Myth Of The Middle

There is an utterly fascinating article on the front page of today’s "Wall Street Journal" how Anheuser-Busch fucked up its business by making its beer ever lighter, removing its bitterness, in an effort to make the beer more drinkable to more people.

As a result, the company lost market share and had to discount its product.

"After World War II…A diverse nation learned to like the same things. As regional varieties gave way to national brands, companies embraced soft-edged, broadly appealing formulas, which gradually lightened products from cigarettes to bread. It was a winning strategy that created success stories such as ranch dressing, Maxwell House coffee and Kraft cheese. A similar strategy in Hollywood produced the mass-market situation comedy and the Hollywood blockbuster. Market research fed the trend with its relentless tendency to find the common denominator."

God, do you notice a TREND??

This XM homogenization program is driving me fucking NUTS!  Not only are they going in the wrong direction, the move is being spearheaded, guided, by the same assholes who fucked up TERRESTRIAL radio.  What made XM great was it recognized that we live in a diverse country, full of deep niches, and it serviced them.  Sure, I might not be interested in deep hip-hop.  Or endless pop music.  But with over a hundred channels, I didn’t have to live there.  I could stay between channels 40 and 50 in rockville and be happier than a pig in shit.

But this didn’t work for those in charge.  They had to streamline the service.  To make it more palatable to a theoretical EVERYMAN!

Same deal with the record labels.  They don’t want something edgy and different.  Something that will only sell to a limited group of people.  They want something that will cut a broad swath across America.  But by caring only about the bland middle, they lost the edge.

Used to be people had no choice.  There was no other way to get the product.  They were at the MERCY of the controlled system.  But that is no longer the case.  With the Internet, ALL MUSIC is available.

This is the labels’ worst nightmare.  Their success was based on controlling the retail and radio marketplace.  An indie could not get a record in a retail store, or if he did, he could not get paid for its sale.  And we know indies could not get on terrestrial radio.  And this worked for the nineties, when the major labels also controlled the then music-playing MTV.  The labels thought that everybody was happy.  But, everybody was PISSED!

The story of Napster was not theft of music, but AVAILABILITY of ALL music at a low marginal price.

And now, on sites like MySpace, a band doesn’t even have to PAY for distribution.  Fox sponsors them.  And the public grazes from page to page, looking for exactly what appeals to them.

There’s no going back.  Look at TV.  The public is looking for ever more edgy shows.  You’ve got HBO and "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos".  Then reality TV.  Just like the Net, in TV they say it’s a fad.  People will return to the traditional sitcom and drama.  Never gonna happen.  There’s a huge segment of the public that is burned out on that fare.  WE might have grown up adoring Beaver Cleaver, but today’s ten year old says he doesn’t know anybody like him and doesn’t give a shit.

Mass media is freaking out.  Hollywood claims piracy is killing their business.  That they’ve got to protect the windows of distribution.  But the real story is the public is sick of their bland shoot-em-up fare, dumbed down so it can be understood by people all over the WORLD!  They’d rather go to cable.  And watch ultimate fighting, or Orange County Choppers, or…

The record labels keep on trying to plug a square hole with a round ball.  The marketplace has changed forever.  Sure, there will be a small segment of broad market fare, like "CSI", but an increasingly large creeping segment will be made up of a ZILLION bands.  THIS is the long tail.  There’s a demand for everything.  The key is to make almost all of it available.  And for those with limited outlets, limited shelf-space, this is problematic, because there’s no limit on the Web.

The more XM narrows its focus, the more it’s going to cede market share/mind share to the Net.  Maybe the service will coast today, but once you have a Net alternative in the car, they’re fucked.  Because they’re playing by the old rules.  Thinking they control the game, but they’re wrong.  It’s new technology delivering the same old shit.  And that’s laughable.

As for the major labels…they signed their death warrant when they started releasing fewer records, and cut staff to make their operation more efficient.  If they wanted to dominate they’d have to release MORE records.  And have appropriate staff to do so.  Instead, their market share is going to be slowly eaten up over time, just like network television has been eviscerated by cable.  Sure, most cable outlets get anemic ratings, but when you add them ALL TOGETHER, they DWARF network TV.

The future is being wrested from the old guard.

Or, one could say it’s being stolen from them while they’re asleep.

Or, one could say it’s being taken from them while they’re wide awake, they’re just too dumb to see what’s going on.

Or, as the old seer said:

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

"Ballad Of A Thin Man"
Bob Dylan

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