A Look Back At Major Label Online Strategies A Decade Ago
from the how-far-we've-come? dept
The excellent MusicAlly blog has a neat look back at a piece written in March of 2001 covering the digital strategies of the major record labels. Some of it is quite amusing in retrospect — such as how Warner Music’s plans were entirely focused on how its newly merged parent, AOL Time Warner, would offer it all sorts of digital opportunities (how’d that work out)?
The company’s internet strategy begins and ends with AOL. The thinking here is that AOL, with 24 million subscribers, has a natural customer base for Time Warner’s extensive music catalogue, as well as serious Internet expertise in house. Although MBI World Music Report lists Warner Music Group’s global market share as equal to BMG’s at 11.9 percent (tied for fourth), AOL was working to secure licensing rights from the other music titans.
Combined with Time Warner’s cable-modem Road Runner service, AOL also has control of fat pipes in the US. The reason many people didn’t use Napster is because it is slow and expensive. With control of broadband, subscription is that much more compelling.
Of course “compelling” in theory is different from “compelling” in execution, and AOL, Time Warner and Warner Music never bothered to come up with anything close to compelling (for years we were amused by the fact that the company even refused to let AOL work together with Road Runner, despite them being the same company!).
As you read through the rest, you just keep seeing names of long-dead sites and projects — none of which came up with anything compelling. You see plans for “new proprietary digital formats” that rely on RealPlayer (yeah, there’s a winner) and other short-sighted concepts. But what you see is really the same old story, and effectively still the same thing we’re seeing today. Everyone was focused on recreating the same old retail world, pretending that the digital world is just a replica of the physical world. It’s all focused on direct sales of recordings, rather than anything larger. And, of course, all of these plans ran into trouble when backwards-looking execs freaked out about being too open or too free, and so all of the plans were locked down, inconvenient, expensive and useless (if they ever came out at all).