17 July 2007

Nobody loves you, music industry

Apropos of my recent post quoting Fake Steve Jobs, Brian Hiatt and Evan Serpick at Rolling Stone report that the record industry is ... well ... doomed.
So who killed the record industry as we knew it? “The record companies have created this situation themselves,” says Simon Wright, CEO of Virgin Entertainment Group, which operates Virgin Megastores. While there are factors outside of the labels' control—from the rise of the Internet to the popularity of video games and DVDs—many in the industry see the last seven years as a series of botched opportunities. And among the biggest, they say, was the labels' failure to address online piracy at the beginning by making peace with the first file-sharing service, Napster. “They left billions and billions of dollars on the table by suing Napster—that was the moment that the labels killed themselves,” says Jeff Kwatinetz, CEO of management company the Firm. “The record business had an unbelievable opportunity there. They were all using the same service. It was as if everybody was listening to the same radio station. Then Napster shut down, and all those 30 or 40 million people went to other [file-sharing services].”

It all could have been different: Seven years ago, the music industry's top executives gathered for secret talks with Napster CEO Hank Barry.
The idea was to let Napster's 38 million users keep downloading for a monthly subscription fee—roughly $10—with revenues split between the service and the labels. But ultimately, despite a public offer of $1 billion from Napster, the companies never reached a settlement. “The record companies needed to jump off a cliff, and they couldn't bring themselves to jump,” says Hilary Rosen, who was then CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America. “A lot of people say, ‘The labels were dinosaurs and idiots, and what was the matter with them?’ But they had retailers telling them, ‘You better not sell anything online cheaper than in a store,’ and they had artists saying, ‘Don't screw up my Wal-Mart sales.’ ” Adds Jim Guerinot, who manages Nine Inch Nails and Gwen Stefani, “Innovation meant cannibalizing their core business.”

Even worse, the record companies waited almost two years after Napster's July 2nd, 2001, shutdown before licensing a user-friendly legal alternative to unauthorized file-sharing services: Apple's iTunes Music Store, which launched in the spring of 2003.

Fans hate the industry because it makes recordings expensive. Obscure musicians hate the industry because there's no way in. Mid-list musicians hate the industry because they put out a successful album, tour hard for two years, and end up in debt because their contracts screw them.

At least the huge, super-popular acts were happy, right? At least the music industry delivers for them. Reuters reports, um, not so much.

Rock star Prince gave his latest album away free on Sunday with a British tabloid, to the fury of music retailers.
You can also go hear it for free on MSN right now.

Needless to say, the record industry isn't happy. Paul Quirk, co-chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association says:

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince should know that with behavior like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores.
Oooh! I'm sure Prince is soooo scared. Here's what his reps have to say.
Prince's only aim is to get music direct to those who want to hear it. Prince feels that charts are just music industry constructions and have little or no relevance to fans or even artists today.
Yep. The industry is doomed.

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