Digital Music

Soon your iPod will never break.

Many of you weren’t around in the early days of computing, the eighties, when hard drives were introduced for personal computers, and failed on a regular basis.  You backed up everything on floppies, because that day was going to come.  When you heard that grinding noise and your data was lost forever.

Hard drives still fail.  But it’s a rare event.  I haven’t had one go bad on me since the eighties, and most people I know never back up.

But those hard drives rarely budge.  They’re in desktops that are plunked down under a desk and never moved until their days are done.  Or, in laptops that are treated with care, since laptops are historically expensive and fragile overall.  But in iPods…  Take a look at a collection of Sony Walkmen.  They’re beat to hell.  You throw them in a bag, you run with them, you EXPECT them to work.  But inside the Walkman replacement, the iPod, there’s a tiny hard drive, and its days are INHERENTLY numbered.

But soon most iPods won’t come with a hard drive inside.  Soon, most iPods will have no moving parts.  As flash memory takes over. 

Apple to debut 12GB iPod nano by Q4 06

If you want to know what’s going on in digital music don’t read hitsdailydouble or the Velvet Rope, go to the  Right there, in one spot, is a compendium of every story relevant to the scene.

That’s what the Web provides, filters.  You’d think the labels would know this, with the dominance of the iTunes Music Store.  But they’re still living in the brick and mortar world.  Where people DRIVE to retail establishments instead of clicking their way to an Internet site.

There’s only one site that matters.  You’ve got to remember this.

There’s only one YouTube.  Only one MySpace.  Only one iTunes Music Store.  With easy access to all, everyone gloms on to the best site where the MOST PEOPLE LIVE!  Does that mean the aforementioned sites will be dominant forever?  No.  Something better could come along and usurp their position, but better isn’t all that matters.  You’ve got to be better and gain TRACTION, i.e. eyeballs.

Rental is niche.  For many reasons.  But the definitive one is in today’s "Wall Street Journal", which although locked behind the wall of a paysite you can read the essence of on the Macdailynews. 

Free, legal and ignored: Mac- and iPod-incompatible beleaguered Napster dying at colleges

Turns out they can’t even GIVE Napster/Rhapsody, et al, away on college campuses.  Yup, NOBODY WANTS IT!  They don’t want services that are incompatible with iPods where when you graduate you end up with NOTHING!

Now do you expect these college students to change course after graduation?  To then embrace rental?  Do you think their high school brethren will be quick on the uptake?  No, rental, if not quite dead, is a marginal business.  And Mitch Bainwol and Cary Sherman should stop trumpeting it as a solution.

Not that the iTunes Music Store is a solution either.  Because its net only captures a small percentage of acquisition.
One in five Americans now have MP3 players. 

iPod ownership reaches new high 

Yet, one in five tracks is not sold online.  Where are these people getting the music to fill their devices?  Sure, some are ripping discs they’ve purchased, but it appears that most are not paying for the music they’re listening to.  Yet, Mitch and Cary say they’ve engineered a solution, the marketplace is turning around.

But now that we’re going to have a 12 gig flash iPod, rendering the need for a hard drive-based device almost irrelevant except to the hardest core music consumer, iPod sales will SOAR!  As word spreads as to the quality of the device, never mind its size and utility.  Soon, iPod horror stories will be a thing of the past, just like hard drive failure stories.  Is the business prepared for this?

Of course not.

The market moves on.  The labels no longer get to steer.  Rather, kids in basements are in control.  It’s not about Best Buy and it’s not about Starbucks.  It’s about the acquisition of a vast quantity of files, a FLUID collection, wherein you SAMPLE music and only keep a fraction thereof.  It’s completely unlike the old model, where you essentially bought on faith, in the dark as to what a record sounded like.  Labels should realize this.  And charge for this sampling, which is being done for free now.

Meanwhile, know that Microsoft’s iPod killer is inherently an also-ran. 

Microsoft to release wireless ‘iPod killer’ by Christmas to challenge Apple

Not because of its ultimate lack of utility (hell, Microsoft’s making it), but because digital music is not about the STORE!  It’s not about renting tracks or buying them for a buck.  It’s not about buying on Napster songs that you hear on your XM Inno.  We’ve got to stop the circle jerk.  It’s akin to WMDs in Iraq.  The market for copy-protected tracks for a buck is LIMITED!  Since the iPod dominates, it will continue to grow like YouTube and MySpace until something MUCH better comes along and gains traction.  The key is not establishing alternatives, but FEEDING IT!


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