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Indie music mogul: The net's great for us

Beggars boss Martin Mills

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On to the subject of piracy then.

"We know some of our best purchasers are also pirates," says Mills. "People consume our music in a mixture of ways. Some only pay for it, some pay for none of it, and some do both. We accept that, and don't want to attack our own fans.

"You're never going to get rid of free music, partly because we know you can't, and any time you put a price on a copyable monopoly good, you're going to get copied, but also because we're in the business of circulating music for nothing. I can't remember the last album we didn't post one MP3 from. We're using that in a controlled manner, as part of the process of making it available for sale. It's managed, and it's what the band wants to happen."

The argument that P2P leads to purchases has a grain of truth to it, but it's probably been over-emphasised:

"I think there's certainly a percentage of file sharing usage, historically, which provided a discovery process that led to sales. There's also a percentage which was a direct substitute for sales. Now, you've got the likes of Spotify and I think that it drives a coach and horses through the discovery argument. You don't need to file share to discover music now. If you want to discover things and listen to them you can do it legally, though I do think we should make tracks available for sale as soon as they're being played on air."

Other factors played their part in the decline of sales, he notes, not just P2P. "CD burning made the most immediate and obvious difference. I don't believe swapping should remain outside copyright, we should enable private copying in return for a right to remuneration."

Yet despite Mills' long-running battles with majors, and a much more nuanced view of file sharing, he welcomed the passage of the Act.

"Your comment recently, that it was an astonishing result in the circumstances, was really right. The forces ranged against it happening were huge and well funded, and completely dwarfed the rights industries, not just the music industry. The government made it happen against the odds. There's a long way to go, and a lot of it is still undecided, but the principle is now there, and the principle as now supported by Parliament - which is that creators have to be rewarded for their work. That has to be valuable.

"It was not perfect but it had to be done.

"I find it quite hard to understand the right to free music, or the right to an internet connection. If you don't pay your water bill, you get cut off.

"The BPI doesn't represent the whole industry. It represents the major record labels. I think that the creation of UK Music has helped - it's given the industry a more moderate collective voice. The big record companies are hardliners, and they have every right to decide how they want to play the game, but the independents are bit different.

"That said, I think the BPI is more open to debate than it used to be.

"It's not in anyone's interests for the majors to do badly; they become defensive. We're at the mercy of the market leaders, they frame the market, and we have to operate within it."

Mills stresses that it's now up to the industry to get better at selling music, in all kinds of ways:

I'm still astounded that you need a credit card for iTunes, something beyond the reach of most teenagers, while you can't buy music by text message, I said. Then the music industry wondered why 12-18s found it easier to download illegally.

"The last ten years shows the record industry is not able to provide its own solutions - you need an iTunes to do it." He says the industry has to recognise the skills of retailers again. It's never been very good at introducing these things, "perhaps understandably, because it's not their business ... majors tend to be about control".

But he thinks even though music is digital, independent music stores will come back again, as places to discover music again.

It's unusual to hear an optimistic view of selling music, but Beggars and the leading British Independents point the way to a revival. ®

Andrew warmly welcomes Your Comments.

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