Liking These Apples?

A bit surprisingly, there was a fairly enthusiastic response to Apple’s offer. A bit more than half of those who responded said that they were willing to bite. While I wouldn’t take the percentage too seriously, there was far more interest and willingness to try this than any other legal online service up to now.

Even more surprising was one of the major concerns expressed about this: sound quality. There was a great deal of interest in a higher quality digital file than MP3 has to offer, and great doubt AAC would provide it.

There were other questions and concerns, but they were more about specific details than general concept.

Then there was the rest, and in most cases, it was clear that nothing realistic was going to make them happy.

The two primary objections were to copy protection, and cost.

The most typical objection to copy protection was, “Why should I buy a copy protected digital file when I can buy an uncopy protected CD?” Seems like an argument for copy-protected CDs, now doesn’t it.

The second was cost. The typical comment there was, “Make it a quarter a song and maybe I’ll think about it.”

There was this refusal or inability to conceive that intellectual property has worth. People get fixated on manufacturing costs; they think a music CD should cost little more than the direct cost of making one.

One person went so far as to say that he could buy fifty blanks for less than the cost of a single CD (I suggested he listen to his blank CDs while telling himself how much money he was saving. :))

The truth is while some parts of the cost of a CD would be greatly diminished through digital distribution, others wouldn’t be affected at all. You would still have the cost of adcances, the costs of recording, the search for talent, and (especially these days) the costs of publicity.

If you want to say, “I’m not going to pay for that,” well, that’s just as silly as saying, “I’m not going to pay for the cost of AMD or Intel for putting up fabs, or paying for those McDonald’s ads.” Of course you pay for that. When you buy anything, all the costs of the business are included in the price.

Record companies are like venture capitalists. They offer money and services to artists in return for a big stake in the “company.” Like venture capitalists, they lose money most of the time, and hit a goldmine once in a while.

It’s a much riskier business than making a refrigerator, because human tastes are so fickle and changing. Can you really tell what makes you like a song or artist, or for how long you’ll like either?

This is not to say the content creation business isn’t fat and happy, and could be leaner and meaner. But it’s not like the cost of an album breaks down to CD $1, Greed $15, like many people apparently think.

If a garage band produced its own album, or some people made their own movie, and did the kind of publicity the professionals did, they wouldn’t be charging $3 a CD, either.

In any case, it is not likely in a digital era that every song would cost the same. Recent, hot songs would cost more than cold ones, probably a lot more.

The nature of recorded music would also change. There is little point to making an album of short songs in a digital era. Albums only emerged when the long-playing record was developed in 1947. Before that, recordings consisted of two songs, one on each side, and not too long, either.

For many if not most popular acts, we’d probably go back to that: fewer songs more often.

Digital distribution would create a much, much different music industry and pricing than we have now, but the least likely outcome is this “quarter for any and every song” wish. The economics just don’t work at that level.

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