Monday, September 3, 2007

Execs: Future of music is subscription

Execs: Future of music is subscription: Rick Rubin, founder of Def Jam Recordings and now co-head of Columbia Records, is arguing that the future of music sales lies in a direction beyond the iPod and iTunes. In his conception, people would pay for subscriptions, but with more generous options than available on the likes of Napster.

You'd pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you'd like," he says. "In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere. The iPod will be obsolete, but there would be a Walkman-like device you could plug into speakers at home.
(Via MacNN.)

The big jukebox in the sky. Didn't we hear that before from the telecoms sometime back in the late 90s? Mr. Rubin doesn't raise the obvious issues that killed the idea before, not does the NYT's reporter.

  • The device and communications costs of getting digital music on demand to devices, especially portable devices, over the air is always going to be much higher than downloading over wired connections and storing on memory. As anyone who has a digital wireless data plan in the US knows, you pay a lot for mediocre service; even in the most advanced wireless countries, the situation is not much better.
  • The music industry resents Apple, but Apple is a pussycat compared with the telecom oligopoly that it would have to depend on for wireless on demand distribution. Apple may have current market dominance, but it has many serious and deep-pocketed competitors like Microsoft. The telecoms have locked up the spectrum in Washington, and they will continue to extract monopoly rents from it for the indefinite future.

The fact is, the music industry has lost control of the means of distribution, and it will never regain it. Its current form was an accident of physically embodied sound reproduction. The music industry should try to learn from some of the more clued in content producers in news -- the wire services -- who are finding new distribution and revenue means for their content by striking deals with search engines like Yahoo! and Google.

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