As music products become music services,
access replaces ownership, and the customer drives the business – will
it all mean a bigger pie for everyone?
The music industry is in a very exciting if somewhat stressful transition
phase - and one through which the other so-called 'content industries'
(film, television and publishing) will also have to pass. Seven years
after the first digital music 'revolution' and the subsequent burst of
the .com bubble, the 'creatives' (musicians, producers, writers, composers…)
are finally starting to get a glimpse of what a 'second generation music
business' may ultimately have in store for them: less hassle and more
At the same time, forced by the incessant decline in CD sales, the industry's
leaders are finally starting to follow where the consumer has been leading
all along the inevitable transition from content as a service, rather
than a product. The winners: the creatives, and you and me - the 'users'
(formerly known as consumers). An interesting side-effect: an industry
that was once (in)famous for its 'top-down' style learns how to embrace
a 'bottom-up' paradigm.
Digital technologies - though still cumbersome and not quite user-friendly
enough - have become an unobtrusive and omnipresent part of our lives.
The way that the entertainment, media and 'content' industries must conduct
their business has therefore changed forever. The digital tide cannot
be reversed; digital technologies have simply become part of our lifestyle.
Our habits have changed, and our own inventions are starting to challenge
our old assumptions. A lot of changes are coming, bringing with them much
uncertainty, but also an ocean of opportunities.
In 2004, we will see a second, more mature coming of digital media ventures,
and thankfully, "the rising tide will float all boats". Savvy independent
players will have a major role on this new digital music era, simply because
they can be more agile, often have a much shorter decision-making process,
and can more quickly embrace change.
Ready for serious business
The music business has made the transition from wax records to vinyl,
from the Walkman to the CD and the DVD, in a very short time, and has
only recently arrived at the broad acceptance of 'disembodied' digital
downloading. Broadband Internet is quickly becoming the standard, and
as greater connectivity heightens the desire for more content (and vice
versa!) we are now finally ready for some serious business. We already
have more wireless phones than landlines, world-wide, and it seems very
likely indeed that mobile music will become bigger, in an even shorter
time, than 'online music' has ever been. All of this is a boon for the
consumer, promising more value, less restrictions, total transparency,
endless choices, and lower prices.
From service to product and back again
Interestingly music has already been transformed from a service to a product,
and back to a service: from the pre-electricity era of the agricultural
society to the industrial society (the gramophone and the CD) to the information
society, and digital music. Before there were any music 'products' that
could be purchased just like a box of soap or a can of beans, music was
controlled 'by foot', i.e. the artists had to be physically present to
perform, and equally the listener had to be present at the place and time
of the performance. Music was simply a service (as it still is in many
developing countries) and artists enjoyed great influence and appreciation.
The productizing and, to use one of those good old Silicon Valley buzzwords,
monetizing of music brought us the music industry, the few and seemingly
almighty gate keepers, the arduous and self-serving legal frameworks,
and the often criticized 'content oligop-olies' that many cutting-edge
music fans and Peer-to-Peer file-sharers loath so vehemently.
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