Wednesday, February 23, 2005

IF MY HEART BLED ANY MORE, I'D NEVER GET THE STAIN OUT MY SHIRT: It must be really tough being a music industry boss - during the bad times, it's fairly easy to attack "threats" like cassettes and peer-to-peer networkers; but in the good times? You really want to sit down, swig a glass of champagne and order up some fresh hookers, but you can't; you still have to make with the miserables, because otherwise the pursing of 70 year old women for money they don't owe might start to look a little vindictive. So Andrew Lack, CEO of Sony-BMG had to try and paint a gloomy picture during the two-into-one major's Grammy party:

"The industry has tough years in front of it. I don't think it's going to get suddenly much better," Lack told The Associated Press. "The industry has really been hurt, and it isn't because there isn't great music. This year is strong, and yes we got a little uptick. But the strength of the music was not reflected in the real sales that we should have had[...] don't want to be a cold shower on a night when we are all celebrating but the reality is the business is still really tough for us."

Normally, we just snort that the executive is lying through his teeth, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say, instead, we actually agree with some of his analysis. First, the "hurt" done to the industry wasn't totally down to three or four years of shit music - although, of course, that played a major role: when you're pretending that Usher and Nelly are the match for Thriller-era Michael Jackson, say, you know that your entire range has been downgraded in quality, and of course that's going to hurt.

But the industry has had a tough time recently beyond having relied on shoddy product. See? Common ground with Lack. Where we probably diverge is on the reasons - he'll have you believe that it was evil downloaders stealing from his cornpile, whereas we'd, of course, point to the massive sales of DVD as being one of the challenges the industry has faced, and, of course, the taking over five years to actually offer any proper form of online sales as having cost the industry millions and millions in lost revenue. But that, of course, would mean Lack and the others would have to admit that their management has failed and probably should be offering his resignation. (Hey... have you got stocks or a scheme that invests in the music industry? Wouldn't it be fun to ask them why they've wasted your money?)

No, Lack trots out the same tired old 'blame the downloaders' schtick. Of course, to complain about the number of people sharing files after a year or so of RIAA legal action would be tantamount to standing up and saying "That really hasn't worked", so Lack has prepared a new complaint: Napster and LimeWire might not be a threat directly any more, but they've damaged the very basis of civil life:

"They're [The Supreme Court] going to be looking at whether in fact, these services have really undermined basic principles in this country that have for 200 years protected artists, writers, producers. I think they're going to see it our way."

Yes, them damn computers have altered the relationship that the founding fathers created between the effective monopoly of a Music Industry Cartel and the artists for the release of records. It's interesting that the music industry is keen to keep things just the way they are, except when the changes are being made in their favour - that the period of copyright was enshrined at the birth of the nation didn't seem to bother them overmuch when they were lobbying for an extension, for example.

It's also disappointing but not surprising that the Associated Press allowed Lack to get away with his "they're gonna see it our way" claim without a challenge. The US Circuit Court of Appeals didn't see it their way. The lower courts didn't see it their way. When Sony were taken to court by Universal City Studios in 1984 in a similar battle over Betamax videos, the Supreme Court saw it Sony's way - or rather, Sony's way when they owned the technology; the opposite way Sony see it when they own the copyright. (Interestingly, if the Supreme Court do agree with Sony this time round, it's possible Universal Studios could bring a legal action against Sony for twenty years' loss of movie revenues, which would be hilarious).


Anonymous said...

There is one other possibility... Lack's comments remind me of a trick pulled with some regularity by Sony executives - I seem to have seen in at least 3 times in the past 5 years. It goes like this:

a) Announce how disastrous everything is - times are hard, and the business is in deep trouble.
b) Downsize the payroll and cancel bonuses on the basis of (a).
c) Wait 6 months, while everyone forgets about (a) and (b).
d) Announce massive profits – the good times are here to stay, thanks to the wise decisions of senior management.
e) Pay senior executives huge bonuses on the basis of (d).
f) Wait another 6 months.
g) Rinse & repeat.

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