A Perfect Storm

A perfect storm is brewing in the music industry. Where we live in Tennessee that means lightning, thunder, and the possibility of tornadoes. In the music industry it means anxious artists, passionate fans, and the total rewriting of all the rules for the industry itself. “Honey, where’s Toto? I think we’re in for the big one!”


Contrary to what Wired magazine and others predicted just a few years back, the music industry will not disappear. It will definitely change. A lot.


“Going digital” is causing every business model and every business relationship to be questioned, challenged, and debated. This is healthy. While many prefer the safe quiet waters of the harbor, it is the sea-going explorer that has always been needed to get us to new lands. As they say, “ships are safe in the harbor – but ships are meant to sail the seas.”  Those explorers have been tossed in a violent storm over the past seven years… and the new land is in sight!


How long will it take to transition from today’s tiny market share to the majority of the market being digital? Most pundits have said it will take at least ten years more. I think it will take two. The time has come to remake business models and consumer experiences into digital experiences.


While working at Microsoft, I witnessed the birth of the digital encyclopedia. When Microsoft Encarta® made its debut, the industry was ruled by door-to-door sales people selling World Book, Book of Knowledge, Encyclopedia Brittanica, in fine sets of leather bound tomes. Families proudly displayed their encyclopedias in the family room. We loved getting the annual update book. The acetate layer diagram of the frog was a personal favorite of mine. My grandfather always pulled a volume from the shelf when he came to visit and opened to a random page to continue his lifelong learning journey. Who would want to replace that with a digital version and lose these great experiences and aesthetics?


The pundits predicted. And the market spoke. Loudly. Crushing expert opinion. Within 18 months, the door-to-door encyclopedia sales person was history.


When conditions are right, markets move swiftly, regardless of the opinions of the pundits and the conventional wisdom of the times.


What will cause the digital media revolution to accelerate and obliterate yesterday’s   market truths? Interoperability. The fans and artists have spoken. The issue is not digital rights management (DRM is music biz term).  The issue is the fan, saying loud and clear, “I want this music to play on my computer, on my iPod, in my car, on my phone, wherever and whenever I choose. It needs to be as easy as the CD. It should be easier.”


Parts of the industry have tried to throw up roadblocks on the highway to the future. Many artists and their fans have built jets to fly over them. The time has come to tear down the roadblocks and open the highways to those still traveling them. And in as little as eighteen months from now, the family room shelves that hold our shiny silver discs – like the shelves that held the leather-bound encyclopedias – can be put to another use. 

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