No matter how you spin it, the MySpace Music announcement is a net positive for the music industry. But not for the reasons most may think.
Frankly, I don't give a hoot if the new MySpace service unseats iTunes or puts Napster out of business or any of that other nonsense the broader digital sewing circle yammers on about in their blogs and newsletters.
The real news here is how the service came about. The labels are finally open to taking a new approach and are willing to find business models that monetize what music fans want. The entire digital music conversation to date has been about what the labels want.
They didn't want fans using Napster or other P2P services. They didn't want to "devalue" music by making it free in an ad-supported fashion. They didn't want users sharing music with each other.
MySpace Music could not sell a single song and this model will still prove a success because of the step it represents. It's finally a step towards the future, and even the biggest label critic has to at least acknowledge its significance.
Now of course if the actual details at launch look significantly different from what's been announced and discussed to date, then the backlash will be brutal. You can't promise ad-supported free streaming and DRM-free downloads without actually delivering that across the entire catalog. If between now and then, these promised features sprout shackles (doesn't matter who from) then all bets are off.
So I close by urging you label execs with dollar signs in your eyes rubbing your hands in excitement over how much money this might bring you—put your lawyers down and step away from the MySpace. MySpace came up with a great customer proposition… you've worked with them to find a workable business model for it… now get out of the way and let the folks at MySpace do their thing.
I am the No. 1 digital music reporter in the world.
Well, at least the No. 1 digital music reporter who lives in Denver. And who writes for Billboard. By that criteria, yeah… I rule over all the others!
Statements like that make about as much sense as the ongoing drivel taking place between digital music services clamoring over who can claim the No. 2 spot behind iTunes.
First a USA Today story says Amazon took second place, spurring an immediate attack by the PR machine that is eMusic. eMusic claims it is the true owner of the sliver medal, by virtue of the fact it "sells" 7 million songs a month…even though it doesn't sell songs at all. It sells subscriptions good for a limited number of downloads. It's totally apples to oranges and calling attention to it with some fuzzy logic and spin doesn't change that.
But it gets better. SpiralFrog then jumps in and tries to take third place after iTunes and Rhapsody by saying it has more registered users than eMusic, and Amazon "doesn't count" because it's a store. Never mind that it's free to register for SpiralFrog, whereas eMusic carries a fee, and the number of actual TRACKS downloaded from the service is about as small as its profit margin.
And finally the best part, Apple—likely finding all this as amusing as watching lapdogs fight—comes out and "leaks" (oops!) a memo followed by an official release claiming they're the No. 1 retailer of ALL sorts…passing physical distribution giant Wal-Mart.
What's most amusing to me is how little all this matters. It's an argument seeped in the old philosophy of music as a product, and they're all tooting their horns about who sells the most of that product. A year from now we'll see the same arguments about who is ahead or behind of MySpace, judged largely on the same metric.
OK, listen up because I'm growing tired of saying this… (ahem) MUSIC IS A SERVICE! The "winner"—if one needs to be crowned—will be the source providing the most REVENUE to the music industry from this service, not the one moving the most units, be they digital or plastic discs.
All this bickering over downloads is like arguing who can solve the Rubik's Cube faster. It's yesterday's news, man!
That's why eMusic cried foul earlier about the possible bundling of music into future iPods. If the labels can get even $20 from a device that sells in the hundreds of millions, it's going to make eMusic's 7 million downloads or Spiralfrog's 850,000 registered users or even iTunes' 4 billion sales look like chump change.
I don't care if anybody thinks I'm the best digital music reporter in the world. My editors like my work, my readers seem to enjoy the articles (may lose a few with this one though), and I get paid enough to survive. That's enough for me. Save the medals for someone who cares.