It appears that the record companies just don’t get it.

For two or three years the RIAA– a consortium of the largest record labels– has been whining and moaning about how downloaded music is destroying their huge profit margins… er, taking money from starving artists. They’ve done everything from lobby Congress for draconian punishments (a prison term for downloading something by Eminem?) to file over two thousand lawsuits against individuals suspected of downloading and sharing music.

Despite numerous studies indicating that “pirated” music actually benefits artists and album sales, and certainly doesn’t affect CD sales in the way the RIAA claims, the labels have continued their relentless pursuit. Fine, whatever. They have more money than most of us, and if they choose to spend it on litigation that’s their prerogative.

Enter legal music downloading. Apple’s iTunes site is doubtless the most popular, and in the year it’s been running it has seen hundreds of millions of downloaded songs. At a buck apiece, the price seemed right– and the digital rights management included with every song protected the interests of the RIAA. It seemed like everyone was winning: the RIAA was getting paid for their music, people were okay with shelling out a buck for a song, and Apple made a bit of a profit on the side.

So what happens now? Well, the record companies have decided to raise the price! That’s right, it’s not enough that people are switching in droves from pirating music to paying for it… the RIAA and friends have decided they need to make more money off the deal. Many singles will go from $1.00 to $1.25, and some albums will go from $10 to $17.

Hmm. I could buy the stupid CD for $17, and I’d have free control to rip the music and use it in whatever medium I’d like. Why would I download the same music (at a slightly lower quality) and be forced to use it only on approved media devices, and never in more than three places?

Raising the prices of singles seems equally lame. It’s not like the distribution costs have gone up (rather, they continue to go down), nor is it like there’s suddenly a host of new fees that need to be paid. Rather, it’s a very obvious case of trying to turn a bigger profit. Of course that money will go into the legal coffers and be used to sue the dickens out of anyone still unafraid to share their music.

For a time, I was thinking the RIAA might finally join the rest of us in the twenty-first century, and revise their outdated business model to better compete in the digital age. But alas, they’ve proven to me once again that they don’t have a clue what their customers really want.