It must be fall again. The temperature is dipping low at night. The leaves are changing color and attracting gawking, mouthy tourists (Northeastern US only). Football (the American version) is all over the tube almost all week long. (The non-American version has no season as far as I can tell -- it simply is
, existing without beginning or end.) The kids have gone back to school. The lawnmower has been garaged. And Who guitarist Pete Townshend is back to his regularly scheduled programming, (re)asking the age-old rhetorical question: "Why isn't iTunes also the recording industry?
To be sure, it's a loaded (and damn near incomprehensible) question. You may remember last year (November 2nd, 2011, to be exact) when Townshend broached this very same subject
during his long, rambling "John Peel Lecture." At that point, Mr. Townshend called iTunes a "digital vampire" and suggested that Apple should do such incredible things as hire "20 A&R people from the dying record business," provide free computers and music software to 500 artists per year (as recommended by the previously hired A&R reps) and license "best selling artists" to other organizations like "record companies" [?], "bookshops," etc. Despite the solid round of mockery that greeted his inaugural proclamation, Townshend apparently feels a yearly appearance is needed, possibly in the interest of the "greater good."
Mistaking iTunes/Apple for a "publisher" is Townshend's most egregious and most repeatable mistake. iTunes doesn't publish. iTunes is a storefront. Yet, despite the fact that iTunes is simply the point of purchase, Townshend still believes that Apple/iTunes should behave more
like a record label and less like the best digital Point-of-Sale most labels have.
Townshend said that his issues with the company stem from the fact that "they don't put any of their profit back into music."
No, Pete, "they" sure don't. But neither did a multitude of other music retailers over the years. However, iTunes does something that Tower Records and Musicland never did: put about 70 cents of every dollar back in the artists' pockets.
It's such an easy target, though. Easy enough that one, if so inclined, could take an annual roundhouse swing at its oversized chin. First of all, there's the skynormous market cap. ("Apple Now Officially Bigger Than Microsoft, The Beatles & Jesus Combined
!") The headlines make it seem as though Apple is using $20 bills for memo pads and $100 bills for shims to even out that one slightly off
leg on the desk. (No matter how finely appointed the desk, there's always one
leg that just won't keep up with the rest.)
Secondly, there's the popular argument that without all this content created by others, iTunes would cease to exist. The same could be said about every successful music retail chain but, oh lord, no one will ever make that claim because that was The Golden Age of the Recording Industry. Only now, when the barriers are gone and the playing field is level and "evil" entities are willing to throw 70% of every sale right back
, is it suddenly "exploitation."
But still... huge market cap... dying recording industry... other stuff... Townshend's conclusion from this mess of nostalgia and conflation is: Apple could
be doing more. The level playing field and massively popular (and powerful) distribution point just make it worse:
[A]rtists have to fend for themselves a lot more these days, he said, noting that the old record companies "paid advances they nurtured young bands, and they let you make a couple of bad albums in the hopes that you might make a good one." Townshend argued that while the internet has allowed for greater distribution, and there's a lot more talent out there, but "people have to do it on their own, completely, without any help."
Pete. The labels are still around. They're not nearly as dead as the very vivid and very public pantomime performances aimed at legislators would seem to indicate. They stopped this "nurturing" well before iTunes sprung up. They may have been more willing to throw good money after bad, but they never just "let" anyone make a couple of bad albums. They may have tolerated
a couple of bad albums from certain top tier artists but they were never happy and they certainly weren't interested in "nurturing." If they spent more time with the underachievers, it's because they were hoping to prevent the band's shite lightning from striking twice.
But even if
the labels were as benevolent and caring as you picture them, Pete, and even if iTunes was the lousiest deal ever to hit recording artists, the fact remains that trying to hold a storefront, a freaking point-of-sale, responsible for the future of recording artists is asinine. It's even more ridiculous to claim that not only
should iTunes save
recording artists, but that it should save them by doing everything the old way
Of course, this isn't just Townshend's annual delusion. Various spokespersons for various flailing industries have suggested that Google save journalism
, that the government save writers
and that ISPs save pretty much all of the above
, as well as the movie and recording industries. Despite being provided with a number of technological advancements and new markets, the legacy players still cling to the belief that the tech world owes them a living. These claims will continue to surface periodically, held out like talismans in a futile attempt to ward off the future by clinging to the past.