Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The decline and fall and rise of the music industry

Two more must read articles:

The first, courtesy of Zach O'Malley Greenburg in Forbes, tells the inspiring story of how the music industry saved itself from the brink of collapse.  Inspiring, that is, if you like cheering for billion dollar corporations that fattened themselves up during the 90's and early 00's by earning 1000% profit margins on CD's and then complained about how unfair life was when people switched to better technologies and refused to continue paying $20 for entire albums regardless of how many songs they actually wanted.

The industry has fought against even the smallest technological change to their business model for so long, going back to at least the introduction of radio, that at first glance it appears surprising that they'd be ahead of the curve in trying to snap up the next hot digital trend.  But streaming services actually bring the major labels closer to realizing the dream they've clung to and pursued without success for nearly one hundred years -- a pay for play model where they own everything, the consumer owns nothing, and every listen costs money.  They always felt it was unfair that they would earn the same amount of money from someone who falls in love with an album and listens to it hundreds of times as they do from someone who listens to it twice, sticks the album on a shelf, and forgets about it.  How dare anyone purchase something and try to get their money's worth out of it!  Next thing you know somebody from the furniture store will show up looking to collect every time I sit down on my couch.

The second is a very long, but essential read that deserves its own movie script, stat.  They made a movie about the founding of Facebook but the story of the ground zero nodes of music piracy, as told by Stephen Witt in the New Yorker, is immeasurably more riveting.   Dell Glover, a manager in a Universal Music packaging plant, personally oversaw the leaks of thousands of albums over the course of a decade.  He and his colleagues at the top of the piracy food chain had an immeasurable influence on the music industry, and yet until now that impact was almost completely hidden and never told, at least not in such blistering detail.  They forced change down the throats of the industry, albeit mostly for selfish, personal gain rather than any Robin Hood-like notion of distributing music in a manner they deemed more equal and fair.  But important men don't necessarily have to be good or likeable men.

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