Music Industry: Going to war with consumers

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

As readers of this blog may know, I’ve been keeping tabs now and then on updates within the music industry, particularly as it relates to digital rights management (DRM) and other related consumer issues. In a recent article, the head of Warner Music, Edgar Bronfman, confirmed the position the music industry has taken with their own customers.

Previous articles on the topic:
Thoughts on DRM
Thoughts on DRM: Part II
Have the record labels become the new dinosaurs?

Tell us something we don’t know Edgar…

Music boss: we were wrong to go to war with consumers
Wednesday 14th November 2007

“Speaking at the GSMA Mobile Asia Congress in Macau, Edgar Bronfman told mobile operators that they must not make the same mistake that the music industry made.
“We used to fool ourselves,’ he said. “We used to think our content was perfect just exactly as it was. We expected our business would remain blissfully unaffected even as the world of interactivity, constant connection and file sharing was exploding. And of course we were wrong. How were we wrong? By standing still or moving at a glacial pace, we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find and as a result of course, consumers won.””

On the surface, this appears to be an epiphany for Brofman, but in reality, he’s just stating the obvious. He’s stating something that consumers have been telling him for years. He’s stating something that bloggers have been telling him as well. This is not just an issue for Warner music group; this is an issue for the music industry as a whole.

I also take special note of the following statement in particular: “we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find and as a result of course, consumers won.”

The question is, does Bronfman believe in what he is preaching? At this point, I’d say no. Consumers don’t want DRM with their music downloads either. The independent labels have dropped DRM, EFI (one of the big for labels) has dropped DRM. What is Warner waiting for? If Bronfman is in tune (pardon the pun) with consumers as he claims to be, why isn’t he allowing DRM free downloads? Actions speak louder than words. Bronfman’s words sounds like typical marketing speak to me.

“Bronfman suggested that mobile companies have much to learn from Apple, despite being critical of and iTunes in the past.”

Again, Bronfman goes on to talk about Warner’s partnership with Apple and how they are now offering bundled products such as full albums with ringtones, videos, etc. Again, it’s clear that Bronfman is in full marketing mode rather than addressing the real issues. If he can learn so much from Apple as he claims, why isn’t he dropping DRM as Apple has been calling for? It would have been nice if someone at the conference actually challenged him on this topic just to watch him back pedal.

Other bloggers have weighed in on the topic with similar opinions. One comment in particular helps bring the “war with consumers” better into focus.

Edgar Bronfman Rewrites History, Has A Pretend Epiphany

“After all, it was Edgar Bronfman Jr. himself who very actively declared war on consumers who were file trading in the summer of 2000. As the head (at the time) of Universal Music, Bronfman Jr. announced that he was preparing to send “an army of lawyers” after file sharers. That’s not “standing still or moving at a glacial pace.” The “war” wasn’t inadvertent. It was an active decision by Bronfman Jr., which kicked off the entire RIAA war against consumers. “

That sort of distills Bronfman’s role in the music industry over the past years about right. These aren’t exactly the highlights you’d want read at your retirement dinner one day.


It seems to me that if someone were to make a sincere apology / admission of guilt, they would mention the real issues. Bronfman is right when he claims to have “gone to war with consumers”, but it surely wasn’t limited to “standing still or moving at a glacial pace” has he suggests. Bronfman has actively gone to war with consumers. He’s right, customers have won in the sense that they the music industry as a whole is losing money and consumers are getting what they want, albeit illegally in many cases.

I’d like to think this is the first step towards enlightenment for Edgar Bronfman, but I can’t help but doubt it. He half-heartedly acknowledged his mistakes. Not only did he try to spin his mistakes into something much more passive, but he followed up his admission with a bunch of marketing speak. The thing is, nobody really cares. I doubt any significant percentage of people would purchase music or boycott music published by Warner because of anything Bronfman says or does. However, Bronfman does have the power to do the right thing and offer customers the product they want in the form of quality music downloads without DRM restrictions. Apparently, he’s not ready for that yet, but it’s plain to see that this is the inevitable path they must take if they (Warner) are to survive and prosper in the future.


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