How to Recognize the Future Before It Lands On You
Today is the day: users who bought Radiohead’s new album direct from the band online are now able to download it.
Predictably, the music industry is freaking out because Radiohead has completely disintermediated them:
You can’t make a TV show by yourself. Certainly not a movie. Not that anyone can see. But you can make a record all by your lonesome, it doesn’t cost that much. And you can say exactly what you want, you don’t need to clean it up for Wal-Mart. And, you can distribute it yourself online. That’s what Radiohead is doing.
I would just like to take this moment to say…
You probably don’t know who Sarah Lentz is. That’s OK; neither did I, until recently. And then while clicking through MP3.com one day, I found her page. A quick perusal gave me the 411; vocalist and pianist, struggling indie artist, known for striking, deep voice, plays clubs in New York City. Intrigued, I took a listen to one of her songs, "Disintegrate". A few minutes later, I was downloading all of her songs, and they got my attention enough to lead me to order her CD. In the space of a couple of days, I’d gone from not knowing who Sarah Lentz was to being a huge fan.
This is what should terrify the record companies. Because every Sarah Lentz I discover on my own leads me one step away from their paradigm, in which I need a big corporation to lead me by the hand to the approved artists I should like, and one step closer to declaring independence and disintermediating them once and for all…
The [music] industry provided us with a safe place in the analog cyberspace of gramophones and 8-track tape players to meet new artists that we could be reasonably certain we would enjoy. In exchange for providing that space, however, they extorted a dramatic toll from artists and listeners. Now they are terrified that they might be losing the traditional revenue stream that community has provided them. What they should be worried about is what will happen if one day the Napster users discover MP3.com and decide they don’t need that safe space at all. Then the Sarah Lentzes of the world will finally get paid what they deserve, music will finally cost about what it should, and the only people who will weep when the community closes its doors for the last time are the newly unemployed A&R men.
The only difference between the scenario I painted and Radiohead’s move is that they contracted with someone other than the now-defunct MP3.com to handle the back-end fulfillment. If those radio execs had taken my words to heart, they could have worked out a way to be that back-end fulfillment provider themselves, and keep a portion of the transaction instead of what they will get from Radiohead now — nothing.
Of course, I’m too humble to say that reading Just Well Mixed every day will make you a prescient forecaster, enable you to see the big changes in the world coming before everybody else does.
Oh wait! No I’m not.