An open letter to ‘the big four’…

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DRM. Three little letters that seem to mean so much to you.

You pretend that you created DRM to protect those people in your care, your recording artists, film makers & authors.

However, what you fail to understand is that your firm, unrelenting grasp of your media, is squeezing the very life out of it, drop by drop, and if you do not change, it will be mortally wounded, if not stone cold dead within a decade.

Let’s put our cards on the table here, DRM was created by you, not to protect your recording artists’ sales, but to protect an old and outdated distribution model, (physical CD distribution), from the digital download age.

You see digital downloads as a danger, a danger to your current cash-cow, CD’s.

The ease in which CD’s can be ripped to a PC and therefore be easily, and illegally shareable on peer-to-peer sites is something that you grudgingly accept – you failed to see it coming.

There’s very little you can do about it now (short of installing root kits), so your current approach is to keep the status quo as long as possible. CD’s can be ripped to MP3 and distributed with ease, but it still isn’t an easy process in comparison to taking an non-DRM’ed MP3 file and giving it to someone else.

You know however that this is a temporary situation, the future is almost here – complete digital downloads of media, in all its forms are inevitable, once the pipe is big enough.

Every new step forward, (in the past from LP’s to CD, at present from CD’s to digital downloads) you now take with the utmost care, nothing is left to chance. You failed to see the ripping of CD’s to MP3 coming, you won’t let that happen again.

So you enforce draconian DRM on iTunes purchases. It was only the forceful personality, and resourcefulness of Steve Jobs that gave us the option of getting around this DRM easily (by ripping to a CD).

And you enforce even more draconian DRM onto Windows Media Files, and even manage to get kickbacks from every Zune purchased. This was a lot easier because of the willingness of Microsoft to cooperate. Microsoft do not care about the ordinary consumer, just like you. To them they are the lowest of the low, to be controlled like sheep, under the watchful eye of an IT Administrator, or in this case, a faceless corporation.

So here we are at the present. A time of conflict, confusion & struggle – and it doesn’t have to be like this.

Instead of staring at our feet, at where we are today, let’s look to the future, at where we’d all like to be, and plot a course on how to get there.

Seeing as this is all about protecting your current business model, let’s look at what your actual current business model is.

You have a recording artist you wish to sell records on behalf of. You do this by displaying their currently released track in various advertising mediums – on the radio, TV, billboard posters, adverts etc. The mix of these mediums is dependent on your target audience, but the path this audience takes to purchase (and therefore fulfilling the marketing exercise, i.e. making money), is always the same.

The target audience is exposed to the medium, say through the radio and likes the sound of it. But what happens then? Can they purchase that medium? No, they cannot. The medium has to (hopefully) have made such an impact so as to have stayed in their memory (billboard & press reinforce this), so that when they just happen to pass an outlet where they can buy they physical media that they heard, they can finally complete the purchase which started out with the time they heard the song play on the radio, sometimes weeks previously.

It’s not very efficient is it?

The period between the exposure to the medium and the purchase is too long. A lot can go wrong in this period of time, including the target audience forgetting all about your product. This is why the song must be played again and again on the radio, why you must spend huge sums of money on billboard & press campaigns – your marketing plan is too complex.

There’s a famous acronym in marketing and it’s K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid!

In contrast, look at the iTunes Store. You launch the application. You may have many reasons to do this but it’s mainly because you want to play one of your songs. You look at the mini store, or click on a store link next to one of your favourite artists. You go straight to the store, play the song, like it, purchase it. 30 seconds later it’s on your iPod and you are listening to it.

Simple.

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