I think there’s a great misapprehension in the copyright industry that cost is the killer feature for online file swapping. That is to say that people use these services because they enable to get things they want without paying for them. I’m not arguing that isn’t the case for some people, but there’s also more to it.

Here’s my usual process when I want to buy an album. First I check eMusic. If it’s available there and I have downloads left for the month, I download it. If I don’t, I put the album in the Save for Later list, in which case I may or may not remember to download it later. If it’s not available from eMusic, I hit Amazon.com’s MP3 store. If the album isn’t available there, 80% of the time I choose to just do without. (I have thousands of songs already, one album isn’t going to make or break my music collection.) If I were really desperate, I’d buy a CD, although over the past year or so I’ve lost my appetite for CDs completely. (I honestly think there’s a decent chance I’ll never buy another CD.) I know for sure I’ll never buy another DRM-protected track from the iTunes Music Store, and I have an iPod, so the other subscription services are of no interest me.

As you can gather, I go without a lot of albums I might actually be interested in, and obtaining new music is not a simple process for me.

Now compare that with the experience offered by OiNK, a members-only BitTorrent tracker that was shut down today. (For more on the site and the raid, check out this article.) Here’s how member DJ Rupture described it:

Think about that… a free website, which gives fast downloads of music at equivalent or higher quality than the paid music sites. And this free site has an incredibly deep collection of both new and old releases, usually in a variety of file formats and bit-rates. It’s overwhelming! First thought: wow, Oink is an amazing library. Second thought: wow, I really need to start selling DJ Rupture t-shirts, CD sales will only continue to drop & I gotta make money somehow!

On the comprehensiveness of the site:

Oink had everything by certain artists. Literally, everything. I searched for ‘DJ Rupture’ and found every release I’d ever done, from an obscure 7″ on a Swedish label to 320kpbs rips of my first 12″, self-released back in 1999. It was shocking. And reassuring. The big labels want music to equal money, but as much as anything else, music is memory, as priceless and worthless as memory…

About a week after I shipped out orders of the first live CD-r Andy Moor & I did, it appeared on Oink. Someone who had purchased it directly from me turned around and posted it online, for free. I wasn’t mad, I was just more stunned by the reach… and usefulness of the site.

If sharing copywritten music without paying for it were legal, than Oink was the best music website in the world.

That summarizes the problem the CD industry has. Not only are they fighting something cheaper, they’re also fighting something better than they are willing to offer. Is it any surprise that they’re losing?