I wonder if pay-per-play services will improve movies and music

I’m thinking specifically of services like Spotify and Netflix, or even Pandora to an extent. In the old days, like a decade ago, if you wanted permanent access to a movie or song, you had to dish out $10 or so and buy the CD or DVD (or at least the file). Now, you can instead purchase permanent rental rights with one of these services, and the producers of the song or movie get a penny or something whenever you play it.

As a result, it now matters financially that people are still playing your song or movie a few years from now. We can all think of songs that everyone thought were just awesome when they first came out, and have now been almost forgotten – in Christian music, “I Can Only Imagine” comes to mind. (When did you last hear that? Yet I remember singing it in church every other week.) But before, as long as you could get someone momentarily excited enough to buy your CD, it didn’t really matter to you, financially, how they felt about the song a year later. The money was already in your pocket. But now it does matter.

So will this encourage artists apply extra effort to create material with staying power, songs people want to keep hearing, movies they return to? That would be a nice side effect of digital distribution.

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