Question: Can you sell a used MP3 file?

This is a rhetorical question. Of course you can’t. The only thing you can do is give them away.

All twenty-five gigabytes of MP3 files.

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I remember the winter of 1988, when I was jobless. I was able to go to school thanks to Student Aid, was even able to scrape up my daily bread through various means. And one of those means was the ability to sell Albums I didn’t need (or felt able to give up).

Every so often I went to the used record store (where I had bought and sold enough records to create a relationship with the store owners) and sold a few slabs of vinyl. It got me enough money to make it to where I was able to develop a workable way to make enough money to eat; one that ended up covering my butt quite a bit for many years.

Thing is, would I have been able to survive 2008 with my music collection?

Not only mp3s have no value in and of themselves as a format (whatever worth they hold onto is in our emotional investment of what they hold, not in the format itself), but they have affected the platters themselves. CD sales have dropped 25% over the past two years as mp3s have entered the market as for-sale items.

Think of it: 1 of 4 CD platters sold two years ago wouldn’t have been sold today.

And, sadly, it’s unbalanced in the wrong way. Record stores in college towns have fallen (and continue to fall) by the wayside as the people who once bought records and set tastes for the decade after they attended college now spend their hours downloading the music on newer and better versions of Napster and its sisters. Wal-Mart has stepped in to the degree that it can, but Nash Vegas is in no way a replacement for Athens, Georgia or Seattle, Washington at its prime as the Grunge Capital of the world.

More to the point, Nash Vegas is a replacement for Tin Pan Alley and other mainstream formats, not for alternative or other cutting edge formats. Country music sells to the settled, not the adventurous (otherwise Austin Texas would be able to survive as the Seattle of Country Music, not the Center of the Hip Music Universe).

And the settled generally don’t buy used records. At least they don’t visit and buy from used record stores. That’s what happened in college towns and larger places.

And you can’t sell an mp3 file. At 128kbps, you’re talking one Megabyte per minute; 320kbps works at 2.5 Kilobytes per minute. With 32 Gigabyte flash memory and 160 Gigabyte hard drives in our iPods, the cost of storage is literally nothing. And with bit rates well over what once passed as fast on the Telephone line (remember when 66.4 was king?, even the time investment has dropped down to nearly nil.

In an odd way, this is what the Record Companies have probably long wanted for their wares: A format that is costly when purchased but becomes monetarily worthless once opened, a format that has a residual worth of 0% on the used market, a format whose worth resides fully with its being kept.

And while one is tempted to laugh at the record companies for this (be careful of what you wish for, for you may indeed get it in the way you don’t want it to be), there’s still the question of the worth of the medium. After all, when you had LPs and Cassettes and CDs, you had a medium that in itself was worth something and could be used to filter content. Now you got a bunch of 1s and 0s that are worthless by themselves.

Which, of course, leads to the question: how do we judge how a song is loved?

After all, with mp3s you can’t really put a residual cash value on an item. And if you can’t do that, how does one track worth? Number of copies out there? What happens when there’s not cost to hold onto the item or no benefit to getting rid of it?

I could always tell what people wanted by how much I could sell something for. Some albums could feed me for a day or two, others I couldn’t leave in the freebie bin at the record store. This made for an intriguing balance on my record collection during my time as an impoverished, jobless student: what do I want to hold onto, is it worth it?

No longer. The MP3 takes up almost no space and can be freely reproduced on the computer. Thus there’s no residual worth to speak of. If it was once popular, it’s probably reproduced on millions of computers and iPods and other MP3 players; leaving nothing to measure remaining desire.

And this is one of the ways the music industry (not music, the industry) falls apart. Not necessarily bad (as good bands will figure out a way to make music if not necessarily for the loot that had been put in front of them for the past sixty years), but definitely something to consider.

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One thought on “Question: Can you sell a used MP3 file?

  1. Of course mp3 in it self is worthless, thats why music producers are looking for new ways to market theire product like they do with iTunes and such

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