Former Music Exec Tells Book Publishers They're Acting Just Like The Recording Industry 10 Years Ago

from the don't-do-that.. dept

Sometimes I wonder if it's simply inevitable for industries facing disruptive change to react badly to it. We spend a lot of time here trying to discuss ways that various industries can avoid doing stupid, self-defeating things, and yet, inevitably, they do them anyway. Copycense points us to an article by Susan Piver, an author, who was formerly a recording industry exec, complaining that publishers are acting just like the record labels did ten years ago. However, it might not be in the way you'd expect. She's not talking about them just responding in anti-consumer ways, but in sitting back and hoping that someone else will find a magic bullet that "saves the industry" and that they can just copy:
The "somebody do something that works so we can copy it" mentality duplicates the kind of hoping-for-the-best attitude espoused by long-time executives in music who simply could not or would not question the viability of the professional cocoons they'd built for themselves. And who can blame them -- corporate mega structures are schooled in consolidation as the primary means of growth, not fleet-footed, shape-shifting responsiveness to change. But now we're in a world where getting bigger is not the answer, getting smaller is.
Piver makes a really good point, as well, that people are still looking at the music industry as if it was "killed" by unauthorized downloads -- but nothing is further from the truth:
Downloads did not kill the music business. Shortsightedness and turf-protection on the part of music business executives did. Piracy and changing distribution schema will not kill the publishing industry. Shortsighted infrastructure-protection on the part of publishing houses will.
Instead, Piver points out that, just as in the music industry, there's a ton of opportunity for those who embrace it, even as those who don't incorrectly will claim the industry is dying:
Without making friends with this beast, my guess is that in 2-5 years we'll see a publishing industry that looks like the music business does today: Super-downsized major companies selling a product line aimed at an older demographic or chopped into whatever the ring-tone equivalent will be in publishing, and a jillion new companies creating the next generation of publishers, retailers, and readers. Just like in the music business, some in publishing will be mourning the death of the business while others will be wildly excited because all they see is opportunity.
There's more good stuff in there as well, but it brings up some really good points. But, part of the problem is that the traditional (false) music industry narrative is still the predominant one. People still think that music industry is dying, even as it's thriving (it's just the recording industry segment that's struggled). And so as everyone tries to "avoid what happened to the music business" they're going to make huge mistakes if they focus on the false narratives.

Already, today, we're seeing that the publishing industry is just focusing on making ebooks available, but doing little to recognize how consumer behavior is changing in how they interact with media (which is as big a part of this market change as any new method of distribution). If the publishing industry is going to figure this out, it needs to not look for some silver bullet that brings things back to "the way it used to be," but to really spend time trying to understand what people are doing today with media -- and, actually, the music world is a good place to start, if they focus on the success stories of what's working, not the complaints from the parts of the industry that have held back.


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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 10:00am

    http://www.wired.com/entertainment/music/magazine/15-12/mf_morris?currentPage=all

    [Universal's CEO Doug] Morris insists there wasn't a thing he or anyone else could have done differently. "There's no one in the record company that's a technologist," Morris explains. "That's a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn't. They just didn't know what to do. It's like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?"

    Personally, I would hire a vet. But to Morris, even that wasn't an option. "We didn't know who to hire," he says, becoming more agitated. "I wouldn't be able to recognize a good technology person — anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me." Morris' almost willful cluelessness is telling. "He wasn't prepared for a business that was going to be so totally disrupted by technology," says a longtime industry insider who has worked with Morris. "He just doesn't have that kind of mind."

     

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    Hulser (profile), Feb 10th, 2010 @ 10:03am

    Cocoon

    "The problem with always giving the people what they want is that you become blind to when they want something different."

    To me, this summarizes the common problem of the recording industry and the publishing industry. They built up an infrastructure that was very very good at delivering the lowest common denominator that appealed to the most people. But the very kind of organization that is optimized to do this well isn't in a position to either actually see a dramatic change in their market or to properly react to it. It's nice and warm in the cocoon, so why take the risk of turning into a butterfly?

