The Death of the Music Industry (not)

With the flurry of ground-shaking news rocking that darn old music industry which we all love to hate, predictions of impending doom abound.

I beg to differ.

Not that I think that Radiohead’s last stunt won’t have lasting consequences, no doubt it will, even more now as it seems they won their bet. But two things come to mind :

First, where have I already heard this story about an age-old Big Bad Industry being destroyed by the Good Guys ? Mmmh, lemme’ think… Proprietary Software vs. Free/Open Source software ? Or was it Big Media vs. bloggers ? In both previous cases, initial enthusiasm (bordering zealotery) eventually settled into a less glamourous but more realistic outcome : a mix of the old establishment and the new stuff.

In both cases too, a few high-profile successes (Linux, Apache, the Rathergate) were seen as the general case while they were in fact the exception. The vast majority of free software projects are redundant or useless or both, and the vast majority of news-oriented blogs are, well, embarassments. Let’s hope the signal/noise ratio in the Musicians vs. Music Industry battle rates higher.

Second, as it’s currently turning out, the situation of each band having its own online music outlet isn’t at all appealing. As Michael Parekh notes, the last thing you want is having to go to a different site for every band which album you want to get (said site will of course be hammered down at each new release, if the band is successful enough). I believe that’s the reason why Radiohead’s last album was still “illegally” downloaded so much. Parekh’s other comments on the hassle of managing mp3 (raise your hands those who regularly do backups of their music library, and who know exactly what to do to keep it when they’ll upgrade their machine) and legal music downloads in general echo my doubts on whether the CD will actually ever disappear. Files are volatile, and music fans need to have a tangible object to link them to their favorite stars, something with a logo on, basically :-).

In any case, it sure will be interesting to follow, hard to predict which new business model will make a big enough dent in the current one (or may be displace it as the main one). A little surprise there, as it’s been reported that Universal Music is examining the possibility of an ISP file sharing tax. That would more or less be akin to the “licence globale” which unfortunately failed here in France, mainly thanks to the lobbying of… Universal.

iphone/ipod touch becoming the next universal remote ?

A while ago I looked into getting a universal remote. The plethoric choice can be broken down into two categories : cheap crap, or luxury items. There are a few models in between, but not many. And the luxury items, which almost look like tablet PCs seem to be the only “no hassle” choice (although various reviews indicate one needs to be cautious in his choice). However, I find these to be way too expensive for the service they give, but also to be potentially obsolete in the near future.

The reason I think so is that a growing number of home appliances have an embedded web UI. For geek gadgets like the Squeezebox, it’s a given. But with WiFi becoming more and more pervasive, I expect to see embedded web servers in TV sets and DVD players before too long (in mainstream models that is – I’m pretty sure it’s already there in some obscure ones). And once you have this, your universal remote is… your iphone or ipod touch (which are also expected to become common items). Makes sense, don’t you think ?

[edit – March 27th 2009 : 1.5 years later, John Biggs from the NY Times agrees with me. ]