Permission is the asset of the future

Marketing guru and all-around economic soothsayer Seth Godin has a great piece up on “things you can learn from the music business (as it falls apart)” (hat tip, MG). My favorite money quote:

2. Copy protection in a digital age is a pipe dream
If the product you make becomes digital, expect that the product you make will be copied.

There’s a paradox in the music business that is mirrored in many industries: you want ubiquity, not obscurity, yet digital distribution devalues your core product.

Remember, the music business is the one that got in trouble for bribing disk jockeys to play their music on the radio. They are the ones that spent millions to make (free) videos for MTV. And yet once the transmission became digital, they understood that there’s not a lot of reason to buy a digital version (via a cumbersome expensive process) when the digital version is free (and easier).

Most items of value derive that value from scarcity. Digital changes that, and you can derive value from ubiquity now.

The solution isn’t to somehow try to become obscure, to get your song off the (digital) radio. The solution is to change your business.

You used to sell plastic and vinyl. Now, you can sell interactivity and souvenirs.

The whole thing is worth reading.

The take-away truth seems to me that groups like the RIAA appear to be trying to prosecute and litigate their way back to 1994. Commenter John suggests I’m pulling my punches and really advocating for free music for everyone. And sure, why not. But realistically, of course, that’s ridiculous. iTunes, as the commenter notes, is a great model, so far as it goes. The problem isn’t with ease of use (which is fine, as far as I’m concerned). The problem is that not an industry wide initiative. Rather it’s the insightful product of a company that’s figured out how to sell new media as a lifestyle.

What iTunes doesn’t do very well (though it’s getting better) and where the RIAA’s energies would be better placed is in delivering something closer to audiophile quality digital downloads and diversifying digital product lines. If it’s not an old standard, super hip, new, fashionably obscure (some 1960s Euro-punk band that a Dylan song makes a lyrically cryptic reference to in a b-side song) or retro-chic (Johnny Cash, for instance, or Loretta Lynn), iTunes may well not have it. Which is true of a lot of southern gospel music. What itunes does have is often mislabeled or aberrational.

Without the industry support of the RIAA, iTunes has no incentive to invest in long-tail products (like white gospel music) and not much more incentive to widen the scope of high(er)-quality DRM free music offerings.

Email this Post


  1. cdguy wrote:

    Airplane? I like what Wendy Bagwell used to say about flying. “I believe what the Bible says — ‘LOW I am with you always.’”

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked * Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.