     

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      william (profile), Feb 10th, 2010 @ 10:49am

      Re: Cocoon

      to me, the sentence

      "The problem with always giving the people what they want is that you become blind to when they want something different."

      really should be

      "The problem with always being able to force feed people with what you delivered is that you become lost when they grow a spine and start looking for what they personally wanted."

      What happened was the recording industry had the music and the delivery mechanism in a tight grip. There isn't really any "choice" per say for the consumers. Consumers can only get most of their fixing from the big four, when they want to deliver it they way they want.

      Now comes along the Internet and a whole new way of marketing and distributing products. They are completely lost. Suddenly, they are not the only voice in town (for marketing) and they sure aren't the only distributor in town (for music). What do you do then? Basically, they tried to kill this Internet thing so they'll remain in power. No company or companies can stop the force of market and technology.

      Up to this day, they are still trying to kill it, while this "new" technology is no longer new but just a common consumer products. However, this time they are trying to get the government on their side to try to kill it.

      Eventaully, it'll still fail.

      Now publishers are basically at the cross road of where recording industry is about 10-12 years ago and it's looking like they are taking the wrong side of the camp...

       

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        Hephaestus (profile), Feb 10th, 2010 @ 3:44pm

        Re: Re: Cocoon

        "Now publishers are basically at the cross road of where recording industry is about 10-12 years ago and it's looking like they are taking the wrong side of the camp..."

        Glad to see people actually get this. Here is the key that is actually killing the record companies and will eventually destroy the book, news paper, TV, and movie studios.

        "But now we're in a world where getting bigger is not the answer, getting smaller is."

        That should read

        "But now we're in a world where getting bigger is not the answer, getting smaller and more targeted is."

        I personally dont watch much TV, syfy, news, cartoon network, discovery, and the comedy channel. Its seven maybe eight shows total when I have time. To get me to pay attention to most of the meaningless drivel coming out of hollywood is impossible. Media distributors need to know the consumer is changing and no amount of laws will change that.

        You made an interesting point.

        "government on their side to try to kill it ... Eventaully, it'll still fail."

        The internet is nothing more than a communication medium. It routes around obstructions. You are SO right any attempt to change it from a communications platform, to a delivery platform for big media is doomed to failure.

         

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      PaulT (profile), Feb 10th, 2010 @ 11:03am

      Re: Cocoon

      I'd disagree with this. The reason they are struggling is because they've spent so long getting good at telling people what they should want, and hitting a low enough common denominator that the people who were dissatisfied didn't seem to matter.

      Technology has changed this so that people can now dictate what they *actually* want, and it's often not the crap the labels are shovelling (or they at least want the crap in a different way than the labels are offering).

      They've failed because they spent so much time freaking out about the "free" aspect about it and trying to protect their now-undermined models, they didn't notice that customers were telling them what they actually wanted. Instead of offering product for sale in an easy to buy, customisable format, they tried suing customers, forcing DRM (a tactic that probably set back digital sales a full decade) and withholding product from sale.

      Despite some advances, their businesses are still dependant on marketplace realities that ceased to be truly viable a full decade ago. They simply have to adjust to the new reality, even if it means abandoning sales techniques and models that used to work brilliantly, once upon a time.

       

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        Ryan, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 11:17am

        Re: Re: Cocoon

        I don't think the reasons are at all specific to the music industry, though the manifestations are. Like any legacy company, the market shifts - especially technocentric markets. And like any legacy company in a market that has suddenly shifted, they find themselves at a disadvantage to small companies and new entrants that are not burndened with existing, and now obsolete, infrastructure.

        The reason why the whole charade continues on and on and on instead of forcing them to adapt or die is because the government continues to change the rules reactively for their benefit and simply will not allow them to fail. It's the same thing with newspapers, auto companies, credit companies, banks, home loans, etc.

        Of course these companies aren't going to adapt - adaptation is difficult, and it's much easier to just donate a bunch of money to politicians and either get new laws passed(ACTA, for instance) or just receive a giant public subsidy. I'm not even sure the RIAA and the others have even done the wrong thing, at least for the people in charge. They can't win in the long run, but as long as they can delay the inevitable, it's easier to not adapt.

