Thursday, May 31, 2007

Steve Job's Mission: Saving the Music Industry

Over the last six years I must have written several dozen articles about the incredible stupidity of the major label music industry and their amazing drive to self destruction (links here and also here).

And I was hardly alone. Lawyers, music critics, technology experts and music industry experts all begged the industry to stop fighting the shift in technology and embrace the future.

And we also begged them to stop alienating their customers, the music fans, and to start giving them what they want!

But instead of hiring software engineers, computer experts and first class marketing and advertising companies, the industry, through their industry association, the RIAA, hired lawyers and lobbyists.

Instead of meeting the needs of the modern music listener, they filed hundreds of lawsuits against virtually every technology company in existence and, when that failed, they started suing individual customers personally.

Then, turning their gigantic pocketbooks toward Congress, they pushed through the worst single piece of legislation in the entire history of copyright law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

It was as if the leaders of the industry said that every effort, every action, every concept, every product and every law must be designed to prevent listeners from enjoying music.

I can just hear the big music bosses now.......

"If they buy a CD let's be certain it won't play on many of their CD players, especially their computers. And let's make sure they can't make a copy."

"Oh, and while were at it, let's load up our CD's with spyware that will ruin their computers and report back to the record companies headquarters!"

"If they listen on the radio, lets make sure that radio stations are unable to play the music they want to hear."

"And if, heaven forbid, they listen on Internet Radio, let's be certain we charge so much for the product that the radio stations themselves will quickly head into bankruptcy."

"If someday we do ever offer digital downloadS, let's be certain that bizarre and esoteric copyright restrictions prevent the music from playing on DIFFERENT players, but limit it to a single machine."

"And let's make sure that a lot of the music listeners want to buy isn't available."

"But, if they do find the music they desire, let's be certain that it can't be played on more than one brand or type of portable music player."

As we read this week about the precipitous decline in CD sales, and the cries of terror from those same CD executives, we can only shake our heads and say "we told you so."

Throughout all this stupidity, one man has tried his best to save the music industry. And he isn't a record company executive at all. It's Steve Jobs, the Chairman of Apple Computer.

Unlike the record company executives, Jobs quickly and clearly saw that consumers only wanted what the convenience they always had. The music fan just wanted to buy the music they love in the most modern, convenient format. But, of course, they wanted to own the recording and play it whenever and wherever they were listening, home, car or office.

It all sounds to simple.
When Thomas Edison made the first phonographs, customers could actually purchase the music. They could take the cylinders and later those flat 78 rpm records to a friend's houses and play them. The format was universal. Every record played on every player.

When78's were replaced by those High Fidelity LP's the customer was still actually allowed to purchase the music and own it! No restrictions.

Now, to be certain, the eight track tape and especially the cassette tape recorder scared the heck out of the industry and they tried to get their first set of copyright laws through Congress. But Congress sided with the people and the resulting laws actually favored consumers and specifically allowed personal use copies to be made.

Precisely because Congress sided with the consumer and against the record companies, everybody won!! Sales of cassettes and LP's grew to new heights. The industry's claim of impending doom due to cassette copies proved really, really, really wrong!

Steve Jobs knew that was exactly what consumers still wanted. Still, he was unable to convince a terrified industry of this all at once. But he got a few industry folks to allow him to sell a few pieces of music, so long as he included the restrictive copy protection schemes that assured consumers would be really unhappy, but grateful for a halfway usable copy of the music they desired.

In fact Jobs was a genius. He knew consumers would actually pay real money for high quality, safe and virus free digital music.

The recording industry executives, quietly sipping on their Evian, Pellegrino and Desani bottled water, told him no one would ever actually pay for something they could otherwise get for free.

But Steve Jobs knew ripping CD's was a pain in the ass. And the illegal download sites were a menace most consumers would avoid if possible. A little marketing and a little bandwidth and Jobs realized the future was at hand.

Boy was Jobs right. And a gigantic industry was finally born! iTunes alone has sold over 2 billion music tracks at 99 cents apiece or more!! That's TWO BILLION DOLLARS spent by consumers who supposedly could have stolen the tracks!!!

Today, Jobs is announcing the final step in his dream of actually meeting the demands of a voracious music consumer.
Apple debuts unprotected songs online . He is about to give back to the music lover the control they had back in the day's of Edison's records: ownership and control of the music they legally purchased.

Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research, said any worries the music companies have over increased piracy from DRM-free downloads are overblown.

"CDs are all sold without copy protection already, so these (unrestricted) digital files are not going to change the piracy story," he said. "DRM just adds an unnecessary layer of complexity here for people who do embrace this medium and
have already bought billions of songs on iTunes."

Shares of Apple closed at $118.77, up $4.42, or nearly 4 percent, and gained another 65 cents in extended trading.

What a shame the industry didn't listen to Shawn Fanning back in 2001.




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