The willingness of Universal to make ‘all you can eat’ deals for a flat fee with Sky and Virgin Media tells me that the access model is home and dry. The TDC indications and the ‘apriceformusic.com’ research, combined with Will Page’s work, Enders analysis and most sensible business analysts (I exclude Sarkozy and his inamorata!) have concluded that we have to compete with free, and that is best done by some sort of blanket licence for some sort of fee. We may not like free but we cannot stop it. Whatever we do, the problem returns in a different and more obscure disguise. That was the easy bit.
The future will bring some sorts of subscription-based services which provide something worth paying for, directly or indirectly. It might be bundled, it might be an explicit charge, or ad-based, or built on data mining. One thing is for sure: the major audience models will not be based on the granular-payment-per-piece-of-music model (though that might be where the fortunes will be made).
Now we have to make this realisation work for all: old creators, new creators, hit artists, ‘wannabe’ artists, music bloggers, new services, music communities, investors, fans, casual listeners, completists, politicians, competition fanatics, and, crucially, the mobile and fixed line digital distributors.
But we cannot forget the regulators and most importantly the Music Business, publishers, labels, collection societies, unions and anyone else who has their hand in the pie. All this has to be done for the world as well as for the individual nation states. We also have to cope with WIPO, national copyright laws and administrations, entrenched bureaucracies, dying corporations, estates of great artists run by wizened lawyers, those who have no interest in anything except the bottom line, and those who would die for their artistic integrity. Then we have to deal with the samplers, the UGC people, the cheats and scoundrels who want to use music for other aims etc… Somehow, this workwill require total integrity and purity of motive, whilst swimming in a sea of sharks.
However, one thing is certain, this struggle will have to start with better and more consistent metadata. This metadata has to belong to us all, as without it the right people will not get the money that they have earned. That feeling of ownership may also lead to better provision of data as time goes on. If there is one thing worse than proprietary software it is proprietary metadata. It may cost money to collect and curate and therefore have to be paid for, but it should not be used to distort the market and the choice available to both the public and legitimate users.
Then the various major stake-holders should think broadly and generously, and address how we can all make more money, because they can be sure they will always earn the most. More money for all means more money for the majors. Making more money for everyone will also require lower transaction costs, and this in turn requires simplified payment systems. Lower transaction costs means greater profitability. This might require all members on both the business side, the creative side and the digital distributors to engage in frank and open discussions of an adult nature, and reach conclusions, before conclusions are reached for them.
Surely the people who invented different coloured vinyl pressings and triple CD releases with dodgy ‘B’ sides to get the fanatical fans to make multiple purchases can come up with some better and more varied offerings for our on-line future . When we see a great master painting we often buy a postcard as a souvenir, or a poster, or maybe an ‘art poster’ limited edition, or a lithograph, or the original. All of these versions can hang on the wall or be looked at and the image is constant, but the value is enormously varied. This is how scarcity and market segmentation are dealt with in one sector. We have to work out how we can bring appropriate scarcity back into our business, because the one thing the internet destroys is scarcity (in economic terms).
Then, as an industry, we have to really get to grips with segmenting the market, and re introducing scarcity
The challenge for the creative business in the future is to gather fans, audience and casual listeners and work out what any particular product is worth to each group, in each country or region. You can fly from London to New York for £350 or £5000. That is market segmentation at work, we all get to our destination , but some are willing to pay a lot more for a bit of extra comfort.We should be working out with our customers what they want from music services, and what price they are willing to pay. Those customers could be music services, or digital distribution services, or individuals or groups or clubs, or ethnic groups, or music bloggers. Each of them wanting their own differentiated services. Our core business is not selling bits of plastic in volume anymore (thought that is still an important part of it) but providing content for people who want to construct those services for people who want to consume them. Maybe we also want to provide those services too.
Ever again anyone whinging about their music being stolen
I don’t want to hear about pirates, I want to hear how my artists can make a living, and how new artists can make a living , from making recorded music. Recorded music is not the ‘music industry’ but it is hard to see how the music industry can thrive without those critical calling cards we used to call records, and we now call files.
It’s a huge unending job, but it is exciting and challenging, and worthwhile, because it is about all of our human creativity, individuality, culture and spirit.