         

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        Hulser (profile), Feb 10th, 2010 @ 11:56am

        Re: Re: Cocoon

        I'd disagree with this. The reason they are struggling is because they've spent so long getting good at telling people what they should want, and hitting a low enough common denominator that the people who were dissatisfied didn't seem to matter.

        I think we're essentially on the same page. But there is one key difference. I think you'd say that the recording industry has not been giving "the people" what they want. I think that they have been. Look at the popularity of Brittany Spears and her ilk. Maybe people are buying her music because they don't have a choice, but if it's just that why do people celebrate its banality as much as they do? They don't begrudgingly accept the publum being fed to them by the recording industry; they embrace it.

        They've failed because they spent so much time freaking out about the "free" aspect about it and trying to protect their now-undermined models, they didn't notice that customers were telling them what they actually wanted.

        Again, I think we're mostly in agreement. However, I think that up until recently, what "the people" wanted and what the industry thought that they wanted were mostly the same thing. The Internet not only changed people's attitude about how they wanted to access and consume music, but the quality of the music. People realizing that there is actually good music out there, that's the real revolution.

         

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    NAMELESS.ONE, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 10:07am

    ten years ago

    the music industry was already suing everyone and there dead

    HOW publishers that care about writing can become.
    LOOK at things like that director who has fans help donate for works. THINK do not fall to fascism, despotism and wha not the sec you go there way. I STOP for rest of my life buying and will JUST pirate. I have told you before that i try before i buy, yes i dont buy everything but ill say that a lot more purchases were made because i had that choice to look.

    SIDES what oh what did they do before copyright for reading and payment...OH yea they did it cause they wanted too and liked too or that it would advance there culture or country.

    YA see one day in the future robots will make everything. ONE day we all won't need to work cause its all done by a machine. HOW DO YOU get paid then? FOOD will be free to all, health care free to all. AND HOW DO WE pay then for entertainment? WE WON'T.

    the future is gonna be grand and these types are just trying to slow it.

    the robots can already play soccer...make cars and assemble a lot a stuff now....
    what if china had to pay no workers....
    what if we had to pay no workers....
    HOWS the capitalist system to survive true technology?
    Americans know that to stem the collapse of the capitalist system they must halt and impede(BLOCK) other nations ability to invent and create off other work.

    look at ACTA and other laws in USA again now and tell me this isnt what they are trying to pull.
    ask IBM why they patent, they will tell you the truth, that it isn't about innovation its about protecting form litigation buy suing back. THATS WHAT its about hiring lawyers also. IMAGINE IF IP disappeared tomorrow how many lawyers go hungry then OH NO THINK OF THE LAWYERS
    how is that brain dead grandson of the actor in hollywood thats drunk stoned and on crack gonna get buy if we dont give him everyone else's money to live on.

    just go ahead and do what hollywood is and see how it forces more of your regular folk to us the nameless ones

     

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      The Mighty Buzzard, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 11:24am

      Re: ten years ago

      Right, that was incredibly hard to read. Proper spelling and grammar are our friends. Even then most of it was little more than a semi-coherent rant, so I'll answer the one question that halfway made sense.
      HOWS the capitalist system to survive true technology?
      Very easily. Technology is not at all harmful to capitalism. Capitalism loves anything that makes the creation of products/services cheap or free. People who don't know how to deal with change are the ones who have a problem with it. They, by capitalist tenets, should fail in their business and be replaced by those who understand how to succeed.

      Impeding/blocking other nations creation of derivative or similar works to stifle competition is not capitalism. It is, in fact, actively working against the spirit of capitalism. Controlling who succeeds and fails in the market is a socialist or communist tenet not capitalist.

      There you go. Now maybe next time you'll know what the hell you're talking about.

       

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        Burgos, Feb 11th, 2010 @ 11:28am

        Re: Re: ten years ago

        "It is, in fact, actively working against the spirit of capitalism. Controlling who succeeds and fails in the market is a socialist or communist tenet not capitalist."

