I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of negative sentiment floating around the web these days regarding iTunes, though for most it actually seems to be related to larger concerns and merely inaccurately focused on Apple’s music distribution service. I’ve just spent a couple of hours reading through a few people’s opinions on the subject (link link link link link), and there has been some discussion on it in the past that I’ve seen as well, but I’d like to address this all from my point of view.
It may or may not seem rational to you.
Here goes: First, there are the people who say that giving away free songs with bottles of Pepsi is just encouraging kids to rot their teeth out by drinking sugar water. My exceptions to that include such obvious counters as “Kids are going to drink soda whether they get free music with it or not” and the clear reasoning on Pepsi’s behalf being that the kids make their dollar votes for Pepsi instead of something else in hopes of getting something “free”. If Pepsi had teamed up with an ostrich farm and was giving away free ostriches, would the ostrich farm be attacked for promoting “sugar water”? Oh, and another exception, in my opinion, to the argument that this give-away encourages people to drink sugar water is that Diet Pepsi (sugar free, of course) is an option as well as specially marked 7-11 Big Gulp cups which could be conceivably filled with fruit juice (you know, if your local participating 7-11 has fruit juice on tap). So there’s that.
The whole thing has looked to me like a Pepsi promotion, not really an Apple promotion, since last I heard Pepsi was paying full price for every song redeemed, and paid for the Superbowl ad. Saying Apple is selling sugar water is silly.
What’s next? Oh, yes. People are critical of the iTMS because it doesn’t revolutionize music distribution enough.
You see, if an individual artist who owns the full rights to their music sets up their own website and sells their music directly, even considering overhead of bandwidth and paying a web developer, they get a whole lot more of every album sold than they would if they distributed their music through one of the “Big 5” of the RIAA. ie: the average artist who has a deal with one of the RIAA labels earns between 10 and 14 percent of the adjusted cost of each album sold (after the label recoups the cost of producing the album, of course), or around $1 per album sold, give or take, but even assuming the 35 percent overhead for digital distribution that some sources are saying iTMS charges every label big and small, an artist selling their album directly could double their per-album income while only charging around $3 and album! Wow!
That sure is something.
But what does it really mean? Let’s take a look, for instance, at all the music that has been produced via a major label between 70 years ago (ie: not in the public domain) and tomorrow: For the most part, the major labels still own the rights to all of that music, and will until it reaches the public domain. So for every bit and byte of music produced under a major label to date, if an artist wanted to take the prescribed route of digital distribution above, it would be illegal for them to do so. It’s not their music anymore.
But what about all the music produced by so-called “independent” labels? Well, it’s on a label-by-label and artist-by-artist basis that that is being decided, and in some cases music is being sold by methods similar or identical to the above described methods and artists actually are making more money per album sold. Which is great. In fact, because the “independent” music is available along side the major label music in the iTMS and the iTMS cut is the same across the board, if the “independent” labels choose to offer their artists a better deal, they could be making a whole lot more per album than they otherwise would. Glad to hear it.
But some of the people out there believe that RIAA = EVIL, and anything that could possibly help the “big 5” labels survive is just as EVIL. What about that? Personally, I think that each thing should be looked at separately, for fairness. So, whether or not the RIAA is EVIL, let’s take a look at the iTMS business model:
It’s a reseller.
Yep. Like the music store down at your local mall, iTMS buys music wholesale from labels and resells it retail to individuals. iTMS is not licensing the music, it’s simply buying it wholesale, repackaging it (on a handy digital format), and reselling it to consumers. Let me say it a third time in the same paragraph: the iTunes Music Service is just a reseller, like any other store you buy music from, they just happen to be offering one format: AAC files instead of CDs, cassette tapes, or minidiscs.
That’s not EVIL, is it? Huh. What else?
The iTMS does not allow purchased placement or advertisements. That is; whether a label is large or small, wealthy or not, they all get listed and filed and linked and searched and sorted the same ways. The decisions about what music is “featured” on the “splash” page of the iTMS are made by Apple employees independently, much like the arrangement of new music on the wall at your local independently-owned and operated music reseller. No one can pay Apple to put their music first.
That sounds like the opposite of EVIL to me. What’s next?
Apple works directly with music labels, and when they first met with the “independent” labels around a month after the launch of the iTMS, they told them flat-out that there would be no negotiations, every label would get exactly the same deal. That is, the independents and the “big 5” pay Apple the same commission on each sale and have to agree to the same, standardized pricing structure. Also, in case you missed it when I said “Apple works directly with the labels”, Apple does not work directly with the artists. When Apple makes a sale they take their cut (I have seen 35cents on the dollar reported in more than one place) and leave the rest up to the label to distribute. Sites that say that iTMS should report the “Artist’s Cut” of “11cents per song” are not clearly representing the issue; there is no way for the iTMS to show each artist’s cut, since they are no longer part of the transaction by the time the artist’s cut gets calculated and paid, and in fact do not know what it would be. Saying that the iTMS is not “fair to artists” is silly, because Apple doesn’t deal with artists. That’s like saying auto dealerships aren’t fair to the companies that produce the bolts that auto manufacturers use when building the cars they sell; it’s silly, because the auto dealerships work with the auto manufacturers, not the 3rd-party companies producing nuts and bolts.
The iTMS doesn’t seem EVIL to me at all, even if they do happen to do business with the RIAA, whose EVIL-ness I will not address here.
What other issues?
Well, some people are altogether anti-DRM. But they seem to be the same people who are altogether anti-Copyright. And I’m not prepared to discuss the entire copyright issue at length, but I will say this: As long as DRM doesn’t make using the products I spend my own money on harder for me to use, I don’t care. If they make it harder for people who didn’t pay for a product to use it, that’s fine, too. Now, if DRM gets to the point (as I have heard it described approaching) that I cannot listen to music I have purchased the way I want to listen to it, on the device I want to listen to it from, or if I cannot watch a movie I have purchased on a movie-playing device I own because of some restrictive or brand-sensitive DRM, I would object. That’s going too far. If the people who are willing to pay for media are not allowed to enjoy it the ways they please, DRM has gone too far.
Okay, okay, one little thing on copyright: there’s no way copyright should last 70 years, and especially not 70 years after the death of the artist. Copyright is supposed to be there to protect the artist, and how much sense does it make to try to protect dead artists’ rights? That’s just silly.
Uhhh… Hmm… did I miss anything? How about the fact that iTMS is not alone in “perpetuating the oppression of artists” by distributing music owned by RIAA members, or that Napster and MusicMatch are working on promotional deals similar to the one Apple and Pepsi have now? Or that even at 35%, Apple loses music on every song? Wheee!