Note to the Recording Industry: The iPod is not Mtv

by Chris Seibold Oct 06, 2005

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
Abraham Lincoln

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.


  • Amen. I like iTunes just fine and I’m pleasantly suprized by the selection, but I’m not willing to get jerked around by the likes of Monsieur Bronfman, et al.

    diggs had this to say on Oct 06, 2005 Posts: 6
  • Exactly what is the cost of distribution for the recording companies on the iTMS anyway? It seems to me that I should be paying a lot less than I am. No cost of printing CD inserts, jewel cases etc. Little, if any, cost to get the product to market. The conversation should be between the artists and the recording companies about why the artist’s cut is so much smaller than theirs.
    But, at the same time I say let the free market decide. If people are willing to pay more for the music, maybe the music industry bigwigs have a point. I think they are very wrong about that. I would not pay $3 a song. It’s ridiculous.

    Gabe H had this to say on Oct 06, 2005 Posts: 40
  • I wouldnt mind a slight price increase if they upped the kbps to something like 192 (as opposed to 128).  They can set up the price structure based on sound quality and get more money that way.  Some bands I buy on CD just because of the sound quality when compared to 128.

    alexpasch had this to say on Oct 06, 2005 Posts: 16
  • Argh, the connotation of those Reese’s spots is quite… adult.

    Anyway, thanks Chris, very good article, but as Gabe says, it should be well pointed out that among sane people, the current ¢99 is already plenty if not even too much for the amount of product and especially the quality of the product received. I’ll start using the iTMS once they offer me Apple Lossless for ¢99 a song.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Oct 06, 2005 Posts: 371
  • Abe Lincoln was a great president, no doubt, but I’m pretty certain that quote is actually from Mark Twain:

    “Better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

    El Payo had this to say on Oct 06, 2005 Posts: 12
  • Well El Payo that was my initial thought as well. But as I was researching the quote it became apparent that Mark didn’t say it.
    Twains quotes on fools:
    Twain’s quotes on silence:

    Though it sure seems like something he would have said. I still think it might have been a Twain quote but without any evidence, well, I defer to others.

    Thanks for the compliment Bad Beaver! I had never made the adult connection with the reese’s ads before. But I saw the contrived things and there was nothing remotely adult about them. Though it was disconcerting to imagine a whole segment of the populace who walked around eating peanut butter straight from the jar…

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Oct 06, 2005 Posts: 354
  • The music industry are made up of a bunch of spoiled record execs.  $10 for a 128kbps album with no physical media and a low-res image of the cover art is already a rip-off.  What they don’t get is that they are not providing some sort of essential service.  If they raise prices they’ll drive people to P2P, and if they somehow manage to stop that (yeah right) through fear or coercion people will just decide that music is too expensive and start getting their music from local musicians.  Just thinking about their whiny sniveling sky-is-falling board meetings about how Jobs is screwing them makes me physically ill.

    Music wouldn’t be so damn expensive if they didn’t harvest musicians strip-mining fashion, sending 99% to the poor house repaying ill-advised production costs in order to find the 1% silver, gold, platinum.  I hope all those scum end up homeless on the street so I can throw a dime in their cup.

    dasil003 had this to say on Oct 06, 2005 Posts: 2
  • the irony too, is that the recording industry demonizes P2P for hurting artists deprived of royalties when in fact the labels themselves are doing most of the screwing. i remember how shocked i was when watching a “behind the music” episode to find out that a huge act like TLC actually saw a dime per CD in actual profits. 10 cents on $15? that’s robbery.

    personally, i think itunes should make a push to get artists signed to itunes directly. this is already happening in japan where sony artists are striking individual deals with itunes for distribution. i think everyone, artists and fans alike would be better off with a direct distribution model and let’s face it…isn’t that why the RIAA is freaking? they’re worried that their the dinosaur, which they undoubtedly are.

    david randall had this to say on Oct 06, 2005 Posts: 10
  • Well, personally I find it quite disconcerting to imagine anyone eating peanut butter straight from the jar, it’s one of the things that do not work for me, and I can eat a lot of things straight from a jar if I like. The walking around outside is just butter on top.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Oct 06, 2005 Posts: 371
  • More fun from the recording industry:
    A local bar was sued by BMI (Broadcast Music Inc)
    ..because bands they were hosting did covers.

    “By using the formulas for calculating licensing fees on BMI’s Web site, the bar now pays approximately $4,200 a year to license music from BMI.

    The bar will also pay damages and BMI’s legal fees, both of which are confidential under the terms of the settlement, Jerry Bailey (spokesman for BMI ) said.

    ‘They now have access to our entire 6.5 million songs. They can play these songs as much as they want to,’ Bailey said.”

    The unofficial word was that had the lawsuit been successful, the bar would have had to close. All this over 13 ‘incidents’ reported by their agent, who likely gets a cut of any violation fees, imo.

    Methinks that lady suing the RIAA over ‘gangland-type coercion’ is right on the money, no pun intended. These folks can’t grok the digital world, and all they’re doing is alienating the audience, and the artists. Eventually all they’ll have to manage will be old Lawrence Welk copyrights.

    What next, quoting song lyrics will require a license..?

    When the music’s over.. turn out the lights.

    Mac_128 had this to say on Oct 07, 2005 Posts: 3
  • Just like that Mac 128, don’t you remember the Simpson’s episode were grandpa is in contest for Marge’s mother with Monty Burns?

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Oct 07, 2005 Posts: 371
  • BTW, could we please have the comment system back that did NOT rely on cookies in some bizarre inconsistent manner? I would appreciate that.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Oct 07, 2005 Posts: 371
  • They will find out the hard way. Trouble is that honest consumers will suffer along the way due to DRM infested “CDs”. Sony has this website about their protected “CDs” (they still claim them to be CDs apparently) telling win-users to write in to Apple and complain that they do not license their DRM to Sony so that clearly it is Apple’s fault that win-users have problems with Sony’s DRM malware oozing data-carriers. It’s ridiculous.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Oct 09, 2005 Posts: 371
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