Choice may already be disappearing for online music distribution.
Sometimes all the little bits of news happening over the course of a week seem unrelated, but taken together, they form an interesting picture of what’s going on in the world.
Take, for example, two seemingly unrelated bits of music news, both of which, on the surface, seem to have little to do with the burgeoning independent music movement.
Reuters posts a news story about the “music business” (whatever that is) needing Eminem’s new album, Recovery, to be incredibly successful. The gist of the article is that music sales have dropped so dramatically over the last decade that the industry is at the point where it needs a huge smash hit to pull it away from the brink of collapse.
Buzz is again floating to the surface around the launch of a Google music service. Google, word has it, is planning on opening a digital music store which will be linked directly to search results. Google a band name, and you will be given the option to buy.
Further developments will likely involve the creation of a Google-powered cloud-based subscription system that lets you stream all your music onto your phone. Assuming that your phone works with Google’s Android software.
On the surface, these two news stories appear linked only by a helpful bit of advice from Reuter’s on the bottom of each page, suggesting that you, like other readers of the two aforementioned articles, might now enjoy reading a story on Miley Cyrus’ underwear (or alleged lack thereof).
But let’s dig a bit deeper.
The reason there’s so much buzz surrounding a Google music service is because such a service would compete with the industry dominant iTunes. Google and Apple are already at odds over competing technologies, like the iPhone vs. the Android phone. And if anyone’s big enough and tough enough to beat Apple at its own game, it just might be Google. After all, if my web browser automatically links me to the music I want, why would I go into my iTunes, and login to the iTunes store, ever again?
The Google music rumor comes at a time when iTunes is being investigated by the Department of Justice over antitrust practices. Not only does iTunes have a massive share of the market (69% of all sales in the U.S.), it was recently accused of dissuading record companies from doing any exclusive business with the Amazon mp3 store (Amazon boasts an 8% market share).
After Apple bought, then shut down Lala.com, industry watchers are nervous about the tech company’s control of the market. So we should all be excited about Google coming along to stir up some competition and diversity for the consumer, right?
Except that’s where Eminem comes in.
The New Old Way Of Doing Business
Just the fact that the mainstream music industry would pin its hopes on a new album by Eminem seems to prove that the old major-label-superstar-recording-artist model is dead. But it seems that while we’re watching the dinosaurs blunder into extinction, a new generation of monsters have sprung up to rule the earth.
And not only are the new monsters just as corporate, monopolistic, and profiteering as the old monsters, these new titans are technology companies. At least the major record labels started out caring about music.
Music services are consolidating, major companies are shutting down small businesses, and now, you’re telling me that in the future, diversity of choice in terms of where we buy our music is going to be “Apple or Google? You decide!”
While we celebrate technology’s ability to support the independent artist, the two largest technology companies in the world are becoming the standard in distribution. At this rate, a totalizing system in which Apple and Google set the “new” industry standards on promotion, recording, and compensation is not far behind.
The word of the day is CONSOLIDATION. All of the independent, small music services that have helped to build an industry where indie artists can succeed are getting scooped up, and we face the very real prospect of a future where the web is just as closed to indies as the old music industry once was.
The question being, is there anything independent musicians can do to stop it?