When did you last walk into a record shop, flickety-flack through the CDs (or 7″ records if you were too cool for plastic) and take your selection to the counter?
OK, that question is an old one, and the answer too (“not since I went to emit sad, hollow laughs at the last Public Enemy LP”), but the point is still a prescient one, though in a whole new way.
Downloading is dead. For those who obsessively follow technology news, then please roll your eyes and carry on planning your Web 3.0 start-up. For the rest of us, who use technology as a conduit more than a means to an end, this might be a bit of a surprise.
Actually, maybe it won’t be – if you’ve used Spotify* a similar thought may have pinged into your mind’s inbox recently.
A few years ago, music fans fretted over another harebrained scheme deriving from the record industry’s desire for ENDLESS CONTROL, in particular the mooted idea of changing the status of a customer’s ownership of the music itself.
This particular idea read as follows: even when you bought the CD, you didn’t actually own the music, and were in fact only paying for the privilege to listen to them, which made you wonder what would happen when EMI decided they wanted all their Robbie Williams songs back. (Answer: they released Rudebox, and the public did all the hard work for them)
This sounded like rank stupidity, and made the route towards downloading and owning a song seem even more tempting than before.
But as dumb as it still sounds, the no-ownership situation has come to pass, though perhaps not in the way the labels imagined. Music providers like Spotify make music ownership unnecessary now – and, most importantly, no-one cares.
It is an indication of how quickly people will change their minds if they feel they are getting a good deal. These online streaming services are exactly that: the wildest dreams of any music lover coming true.
If you’re happy to listen to an occasional advert, or pay a paltry sum per month, you can hear any music, whenever you want, however often you like. Why didn’t they sell it to us like this in the first place?
Downloading is, therefore, now defunct. It’ll still exist as a viable outlet for smaller bands, and it will work in their favour. These bands can foster a relationship with fans, and these fans are happy to pay to support them.
But for the Coldplay-buying public, spending time and money downloading from iTunes doesn’t make sense any more.
I spoke to some record label types recently, and they all agreed, with the quiet urgency of people who have just spotted the departing train and begin running just quickly enough to catch it without breaking into a undignified rush, that ad-fuelled/subscription streaming services like Spotify are the future.
I asked them about the future. They shuffled their feet and admitted that they didn’t even know what the music industry would look like in a year, let alone five.
Heady times, ripe for change. Let’s hope the bands and the fans – the people that, you know, count – get a better deal this time.
*And if you’ve not used Spotify yet – well, welcome back, Mr van Winkle; and now go here and prepare to lose the remainder of the day in slack-jawed bliss.