If you're a music fan, chances are you've heard about Steve Jobs' grand plan to save the music industry. Apple's
On its first day of business, Apple's iTunes Music Store sold 275,000 music singles from industry heavyweights such as Vivendi's
Industry execs and artists alike are hailing this as a great solution to online piracy as well as a brilliant, consumer-friendly way to sell music. It's as easy as point and click, and while you can copy the music for personal use, it is encrypted so you can't upload it to file-sharing/stealing platforms across the Web.
But you have to worry when company executives, rock n' rollers, and a techno-geek like Jobs are speaking in unison. This has got to be too good to be true. In fact, I think the whole thing could destroy what I like most about music.
Now, before you go any further, you have to understand where I'm coming from: I held out as long as I could before I bought a compact disc player and I believe I still do have a few 8-Tracks lying around that I just can't part with. I also have enough vinyl and CDs to fill a small house.
And that is the rub for me. I love holding that album or disc in my hand. It's all about the albums and how they're arranged. You have the heavy metal section, the blues section, the jazz section, the rock section, the I-have-no-idea-where-to-put-this-one section -- all meticulously arranged and organized to my satisfaction and my satisfaction only. Sure, no one else could logically find anything, but they enjoy the search. And I enjoy having guests over and just saying, "Go to it. Pick any disc you like and we'll crank it."
It is just not the same saying, "Scroll through the files on my laptop. I'm sure you'll find something you like." Yes, I know you environmentalists will slam me for encouraging excess use of paper and plastic, but darn it, give me a whole CD! Give me the liner notes, the pictures -- it's not the same even if you can download that stuff. It was hard enough adjusting from those beautiful double-fold vinyl albums to CDs. Don't take that away from me, too!
Actually, what worries me most is that the whole concept of the album could go by the wayside if Jobs has his way. "Nobody thinks of albums anymore, anyway," he told Fortune in its May 12 issue.
You smug punk. I think of albums. In fact, I wholeheartedly buy albums expecting to find songs I like more than the ones that attracted me to the record in the first place. The magic is in digging into those deeper cuts that would never get radio play. Why do I need more Britney Spears singles? A good album is a piece of art. It's like a fine book of short stories -- each one belongs there and supports the other.
Apple does sell whole albums at its music store. But why record a whole album if you can just put out a snappy hit for the masses? A musician no less prominent than Sheryl Crow told Fortune that it's a "relief" not to have to produce an entire album every time she wants to reach her fans. Well, that's just lazy, Sheryl. Plus, if you're only going to release those vapid hits like "Soak Up the Sun," your fans won't have a chance to discover the more intelligent songs you hide deeper in your albums (and I am single and available for dates anytime).
Kudos to Madonna, Radiohead, and even those yahoos in Metallica -- who fought to kill Napster, which got me purchasing more music -- for not allowing their tunes to be sold singly because they did not want to "contribute to the demise of the album as an art form," as Rolling Stone put it.
As my Fool buddy Rick Munarriz (TMF Edible) pointed out last week, "Music is the ideal media to reap the inventory-free fruit of online distribution. It is clearing a lot of the obstacles, but it's also getting help from the music industry's efforts in pursuing Internet service providers, wired colleges, and individual users... [Apple] is coming in as the white knight packed with olive branches as the perfect third-party arbitrator."
Apple shareholders should be happy. Any incremental revenue the company earns from this can only help its sagging sales. Of course, Jobs would have you see it differently. "This will go down in history as a turning point for the music industry," he told Fortune. "This is landmark stuff. I can't overestimate it!"
Yeah, just like when the first Apple computer was released -- "landmark stuff" doesn't always win over the long haul, as Microsoft
Of course, in the end, perhaps the momentum you're gaining isn't exactly apocalyptic. I heard Bill Gates is in my camp and doesn't want to see the album blistered into digital oblivion. So, watch out!
Bob Bobala is the managing editor of The Motley Fool, so once in a while we let him smoke out like this and then send him back into his hole. The Motley Fool is music fans writing for music fans -- and investors writing for investors.