Warner Music's brilliant new idea: Re-hash old ones
Since the dawn of Napster, the music industry has been crying, nay screaming, out for a digital music czar. Someone who 'gets' the digital arena. Someone who's been around the block, and never missed a beat (if you'll excuse the terrible pun) when it comes to the digital domain. So of course when Warner Music yelled from the rooftop 'We've got a Digital Music Guru!!', we believed that all equilibrium in the world had been restored. And then we read about this digital guru's next big plan, and our jubilation promptly turned sour.
Instead of genuinely innovating and offering consumers a reason to buy music, Warner Music's new Digital Guru is leading the companies initiatives to 'bundle a monthly fee into consumers' Internet service bills for unlimited access to music'. Now you may think: "Hey, that's great!", and no doubt the appeal of "free" music as part of a internet access plan, which undoubtedly it would become, is huge -- not least because it generates the labels healthy recurring revenue. But what actually entitles the labels, whose influence has long been waning, to a subscription fee?
Given the success of direct-to-customer approach shown by Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, other notable artists kissing mainstream labels goodbye, not to mention the success of at least one rather large buy-to-own download store, this move certainly raises some issues.
One of which is the effective steam-rolling of anyone outside of the labels' system because, besides giving the RIAA's coffers a handy boost, it's a nice market-smothering plan that gives people second thoughts about striking it out on their own.
When all's said and done, though, we struggle to see what's so new and market-changing about this latest brainwave. If the music industry is going to counteract the last decade's decline in sales, it can't be about strong-arming consumers into buying music, or blindly paying what is effective a tax for it Nor can it be about strong-arming musicians into staying at the labels. It can only be about turning around an entire ethos of bullying and intimidation, and no industry-annointed 'Digital Guru' is going to do that.