Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

The music industry vs. itself

Jerry Stratton, December 13, 2005

Music industry critics are once again complaining that music fans are not buying the same music twice, and that Apple refuses to force them to, or force them to pay ridiculously high prices. Apple is so mean to the industry that it even lets people put their CDs on their iPods!

Apple’s iPod is expected to be the hottest gift of the holiday season. That should be great news for the recording industry, right? Not necessarily. iPod owners mostly fill up their players from their own CD collections or swipe tunes from file-sharing sites.

How sad. They fill their iPods using the songs that are already in their iTunes collection, rather than paying for them again. But on the other hand, from the same article:

Apple, which launched the digital music revolution, may now be holding it back. Critics say Apple’s proprietary technology and its refusal to offer more ways to buy or to stray from its rigid 99 cents a song model is dampening legal sales of digital tunes. “The villain in the story is the iPod,” says Chris Gorog, CEO of Napster Inc., which sells both subscriptions and downloads. “You have this device consumers love, but they’re being restricted from buying anything other than downloads from Apple. People are bored with that.”

Which is it? Is the iPod too open, or too closed? On the one hand, yet again the industry is complaining that people can listen to their music without having to pay for it multiple times. They are complaining that the iPod can play back music from CDs that the owner has already purchased.

And on the other hand they keep trying to claim that music fans are “restricted from buying anything other than downloads from Apple.” But this isn’t true. Besides CDs, any iPod owner can go to a more consumer-friendly store such as MP3tunes.com and purchase music tracks that will play on their iPod. I have several tracks from Eytan Mirsky and Jane Jensen on my iPod Shuffle, purchased from MP3tunes.com.

If I ever choose to purchase another music player, these songs will continue to play, regardless of who makes the player. As long as it supports MP3, it will play those songs.

For that matter, I have several tunes from the old, pre-Universal MP3.com on my shuffle as well but Universal killed that consumer option. They sold the domain name to CNet, and after just visiting it I have no idea what CNet is doing with it. It doesn’t appear to be a place to get MP3 tracks, despite its name. It appears to be a place to go to hear industry complaints about how Apple will have to give in and raise prices.

That should at least keep them from getting bored.

Music fans continue to buy CDs because, for many fans the CD is still the easiest and most reliable format to buy. It works now and it will work in the future. But the major labels, with Sony currently in the lead, have been trying to make their CDs as difficult to use as the worst music downloads. Making CDs worse will not succeed among music fans. They need to make downloads better. If the industry wants to undercut Apple and provide greater variety of music so as to keep music fans from becoming “bored with that”, they need only begin selling unrestricted music that is as easy for the music fan to use on their iPod--or any other musical device--as are the CDs they purchase.


So what were those complaints again?

  1. Apple is hurting the music industry because the iPod does not force music fans to buy music that they’ve already purchased, again.
  2. Apple is hurting the industry because the iPod cannot play music that music fans have already purchased from other stores.

What they’re probably really complaining about is that they never expected Apple to become so popular. But if the major labels are annoyed at Apple for the iPod-iTunes Music Store lock-in, they have only themselves to blame. They required Apple to sell only restricted downloads, and they lobbied for the DMCA to protect those kinds of restrictions. If the music industry had allowed Apple to sell unrestricted music tracks, anybody could make a device that competes with the iPod and still plays iTMS songs. And those tracks would compete more readily against CDs.

The same applies to the store. As long as the music industry requires that online songs be sold restricted, music players will need to “buy into” a restriction format in order to play music from those stores. If online stores could sell songs from the major labels that are as easy to use as the CDs the labels currently make, then anyone could compete with the iTMS.

  1. <- Deliberate Misquotes
  2. Brown Rather ->