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Apple Watch: Steve Jobs on the Music Industry
Wednesday, 2003 December 10 - 4:59 pm
Steve Jobs had an interesting interview with Rolling Stone magazine, discussing his view on copyright and the music recording industry.

It shouldn't be too surprising that Steve Jobs is a supporter of copyright. As the head of a company that owns a lot of intellectual property, and as a businessman, one would almost expect it from him... except that he also came out with the iTunes music store, with relatively loose Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection and a potentially radically new business model for record companies. Whose side are you on, Steve? In this interview, Jobs gives some answers puts forth some intriguing ideas, but not all of those ideas make sense to me.

Jobs makes a good point that record companies take a lot of risks when signing new artists. In some cases, a record company give large advances to artists, only to watch the majority of those artists fail to earn back those advances. What happens, Jobs argues, is that successful artists end up subsidizing the unsuccessful ones. So Jobs' solution is to stop the practice of paying advances; he believes that that's the "medicine" the industry needs.

To me, though, there are larger issues at work here. First, it seems that record companies spend far more money on marketing and promotion than on the artists themselves. Second, record companies are propping up an antiquated distribution system that gives a lot of money to retailers and middle-men. Third, the so-called "loser" artists (who fail to earn back their advances) are not exactly raking in the dough, and they are indebted to the record companies for years and years. Fourth, record companies are attempting to dictate copyright rules themselves, wiping out the concept of "fair use" in order to protect this whole clunky business model.

The iTunes music store is part of the solution here: it has the potential to eliminate the high-overhead music distribution model that exists today. The rest of the solution, in my opinion, is to transfer ownership of music copyrights back to the artists. Record companies can be in the business of marketing and promotion; there's certainly money to be made there. But let the artists own their own music, and let them be the ones who control the money flow.

The beautiful thing is this: this can happen even without cooperation from the record companies. It will just take a handful of successful artists using this new business model to start the revolution, the phenomenon I call "the democratization of music". The choice for record companies will be to get on the train, or get in front of it. The iTunes Music Store is a temporary solution to the record companies' problem... but it has also opened the door to their downfall.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch


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