Salon has found an economist who is fascinated with the concept of "bundling" and is using that hammer to bang away at non-nails in the online music world. She's written an article bashing Apple's iTunes for daring to unbundle music. She claims that she's found so much good music by buying an album because of a single catchy radio hit - and discovering the non-hits are much better songs. Yet, she doesn't seem to consider the reverse situation: the number of times consumers have shelled out $20 for a radio hit, only to find another ten or twelve terrible songs that they never want to listen to. She then suggests that artists won't be encouraged to experiment in a world where "unbundled" music rules, and points to the age of the vinyl single as evidence. This might make sense on first reading - except that there's a huge difference in the digital world. The ease of both the creation and distribution of music means that it's even easier for musicians to experiment. They can just throw whatever they want online, and see how people react. They don't have to wait until they have a complete collection of songs to release as an album. While (despite the title) the article really has little to do with Apple's iTunes, I would say the bigger problem with iTunes is that it actually takes away the biggest benefit to the internet (which would encourage musicians to take chances) - which is the ability for people to really sample music and share it with friends. The wonderful world that Napster opened up (albeit illegally under current laws) was a situation where people could recommend songs to others, such that people were able to experiment and discover new (and often experimental) music all the time. Ms. Akhtar also misses the point that the online world has infinite shelving - and so her arguments that only popular mass-market hits will get made, doesn't fly either. The ability to offer a wider variety, and have reasonably successful niche hits is a much stronger possibility online than offline. I won't argue with her economic analysis of bundling, but it appears she's so focused on that one aspect, that she's missed the larger world around online music.
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