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September 25, 2007

Snarky Post of the Week (DRM Doesn't Rock)

  Originally uploaded by patcy86.

It's been some time since the last Snarky Post of the Week installment but there's been enough good material lately (Apple's scare tactics surrounding iPhone hacks is a perfect case in point) that it's coming back for now.

Ignoring the iPhone and Facebook and Social Graph hoopla but continuing with the music-themed posts from this week, this headline caught my eye. A great example of dinosaurs trying to show how with it they are, when in reality, as Umair would say, it's an example of strategy decay:

"MTV, Real, and Wal-Mart Shake Up Digital Music" (PC World)

Thanks for the eye-catching headline; my question is what's worse, writing that headline to grab people's attention or writing it because you think it accurately captures what MTV, Real and Wal-Mart are trying to do?

Nothing could be further from the truth, having those three companies and their brands even mentioned as "shaking" things up in the area of digital music. It's almost laughable if it weren't so sad. And if you're new to the DRM discussion, you have some catching up to do but at least start with my last Snarky Post of the Week on why DRM does rock.

Let's not just complain without explaining why. The NYT Magazine story on Rick Rubin taking over at Columbia Records stirred up the music industry (see Bob Lefsetz) because Rubin suggested that music subscription was a possible answer to the industry's woes. As the PC World story says,

MTV and Real Networks announced in August that they would create a new music service based on Real's Rhapsody service and MTV's music content and packaging. Verizon will deliver portions of the service through its V Cast music offering.

Hmm, MTV as the arbiter of music that we want to listen to, not the partner or brand I'd chose to help with "content and packaging." MTV is old and done. We can all agree that MTV was once counter-culture and the barometer of cool but they sold out to advertising and cheap content (e.g. reality shows or user-generated content for your Web2.0 fans. MTV doesn't even play music anymore (last time I saw any music videos, and ones worth mentioning, were Feist and Ben Lee videos on VH1 late night last week). You know when Justin Timberlake is telling you to play more music that you've really lost it.

  Originally uploaded by cherbert.

Second, don't get me or anyone else started on Verizon. I have a general distaste for all cable and telco companies because they've been ripping off consumers and fighting innovation in their respective industries for so long that I don't have much respect for them. Again, it's almost funny to see their business models withering away thanks to the internet (go Google phone, please reduce the telco carriers to a commodity, transferring bits and not locking us into their devices anymore) but I can't laugh because they've been screwing consumers for so long.

And who uses V-Cast? Or put another way, how was the service slipped into the tiny print of the bills for those 10 unsuspecting people in the world that have this service (and don't even know that they're paying for it)?

Third, while there are some fans of Real's Rhapsody service (Fred is one among them), it hasn't taken off with people. They've had the service for some time but most people my age (20-30 range) probably don't know about it and prefer to still buy the music (CDs to rip themselves or via iTunes-- I told you my stance earlier this week.

The better question about subscription models, as Bob points out, is that "We need to define terms. Is subscription RENTAL or GETTING A STEADY CHECK FROM EVERY CUSTOMER EVERY MONTH?"

The market so far has not shown an appetite for the former. The latter is something that most consumers would be okay with if it means having access to all the music we want, whenever, wherever, and for whatever platform we want (home PC, work PC, laptop, mp3 player, phone, PDA, etc.). Stories about new music services demonstrate that the music industry is experimenting, and that's good, but they've had a lot of time to experiment and so far all results have been anti-consumer (DRM, Sony rootkit CDs, suing their customers, etc.).

We can hope that they figure out and survive or look forward to the new guard changing the entire industry and say goodbye to the traditional music industry as we know it. Rubin sums it up well.

"I have great confidence that we will have the best record company in the industry, but the reality is, in today's world, we might have the best dinosaur. Until a new model is agreed upon and rolling, we can be the best at the existing paradigm, but until the paradigm shifts, it's going to be a declining business. This model is done."

Now playing: Doves - Walk In Fire
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