The Apple fanboys/girls and naysayers alike are in full force on the ‘nets today, arguing about the relative awesomeness/non-awesomeness of the so-called iSlate iPad, which is expected to be announced tomorrow at 1PM EST. (If you somehow missed this tongue-in-cheek piece, “iSlate of the Union,” check it out and come right back.)
I’ve previously talked about what a tablet could mean to a host of sectors, from the fledgling e-reader market to the magazine industry to the still-struggling music biz. Now, I hardly believe that a single device — no matter how sexy — can magically erase the woes of certain businesses that failed to anticipate and adapt to the future. (Cough, music.) But I do think that Apple’s tablet could go a long way towards prolonging the life of the “downloaded file, delivered via the tubes” model that has come to define both commerce and piracy in the digital age.
Since I play an expert on TV (or at least in DC), let’s keep the focus on music.
I was hoping that 2010 would be the year that saw the emergence of a sustainable, affordable, robust, cross-platform, on-demand subscription service for music. Maybe Spotify would finally arrive in the US and the major copyright holders would reevaluate their licensing approach due to massive consumer demand (insert something about pigs and flight). Hell, I don’t care which company grabs the subscription brass ring, as long as it: a) pays equitably to creators and offers them a platform for access, b) won’t break the bank, and c) has a massive catalog and works with all my devices. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.
When Apple purchased multi-faceted digital service Lala (a company whose model also includes free single-use streaming, “cloud locker” music storage and tethered “ownership”), my first thought (and everyone else’s) was that Steve Jobs and co. planned to dive into the subscription game.
Upon further consideration, it became more apparent to me that Apple is more likely to use Lala to facilitate the back-end for a music “cloud locker” that would allow Mac-heads to access their music files wherever they are and whatever (Apple) device they were using. I mean, why would Jobs want to cannibalize the file-based digital storefront he spent all this time developing? At the end of the day, Apple still wants you to purchase (or rent) a file through iTunes, but now they’ll let you store it over here and access it over there. I’ve recently had my theory corroborated by someone who’s been in this game way longer than me, which felt good. Of course, there’s nothing saying Apple won’t get into the subscription biz — they are currently rumored to be in negotiations with TV networks about just that. Which would make perfect sense for a shiny new tablet!
Let’s talk about another piece of music news that recently broke (no, not the Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger — I’ve done that enough). Apparently, a company called MusicDNA is unleashing a new file format that is supposed to make MP3s look (and sound) like an old Victrola. (Personally, I prefer the sound of an old Victrola to overcompressed digital audio, but that’s beside the point). Anyway, this magic new file will “offer fans a new way to listen to music and could be key in the fight against piracy,” according to the not-always-prescient Guardian UK:
A fan buying a MusicDNA file of [band X, Y or Z], could watch — on their computer screen or music player — videos of recent performances, pore over artwork and sleeve notes, find out about concerts and buy a tour T-shirt, while following any blogs or tweets the musician might write.
“Out of a rusted old VW Beetle we are making a Ferrari,” said Stefan Kohlmeyer, the chief executive of Bach Technology, which has developed the file.
“We are taking an existing idea, giving the end user a lot more and making that file much more valuable — like transforming a tiny house into a huge villa.”
Easy on the hyperbole, there, dude. Anyway, this isn’t anything I haven’t been saying for three years, which basically boils down to: ADD VALUE TO YOUR PRODUCT, DUMBASSES! I mean, there’s always the expectation that content will eventually drift down to the freetard level (and blanket licensing schemes could even squeeze some dough out of them), but if you find compelling enough reasons for customers to keep going back to the source, they just might.
And, if you give them an attractive device with which to experience said content, well, now you’re getting somewhere. Which brings us back to our tech fetish du jour, the Apple tablet.
As much as I want one, I’m probably gonna have to pass for now — upgrading my music production computer takes precedent over groovy gadgets. But all the hullaboo has gotten me thinking (even more than usual) about content delivery in the digital age, and how much of it depends on the attractiveness and utility of the end device. This Apple thingamabob could, for example, wipe the Kindle off the map, herald a new renaissance for album art, kick game developers into a whole ‘nother gear, and give us yet another way to watch “30 Rock” in bed. If they throw a streaming subscription service in there, I’m sold.