In a February blog, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was all over the music industry for demanding that iTunes incorporate a digital rights management scheme in order to allow Apple to sell their product. Jobs said he would dispense with it, if he could. But some thought it was just posturing ahead of contract negotiations for new pricing on singles and albums.
As we all know, EMI took Jobs and crew up on the offer, so, at least for that company’s music, there’s a two-tier pricing system for singles, with the stuff free of copying restrictions selling for $1.29 per song, and no change for album pricing. Upgrades are 30 cents per song.
It’s also nice to have the songs encoded at 256K instead of 128K, and some people do seem to enjoy the improvements in audio fidelity, although it may be subtle on some of the junk that passes for hit recordings these days. However, the higher bandwidth does wonders for acoustic music, they tell me.
Other than early reports that the new DRM-free music library was selling well, there’s been no update, however. In reporting that some three billion songs have been sold by iTunes, and that Apple now has the number three music retailer in the U.S., there was no further mention of the future of this grand experiment.
Or maybe they are just waiting for The Beatles catalog to be released online.
A few weeks ago, there were published reports that Universal was balking at signing a long-term contract with Apple, and then the talk vanished, with the suggestion that an interim, short-term agreement had replaced it. Perhaps the iPhone knocked it off the front pages, or maybe tech writers just didn’t care to follow up something that was never actually confirmed in the first place.
So here we sit in the dark days of summer, and I have to wonder just what is the rest of the music industry thinking? Clearly they would love to be able to exact a higher tribute for their product, particularly singles, and Apple and EMI have shown the way to do it and deliver more value to customers at the very same time.
But all you hear now is silence. Why isn’t the music industry collectively cheering Apple for saving their bottom lines? I mean, do they really think it’s better to press CDs and ship them to retailers around the world or get a little bit less revenue from an online dealer and pay absolutely nothing for the raw materials?
Of course, the recording industry has always had difficulties processing logical information. After all, they have been enthusiastically suing their customers with abandon in the hope of stemming piracy, and it hasn’t stopped the problem. In fact, in a few cases, the RIAA has had to pay legal fees and suffer from bad publicity because of an overly-aggressive approach to enforcing its intellectual property. And it doesn’t help when they sue elderly people who barely knew how to handle a personal computer, let alone download illegal music files.
Now I should point out that I am absolutely four-square against music piracy. I have spent a fair amount of money over the years to buy music. The reason I have not done so to the same degree in recent years is not because I get my music free. It’s because there’s a dearth of product that appeals to me. Now maybe I’m just too old to appreciate younger talent, but it’s also true that lots of folks seem to agree with me, without any particular age distinction.
In the meantime, I should think that the music industry needs to stop living in the 20th century, or whatever century they are currently residing in. They need to find a way to embrace the new technologies in a way that’s fair to them and their artists and still provide good value to customers.
But maybe the music industry’s time has come and gone. In the old days, a recording company would nurture new artists, build a stable of product and even establish a brand identity. When it came to Motown, for example, you knew it was the “sound of young America,” and fans of all ages and racial distinctions just loved the music. Motown would even train its artists so they knew how to deliver professional live performances, using tried and true techniques of the entertainment industry.
Today, like the movie industry before them, musical acts need to do it all themselves. Indeed, one begins to wonder if there is any need for music labels anymore? Do they do anything that individual artists cannot do for themselves?
Indeed, while there’s still an industry left to save, the recording companies ought to start thinking how to work with Apple to sell product and stop fighting the future.
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