Paul Cantor is a writer, editor and music producer based in New York. Formerly an editor at AOL Music, his writing has appeared at Rolling Stone, MTV News, VICE and Billboard, among others outlets. Throughout his 10-year career he’s written/produced records for dozens of artists and provided creative services to brands like Disney, the CW Network, Verizon, Converse and HBO. His commentary has been tapped by the likes of CNN and Al Jazeera, and a selection of his recent work can be found HERE.

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