        Why do I get the impression that you think socialism are the antithesis of capitalism? If I got the right impression, then I'd say "read up more on the subject(s)". Socialism and capitalism are not mutually exclusive.

         

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    ozzy osbourne, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 10:11am

    SHARON

    yea like ozzy being doped and ruggged up all his life gettinglaid and partying and then wondering how the usic industry stole all his mney

    all while cooking steak fancy dinner over a kitcher larger then my house in a house thats bigger then this block

    yup oh poor ozzy. flip side bruce sprinstein gets legitly ripped off by the labels for every sale ever made in canada.
    as wella s 300000 artists

    this is what will hapen to book makers if you go this route
    it will push all the books ot those publishing houses and then they will jsut keep all the cash.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 10:22am

    Mike, I think Warner's chief exec might have indirectly said "no" to your Cwf+Rtb:

    "The get all your music you want for free, and then maybe with a few bells and whistles we can move you to a premium price strategy, is not the kind of approach to business that we will be supporting in the future."

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8507885.stm

    Apologies if this does not quite belong in this thread.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 10:41am

      Re:

      Great article. The end bit:

      Jon Webster, chief executive of the UK's Music Managers' Forum, which represents artist managers, said the industry must support services that tempt fans away from piracy.

      "Anything that's going backwards is denying where the world's going," he said.

      "New media has to give the consumer what they want and the consumer is in a world where they want things right here, right now - and if you don't give it to them, they'll steal it.

      "There are new business models out there and they are beginning to work and we are in a transition phase."

      They've been in a transitional phase for over a decade. Isn't there a time limit to how long a transitional phase can last?

       

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        The Anti-Mike (profile), Feb 10th, 2010 @ 10:45am

        Re: Re:

        Until the wild west phase is over, there will still be transition.

        As for the main article, all I can say is "former". Perhaps there is a small axe to grind here?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 10:52am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The internet is nothing like the wild west. It's a useless comparison.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 10:56am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Ah yes, the typical response when even you can't find any stupid argument to make.

          "There must be more to the story!"

           

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          Ron, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 11:01am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Every time I read your bullshit, I think about that video with the idiot crying and telling everyone to leave Britney Spears alone, but I change the words in my head to leave the recording industry alone!! Is that you in the video?

           

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          Luci, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 11:11am

          Re: Re: Re:

          > As for the main article, all I can say is "former". Perhaps there is a small axe to grind here?

          So... because someone who left a company for reasons that aren't revealed disagrees with that company's current business strategy, that person must have an 'axe to grind'? Perhaps they left because they could see the company getting into a nose-dive, and have that average+ intelligence that says 'grab a chute and abandon ship'?

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 11:15am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Considering you have no purpose here other than to grind axes...

          I would stop making a fool of yourself now.

           

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          robin, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 12:13pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          As for the main article, all I can say is "former". Perhaps there is a small axe to grind here?


          tam-tam pr/lobbyist/shill strategy #4:

          denigrate first then sort through the counter arguments to ruin a lively discussion. job accomplished.

           

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    fogbugzd (profile), Feb 10th, 2010 @ 10:46am

    Who were they supposed to copy?

    The industry may have been waiting for someone to copy, but at the same time they were smothering in the cradle every innovative idea that came along.

     

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    Peter (profile), Feb 10th, 2010 @ 11:08am

    (1) Any music exec who really believes the industry did everything it could do has to be a self-deluded idiot. Honest to god, this happened: back when the Napster lawsuit was filed, I was teaching my law students about copyright and fair use. I happened to say that I thought that if I were a music exec I would put my company's entire catalog online in streaming format with a little button next to the streaming button that would allow the listener to pay for and download the song. I was no genius. Plenty of people were saying this. It was years before iTunes, though, so it wasn't self-evidently a good idea. What did my students say? They told me it was a stupid idea. I asked why. They told me that if it were smart, some music company would already have done it.

    I through a fit. These people wanted to be lawyers, and they had to learn that just because people do things a certain way doesn't mean it's the smartest way.

