Note to the Recording Industry: The iPod is not Mtv
The above is a quote the recording industry would be well advised to take to heart. Unfortunately expecting those mountains of intellect to behave in a rational manner seems to be about as likely as expecting Red Sox fans to be satisfied with last years World Series victory. (Red Sox fans want another win and they want it NOW!) In any event recent weeks have been filled with incredibly impolitic statements issuing from record exec’s pie holes with astonishing regularity. But perhaps no recent statement is as asinine as Edgar Bronfman’s assertion that if music downloads stay at $0.99 then the record companies should get a cut of iPod revenue.
The logic, tenuous at best, goes as follows: People buy iPods because they can download music from the iTunes music store onto the bundles of digital goodness. Therefore, the record companies conclude, our product is selling Apple’s iPod. A true “Hey, You got your chocolate in my peanut butter” moment followed up by the peanut butter manufacturers wanting cut from the sales of Reese’s. Or you could imagine the television industry asking for a cut of every TV sold. If you find yourself wondering how the record execs make that leap of logic it turns out they see the iTunes music store as a new Mtv, which is something they lie awake at night fearing.
So why is it that the Music folks fear another Mtv (note to younger readers: at one time Mtv played music videos)? At first blush you’d think the music industry would be positively enraptured with Mtv, after all how many mediocre acts went from being mid-carders to super huge mega bands solely because of Mtv exposure? (I’m talking to you Madonna, and you U2 fellas should listen up as well). Quite few of them but, and here is the crucial point, not enough to recoup the cost of the videos. The record companies can blame themselves at this point because they practically gave the videos away. Likely the execs thought that Mtv would behave precisely like a form of visual radio. The videos would promote acts and the older videos would continue to played ad infinitum thereby creating a revenue stream that would last for years. Well it didn’t quite work out and the record labels rightly felt that Mtv had become a success because of the their investment in videos, an investment they were never likely to recoup as Mtv morphed from video jukebox to a reality television pioneer.
With that in mind the record companies logic seems a bit more understandable. They have been hurt in the past by producing content that drove other businesses. Of course understanding the logic and seeing it as rock solid argumentation are two entirely different prospects. One can certainly understand the logic of a two-year-old requesting cake for dinner but that does not mean that a chocolate confection is the best dining option. That said the record companies logic fails miserably when one notes that they are producing zero new content for the iPod. If iPods could only play two-minute songs and the record execs were releasing full versions and an iPod version of songs their point would have merit. That, however, is not the case. The iPod plays standard music formats either purchased from the iTunes store ripped from existing CDs and, yes, downloaded from P2P sites. Put another way the record industry, unlike the Mtv era, is not investing scads of cash to promote or produce content strictly for the iPod.
The entire debate really comes down to the following truth: the record companies want more money out of the honest folks who are willing to pay for their music. Before iTunes came along everyone who swapped mp3s could be considered a music thief. When the iTunes music store rolled out a few honest swappers jumped at the chance to go legal. The Music industry regards these folks as sheeple and plans to get them to pay not only for their past sins but for all the sins of file swappers everywhere. Here one is reminded of the case of Count Fulk the Black of Anjou. The Count, history tells us, was a really bad guy responsible for all sorts of disgusting crimes. At some point the Count decided he wanted to get right with the powers that be so he appealed to the local religious leaders for absolution. Not content with a few prayers and a donation the religious leaders of the day sentenced the Count to a triple pilgrimage to Jerusalem…while shackled. So the Count trudged across France, the Alps, Syria and Jordan and back again three times in chains. Finally, to add insult to grievous injury, on the last trip he was tied to a hurdle and dragged through the streets while being unmercifully whipped by two stout fellows. It is hard to say that downloading music from P2P sites is quite as bad as the crimes committed by the Black Count (though the music industry would probably argue otherwise) but the outcome is the same. When offered a legal option those who seem to be willing to make amends and do what is right will be the ones most damaged by the record companies actions.
*There was a terrible time in the eighties when people not only strolled around with exposed chocolate bars but also with open jars of peanut butter. The inevitable collisions made for interesting debate.