It’s apparently Led Zeppelin week here at The Contrarian. Yesterday, I posted about the new Plant & Krauss album (incredibly lovely — can’t stop listening) and, later that afternoon, the entire Zep catalog appeared in iTunes in the form of a $99 "digital box set." So far it’s only pre-order, as is the new (and utterly redundant) best-of, Mothership. These developments are set to coincide with Zeppelin’s one-off reunion concert at London’s O2 stadium on November 26.
Zep and The Beatles are among the last colossal bands not to be legally downloadable. We knew a LZ deal was coming — their tunes were recently made available on certain Verizon-enabled phones. But the timing seems odd, considering yet another music biz behemoth is announcing it will switch to a month-to-month contract with Steve Jobs & co.
That’s right, Warner Brothers is considering following in Universal Music’s footsteps and not renewing their long-term contract. Uni owns the largest percentage of worldwide record labels; if coupled with WB’s considerable share, it could result in an uncertain future for iTunes. At the moment, no music conglomerate can afford not to do business with Apple, but many of ’em seem eager to "explore other options." NBC is already doing so, having recently pulled their video product. They’ll be teaming up with FOX in a new "free" content-delivery system called Hulu. According to yesterday’s article in the Washington Post, this new service will be hard to ignore, due to NBC and FOX’s distro deals with AOL, MSN, Yahoo! and MySpace.
Apple is still a major player in the biz, but with Amazon.com now offering MP3s (and paying out 20 percent more to
labels affiliates), how much longer can the center hold? Probably as long as the iPod dominates the portable player market, is my guess. Industry experts seem to be anticipating an eventual move to a subscription model, but the mere idea raises so many tricky legal questions that it might not happen for a while. Well, until the majors start declaring bankruptcy, anyway. So maybe sometime next year.
But back to Zeppelin. There’s no word on whether or not these new versions will be higher quality than iTunes’ standard downloads. The literature states the tracks have been "remastered," but what does that mean? Jimmy Page has supervised at least three previous remasters of the Zep catalog — can they really get any better? I’m guessing that those who don’t already own "The Cube" (only $89, with liner notes!) might be interested. The rest of us boarded the Mothership long ago.
Still, it’s been a long time. A lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely. . . time.