Steve Jobs Thinks Out Loud

Steve Jobs has recently posted "Thoughts on Music", an 1,800 odd word discourse on music, DRM technology and the music industry. It raises some interesting and perplexing points about intellectual property and copyright. Here's one quote:

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player.

Now I'm just thinking out loud here, but it seems to me that DRM is a waste of time and money. However, as a writer, I value my copyright. I create and sell content, and I'm just one of many in a very large industry.

However, the publishing industry differs from the music industry in one major way: most media revolves around advertising. Magazines and Newspapers make almost all of their money in advertising revenue. Subscription prices often don't even cover publication costs completely. Television is the same way - when was the last time you paid to watch ABC? Even cable, which requires a paid subscription, is otherwise free. Like in publishing, your subscription isn't where the money is - it's the advertisements that pay everyone's salaries.

The problem with the music industry is that they dodn't sell advertising. They don't even sell music. They sell plastic. That's what they've sold since the days of the LP, that's what they sold with 8-tracks and cassette tapes and CDs. By putting music into these formats, they can sell you 25 cents worth of plastic for $20. It's worked well for them, but now they're having trouble.

These days, information (whether it's words, images or audio) is so easily transferred and copied that the old model of "selling plastic" is meaningless.

I think that the various media industries need to rethink a few things. What are they selling? In some cases, media is it's own product. In most cases, media adds value to the real product. Unfortunately, selling plastic just won't cut it any more.

But what does this mean for content producers?

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