    (2) The recording industry and the publishing industry are based on their ability to pay for and control the means of creating and distributing their product. The internet has put those abilities in the reach of anyone with a laptop, so their entire material reason for being what they were is gone. And they're too stupid to recognize that.

     

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      Ryan, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 11:21am

      Re:

      I through a fit. These people wanted to be lawyers, and they had to learn that just because people do things a certain way doesn't mean it's the smartest way.

      Haha, I brought up this exact point in a completely unrelated post a few days ago(and of course, the lawyers took offense that I would criticize a lawyer, even though those same lawyers were criticizing others for not being a lawyer). What is it about law school that somehow eliminates forward-looking, normative thinking and replaces it with the assumption that the status quo is the only way to do things for so many of its students?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 12:34pm

    Relevance

    I still think the value-add of a publisher is to bring you the data when it's relevance is maximized.

    newspaper/book/magazine: it's a write once storage device, with a simple indexing system, but low density, no input, low output, low speed, no search, limited portability.

    Because it was write once and no competing devices, the vendor mistook the value of the device+data for the value of just the data.

    People were paying for the device+data. Once you have essentially free devices with better features, you realize that the value of the data itself, is pretty low.

    Two tactics. Kindle increases the value of the device by updating the features. Write many times, higher storage, higher speed, search, input, etc. And they figure on selling more data because the device is capable of more. So they make money on the data by increasing it's volume.

    Another tactic is to increase the value of the data itself. It's never going to be the contents of the data, except in rare instances and for very short durations. Because everyone can copy the data.

    Google is based on the relevance of the data. It makes money at ads, not because the ads themselves are any better than anyone else's. But because the ads are more relevant to the user. Thus, the value of the data has increased to both sides; the consumer and supplier.

    How could books do this? I'd love it if an ebook came with each dead tree book I buy. I use stanza on my iphone to keep reading my books, when I don't happen to have them handy. I probably read about half a book on my iphone, while stuck in line, waiting for the ferry, drinking a coffee, etc. When I'm at home, I use the dead tree version (better UI - and will not be topped since the preferred UI is inherently less portable)

     

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    Ben, Feb 10th, 2010 @ 1:14pm

    An old book reader..

    I used to hang out in a funky old used bookstore, so did most of the people I knew, I would pick up a book and begin to read it in the store, if i liked it I would buy it. When I was done I would bring it back to exchange for a percentage of the original price as store credit. Every week people would gather to drink coffee and talk about books, philosophy & various esoterica, it was good for business as almost everybody went home with a book.

     

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      Burgos, Feb 11th, 2010 @ 11:37am

      Re: An old book reader..

      Where I live, there's also a book store that allowed people to read the books for sale. The store has couches, carpeted sections where people can sit and read, and a coffee shop. It's a nice place to go to (to bad smoking isn't allowed inside, even in the coffee shop section).

      The store doesn't offer store credit for used book resellers though, because you can't sell used books there.

       

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    voxmanz (profile), Feb 11th, 2010 @ 11:09am

    "Just" recording industry segment?!

    "People still think that music industry is dying, even as it's thriving (it's just the recording industry segment that's struggled)."

    Wow. That's a pretty big "just." Recorded music is the backbone aspect of the music world (and a huge part of many other industries, including film, gaming, restaurants/clubs, etc.). Seems like the "new" music industry solutions always minimize the importance of recorded music and emphasize live playing and selling merch because their seem to be no solutions for respecting/monetizing the value of recorded music - even though recorded music is far more important to a much larger percentage of people than live performance or merch. If the majority of people were asked what they would choose to have if they could only have one aspect of music, they would choose recordings. Many people don't even go to see live music anymore, but everyone listens to and uses recorded music in their businesses constantly. Yet I've seen blogs where people who are trying to push this new model have actually said that playing live is more important that recorded music, which didn't exist until a few decades ago. As if recorded music was a fad. I guess they're saying this because they have no answer to the fact that people aren't paying for recorded music as much now because it's been monetarily devalued in the eyes of the public (because people have been sold the propaganda that it should be free - it's never free, the artist pays the cost if the listener doesn't). Seeing comments like that is upsetting to artists who devote their life to creating great musical recordings. Lose high quality recorded music and many industries would collapse (not to mention people would go crazy without their daily music in private and public). What's being done to protect/support good recording artists in the new music industry model?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2010 @ 12:21pm

      Re: "Just" recording industry segment?!

