The Joe Rogan Experiment In Ethical Consumerism

We are watching an experiment in ethical consumerism take place in real time. I’m speaking of the Joe Rogan/Neil Young controversy that’s happening on Spotify. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but if not, Canadian musical legend Neil Young had finally had enough of Joe Rogan’s spreading of COVID misinformation on his podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience.” He gave Spotify an ultimatum: “You can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Spotify chose Rogan. Young pulled his library. Since then, a handful of other artists have followed Young, including former band mates David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, along with fellow Canuck Hall of Famer Joni Mitchell.

But it has hardly been a stampede. One of the reasons is that -- if you’re an artist -- leaving Spotify is easier said than done. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Rosanne Cash said most artists don’t have the luxury of jilting Spotify: It’s not viable for most artists. The public doesn’t understand the complexities. I’m not the sole rights holder to my work… It’s not only that a lot of people who aren’t rights holders can’t remove their work. A lot of people don’t want to. These are the digital platforms where they make a living, as paltry as it is. That’s the game. These platforms own, what, 40 percent of the market share?”



Cash also brings up a fundamental issue with capitalism: it follows profit, and it’s consumers who determine what’s profitable. Consumers make decisions based on self-interest: what’s in it for them. Corporations use that predictable behavior to make the biggest profit possible. That behavior has been perfectly predictable for hundreds of years. It’s the driving force behind Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. This was succinctly laid out by economist Milton Friedman in 1970: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”

We all want corporations to be warm and fuzzy -- but it’s like wishing a shark were a teddy bear. It just ain’t gonna happen.

One who indulged in this wishful thinking was a little less well-known Canadian artist who also pulled his music  from Spotify, Ontario singer/songwriter Danny Michel. He told the CBC: “But for me, what it was was seeing how Spotify chose to react to Neil Young's request, which was, you know: You can have my music or Joe. And it seems like they just, you know, got out a calculator, did some math, and chose to let Neil Young go. And they said, clear and loud: We don't need you. We don't need your music.

Well, yes, Danny, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Spotify did. It made a decision based on profit. For one thing, Joe Rogan is exclusive to Spotify. Neil Young isn’t. And Rogan produces a podcast, which can have sponsors. Neil Young’s catalog of songs can’t be brought to you by anyone.

That makes Rogan a much better bet for revenue generation. That’s why Spotify paid Rogan $100 million. Music journalist Ted Gioia made the business case for the Rogan deal pretty clear in a tweet “A musician would need to generate 23 billion streams on Spotify to earn what they're paying Joe Rogan for his podcast rights (assuming a typical $.00437 payout per stream). In other words, Spotify values Rogan more than any musician in the history of the world.”

I hate to admit that Milton Friedman is right, but he is. I’ve said it time and time before, to expect corporations to put ethics ahead of profits is to ignore the DNA of a corporation. Spotify is doing what corporations will always do, strive to be profitable. The decision between Rogan and Young was done with a calculator. And for Danny Michel to expect anything else from Spotify is simply naïve. If we’re going to play this ethical capitalism game, we must realize what the rules of engagement are.

But what about us? Are we any better that the corporations we keep putting our faith in?

We have talked about how we consumers want to trust the brands we deal with, but when a corporation drops the ethics ball, do we really care? We have been gnashing our teeth about Facebook’s many, many indiscretions for years now, but how many of us have quite Facebook? I know I haven’t.

I’ve seen some social media buzz about migrating from Spotify to another service. I personally have started down this road. Part of it is because I agree with Young’s stand. But I’ll be brutally honest here. The bigger reason is that I’m old and I want to be able to continue to listen to the Young, Mitchell and CSNY catalogs. As one of my contemporaries said in a recent post, “Neil Young and Joni Mitchell? Wish it were artists who are _younger_ than me.”

A lot of pressure is put on companies to be ethical, with no real monetary reasons why they should be. If we want ethics from our corporations, we have to make it important enough to us to impact our own buying decisions. And we aren’t doing that -- not in any meaningful way.

I’ve used this example before, but it bears repeating. We all know how truly awful and unethical caged egg production is. The birds are kept in what is known as a battery cage holding 5 to 10 birds and each is confined to a space of about 67 square inches. To help you visualize that, it’s just a bit bigger than a standard piece of paper folded in half. This is the hell we inflict on other animals solely for our own gain. No one can be for this. Yet 97% of us buy these eggs, just because they’re cheaper.

