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  • Memo to Apple: Don’t Cave to Music Industry Demands!

    November 19th, 2005

    In a way, I guess some might feel sorry for the music industry. There is no brand recognition. You don’t buy a CD or download a tune because it has the Warner Music label on it. Instead, you are want something from a specific artist, and I wonder how many of you even remember the company behind that product.

    Of course, the same is true with the movie industry, although the Fox introduction to a Star Wars movie is a familiar combo.

    In any case, this hasn’t stopped executives in the music business from behaving like greedy fools. They can’t sell enough music? Take that, customers, because it’s your fault! Too many of you depend on free music sharing sites to download fodder for iTunes, your iPod or your CD player. Institute draconian copy prevention, sue the offenders, do whatever you can to make your customers hate you!

    Imagine if Detroit’s ailing auto makers took similar approaches. Maybe they’d match up the car to your fingerprints. If you want to give your child the family car or SUV for the night, forget about it! It won’t start. You just have to buy them another car, that’s all. Of course, this wouldn’t prevent a bandit industry from developing to circumvent the ignition prevention system. And if you dared go with a different brand, they sue you. Take that, customers!

    Of course, the whole concept sounds absurd, but the music industry doesn’t seem to understand what customer loyalty is all about, which only encourages more illegal downloads. Now as far as I’m concerned, I prefer to obtain my music from legal sources. I also prefer the actual CD, not just for the artwork, but because I still regard the sound quality as better. Yes, Apple’s AAC comes pretty close, and it usually takes an effort, really good hearing and a high quality sound system to hear a difference. But there is a difference, even if most of you would consider it mighty subtle.

    So when I heard of a new album from one of my favorite artists, I was tempted to buy a copy with an unused gift card from a consumer electronics store that I received as a birthday present from my son. Then I read a blog on the shenanigans of the artist’s label, Sony BMG, from CNET’s Molly Wood. Now much of the mainstream press has covered Sony’s draconian copy protection scheme and the fallout, but Molly made it up close and personal, and so I still regard it as the best report about the matter.

    I had a long talk with Molly on the subject during this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, and I really wonder if music industry executives stay up nights thinking up these mad schemes or have private meetings thinking up more torture to inflict on customers.

    In short, the poor folks with a Windows PC who tried to play some new Sony BMG CDs on their computers would end up with copy protection software that installed itself as a root kit, the same tool often used by crackers, which is generally regarded as a Trojan Horse. Of course, you might say, it serves them right for using the wrong computer platform, but Molly says that there’s also Mac OS X software on those offensive CDs, and if you opt to run the installer, Mac OS X kernel extensions will appear on your computer to enforce copy protection.

    Ah yes, the equal opportunity offender!

    Of course, in the fallout over this insidious maneuver, Sony agreed to temporarily stop pressing CDs using this copy protection scheme, and is recalling them from the market. As far as I’m concerned, I decided not to buy the CD, and instead downloaded the album from iTunes. You know it sounds pretty good, and certainly good enough not to feel I lost all that much buy not buying the physical product. Take that Sony!

    Now there are reports that Apple might have to cave in to the music industry and institute multiple tier pricing at the music store. The 99 cents per tune plan that you’ve come to depend upon will be history, and you may end up paying higher prices for hot product. Now this unfortunate news doesn’t come from Apple. As a matter of fact, Steve Jobs has said precisely the reverse in recent months. Instead, the story comes from an EMI executive, claiming discussions have been held with Apple and we’ll see the new pricing structure in the coming year.

    Perhaps it’s true, though I hope it isn’t. Or maybe it’s an attempt at negotiating in public, something that Jobs isn’t going to appreciate. If anything, I hope this silly maneuver emboldens Jobs to stick to his guns.

    Instead of trying to grab more dollars for each tune from customers, the music industry ought to learn a few business fundamentals. If you aren’t buying their product, they should cut the prices, just as the car makers are doing to move unsold vehicles. But in the end, the real answer isn’t to attack the customers for refusing to buy new CDs, obviously, although the music executives don’t seem to understand that basic fact. In addition to lower prices, how about giving us better product? There are lots of Indie artists out there who’d deserve a major recording contract, even if their appeal isn’t quite mainstream. Better product might, surprise, surprise, result in higher sales. What a brilliant concept!



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