      ...even though recorded music is far more important to a much larger percentage of people than live performance or merch. If the majority of people were asked what they would choose to have if they could only have one aspect of music, they would choose recordings.

      Proof of this? How many people have you personally asked? Care to show us your tally? Graphs would be very helpful.

      Many people don't even go to see live music anymore

      Says who? Just a couple of weeks ago, there were articles posted here that say musicians have gotten bigger revenues from live performances.

      I guess they're saying this because they have no answer to the fact that people aren't paying for recorded music as much now because it's been monetarily devalued in the eyes of the public

      Are you out of your mind? You're looking for a problem where there is none. People are not going to pay much for something that has little value (people are not going to continue paying the same price for something that has decreasing value); that doesn't need to be explained.

      You're just saying what you're saying because you have no answer as to why recorded music has to retain the value given to it decades ago, and how recorded music's value can be increased at this time.

      Seeing comments like that is upsetting to artists who devote their life to creating great musical recordings.

      Which artists? The ones who feel that just because they've recorded two or three world-wide hits, they no longer have to work just like everybody else?

       

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    voxmanz, Feb 11th, 2010 @ 11:46am

    The Elephant in the Music Industry Room

    As usual, we're all getting distracted and ignoring the elephant in the room (probably because the elephant has been there so long we no longer see it, or it's too big to face). The "problem" with the music or publishing industry has nothing inherently to do those specific industries.

    If a man has cancer, saying the problem is bleeding or low energy levels or the pain in his joints and trying to solve those issues is not addressing the problem and will only temporarily relieve some symptoms if best.

    The problems with these specific industries are rooted in the problems with our economic system itself. A small number of people who are the primary shareholders of the major international corporations in this country are sucking money out of the economy and putting little back in. These people demand quarterly profits and, not only do they not have the public interest in mind, they don't even have the long term health of any industry or the economy in mind. This "Divine Right of Capital" (a term coined by Marjorie Kelly) must be challenged.

    Why is there financial scarcity in the music industry? Because people don't have money. If our economic system was sound and based on the the well-being of everyone instead of a tiny percentage of our population (economic democracy, which is what we should have), our economy would be thriving and everyone would be doing well financially. If that were the case, all of the these seeming problems in the music industry (and publishing, etc.) would either vanish or seem not so major.

    Does everyone truly believe spending billions of taxpayers (that's us) dollars per month on wars and billions of dollars to bail out a failed banking industry (most of which is being given to individuals as bonuses) is really not relevant to these kinds of discussions? Or is everyone just afraid to address it? Or hopeless that the corruption of our system can be changed? It won't be improved as long as we don't address it and shirk our responsibility as citizens to take part in making it what it should be.

     

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      Burgos, Feb 11th, 2010 @ 12:27pm

      Re: The Elephant in the Music Industry Room

      I didn't know that elephants were red forage fish moving in vast schools, coming in spring to the shores of Europe and America, where they are caught, salted and smoked. Curious.

       

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    A Different Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2010 @ 1:34pm

    Different Industries

    Music and Books are totally different. People aren't playing music in any significantly different way. The publishing industry is now having to deal with ebook readers, etc but I don't think it will replace the book.

    I, for one, absolutely hate reading a book on a lighted screen. Sure ebook readers are nearly as portable as books now and can hold tons of books on a simple device. The problem is ebook readers are more valuable then books. If I take a book on the train with me and forget it, I'm not out hundreds of dollars. If I drop a book it usually isn't ruined. Books are far less likely to be stolen.

    Sure there is a market for ebook readers, but I don't think they will effect the publishing industry in the significant way the mp3 did the music industry.

     

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