If we’re looking for ethics, we have to look in other places than brands. And -- much as I wish it were different -- we have to look beyond consumers as well. We have proven time and again that our convenience and our own self-interest will always come ahead of ethics. We might wish that were different, but our spending patterns say otherwise.

9 comments about "The Joe Rogan Experiment In Ethical Consumerism".
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  1. Marion Murphy from MZM Productions, Inc., February 8, 2022 at 1:04 p.m.

    This is extremely sad but true.  HOWEVER, could there possibly be some hope for humankind?  My Gen Z daughters have deleted Spotify, convinced me to do the same AND insist they will only eat free-range eggs (something I'd never heard of until they used the term several years ago.)  They would rather "thrift" when shopping for new clothing and forget about buying them leather goods.  They do take into account the ethics, that they are aware of, of the corporation, restaurants, etc. with whom they engage.  Their friends are all the same.  As Gen Z achieves more buying power, they will be running these corporations and spending their hard-earned dollars with them.  Maybe then things may improve and corporations will truly live the ethics they claim to support.

  2. Gordon Hotchkiss from Out of My Gord Consulting replied, February 8, 2022 at 1:11 p.m.

    Marion - I hope you're right. I have also seen that in my own children. Let's keep our fingers crossed!

  3. Stuart Jay from jay consulting, February 8, 2022 at 1:41 p.m.

    So the two things I learned about Spotify;
    1) they will do anything for money
    2) they do not believe that actions should have consequesnces.
    As long as we know their business philosophy we can make decisions as consumers.

  4. Ben B from Retired, February 8, 2022 at 11:28 p.m.

    I don't care what ethics brands do I'll buy if I like what I see Nike/Jordan, Under Armour, Adidas etc. I tried Spotify years ago wasn't for me was glad they stuck with Joe Rogan on COVID as I don't like canceling anyone I disagree with that is the problem no one wants to listen to the other side. And boycotting doesn't work either since brands/companies own so many other companies they are boycott proof. I only use FB for games hardly update my FB other than some sports or ET and to tell my friends Happy B-Day that is about it.  

  5. Michael Abramson from Dominant Trait replied, February 10, 2022 at 11:07 a.m.

    I know this is the same question we have all been asking for a while know but what do you do when it is not a different opinion but a straight up lie. Or at the every least, it is opinions made from straight up lies.  

    Regardless of politics, a lie is still a lie and the key part of this article is that he has told many, many of them (or based his opinions on many lies). I truly think the consumer must boycott then, no?  

  6. Michael Abramson from Dominant Trait replied, February 10, 2022 at 11:07 a.m.

    I know this is the same question we have all been asking for a while know but what do you do when it is not a different opinion but a straight up lie. Or at the every least, it is opinions made from straight up lies.  

    Regardless of politics, a lie is still a lie and the key part of this article is that he has told many, many of them (or based his opinions on many lies). I truly think the consumer must boycott then, no?  

  7. Ben B from Retired replied, February 10, 2022 at 11:20 p.m.

    I don't think Joe has told many lies but I haven't ever listened to Joe Rogan podcast I don't know how many times Joe has talked about COVID, which COVID there has been so many conflicting reports on it I don't know what to believe anymore. I just don't see a groundswell of a consumer boycott and I say you do you if you or anyone want to boycott.

  8. Michael Giuseffi from American Media Inc, February 11, 2022 at 2:20 p.m.

    I reluctantly have to agree with the thrust of this article.  Its rather depressing that there is no recourse against someone like Rogan who has been provided a platform to give false information about covid. He pushed ivermectin and hydrocloraquin instead of vaccination, under the guie of "just asking questions".  What is the public supposed to do?

    Regarding the egg thing. When we went to working from home, I bought five hens (not kidding) and I haven't bought a store egg since April of last year.  It's has been quite a new experience for a kid from the Bronx.  I love watching them scratch around.  The thought of them living an 8X10 inch space is abhorrent. 

  9. PJ Lehrer from NYU, February 14, 2022 at 2:52 p.m.

    Sadly I've found that Millennials and Gen Z talk about wanting change but are unwilling to make any personal sacrifices to enable those changes.  Here's more...

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