THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Update

P2P

No longer the story. People are trading more than ever, but the press is burned out on the topic. As are the insiders at music conferences. Bring up file-trading and people wince. But more people are downloading more files than ever before.

THE MAJOR LABELS

Playing a game of LOOK AT ME!

As if they count.

THAT'S the big story of the decade. How the flattening of distribution eliminated the Big Four's monopoly. All the blather
about P2P/lawsuits, variable pricing at the iTunes Music Store, DRM, it's IRRELEVANT! A veritable sideshow. It's as if Smith-Corona were putting out press releases how it's got a viable strategy, and the company is just about to turn the corner and typewriters are coming BACK!

MYSPACE

Ripe to be eclipsed.. It's the social responsibility of Fox. Eliminating 250,000 profiles this week is doing nothing for the site's cred. And its slowness and crashability are not endearing the site to users either. But it's got two big advantages. One, FREE hosting of content and two, social networking, with the latter being the most important factor.

If Viacom were smart it would either start a social networking site TOMORROW or purchase FaceBook. Power is not going to change hands forever. Someone's gonna end up the winner. And Tom Freston and his MTV team are the right corporate seers/managers for this. Because they always cross the line and stand their ground, maybe weaseling, but they don't back down. The ultimate winner in this sphere will not play by parental rules, or Washington, D.C. rules, but by INTERNET rules. Where parental guidelines are out the window and ANYTHING GOES!

The press needs an hysterical story. MySpace is not leading to a plethora of child kidnappings and abuse, these have always existed, but baby boomer parents, with a helmet always on mentality about their kids, are prone to hysteria. You can only win if you ignore them.

The ultimate winning site must have standard programming tools. So you can customize your site, but no rogue code or left field looks can be employed which mess up stability. And it will focus on hooking people up. Music is secondary. Music is a different play.

A music site would be incredibly fast and incredibly simple, a la Craigslist. With MUSIC SPECIFIC tools/content. Charts, tips,
reviews. THAT'S the musical future, not social networking sites (the social networking must be SUBSIDIARY to the music). It's about FILTERING what's available, not throwing it up against the wall.

THE CD WATCH

Eek! Did you see the magazine numbers in the "Wall Street Journal" last week?

Ad pages in "Time" dropped by 12% last year. And in "Fortune", 10%. "Sports Illustrated" tanked by a whopping 17%. And in the first two months of this year, ads in "People" were off by TWENTY ONE PERCENT! What's worse, "People" accounts for one-third of Time Inc.'s profit. In other words, Time Inc.'s business is going down the tubes.

Okay, so far this year we've seen the end of film cameras, the decline of newspapers (the sale of Knight Ridder) and now the demise of magazines. What makes you think the CD will survive?

It's always the same. Chicken Little yells. The sky doesn't fall. Everybody thinks the status quo rules. And then, there's a slow drip evolution to the new paradigm and finally OVERNIGHT, the old paradigm evaporates.

The CD will die. Sooner than you think.

Oh, DON'T TELL ME IT SOUNDS BETTER! Vinyl sounded better than cassettes. But cassettes ruled because of CONVENIENCE! Files will rule for the same reason.

But the more important thing is HOW WILL COMPANIES COPE WITH THIS CHANGE?

We know how the majors are planning to cope. By porting their physical model to the virtual world. That would be like IBM thinking they could tie everybody into a mainframe. Microsoft rules today. Because they had no legacy, they started afresh. In the same way that their update of Windows is killing them now. By trying to make the operating system work with all computers and programs from the past it's bloated, inefficient and its latest iteration, Windows Vista, is LATE! The OS needs to be replaced. With a whole new system. But Microsoft won't take this tack, because they're worried, if you're junking the past will people throw in with them AGAIN, or somebody NEW??

The major labels don't own the platform. They only own the content. They're worse off than Microsoft. And IBM showed you can't triumph by sheer will alone.

The winner in the new era will know that music acquisition is different. That more people will own more music, which they acquired at a cheaper cost. In this interim, new players are going to make inroads by GIVING AWAY their product, building career acts, and waiting for monetization of this new paradigm. Years from now, the new entities will have a coterie of acts the public is in love with. Whereas the majors will have Ashlee Simpson. Someone propped up by the machine who nobody believes in.

AOL

Raised the price of dial-up access. It wants to DISCOURAGE sign-ups of dial-up customers. Because this is not the future. The future is providing features, selling advertising, via broadband. It's all about aol.com now. Go watch "Welcome Back Kotter" on your computer. Endure the commercials, but watch away.

AOL has jettisoned the past in search of the future.

The record companies are a couple of years and a couple of changes behind them.

HYPE

Tell one person and he'll tell everybody.

Tell everybody and nobody will spread the message.

People believe when they hear it from somebody else, not the machine.

GOOGLE VIDEO

The MSN of its day. Just because Google rules in search, that doesn't mean it's going to rule in EVERYTHING!

YOUTUBE

Quite possibly the Napster of its day. Distributing copyrighted content without permission. Whether or not the site survives, two lessons have been learned. People like user-created content. And giving something away for free/viral video has BENEFITS! Or, the question becomes where in the food chain do you charge. NBC pulled "Lazy Sunday" from YouTube. Why? It was only making its cash cow, SNL, hotter.

BLOGS

People are pissed at the news media just like they were pissed at the major labels six years ago and stole the product willy-nilly. There's barely any news on TV, only talking heads spouting and coverage of disasters. "The Washington Post" and "New York Times" are not always trustworthy, and don't understand the Net whatsoever. So, people who DO care have moved into fill this void. And news will never be the same. To survive old media needs freewheeling passion, and honesty. The blogs have this in spades. Maybe INACCURACY TOO, but if Judy Miller helped get us into Iraq, how accurate are the establishment monoliths?

AMERICAN IDOL

Is about the music business the same way the Soap Box Derby is about Formula One.

It's a basic rule. You get something on TV, it sells. For a WHILE! Didn't Buck Owens lament that all that overexposure on "Hee-Haw" killed his music career?

THE LONG TAIL

There's a market for everything and fewer people want the mainstream thing.

It was easier to just skim the cream off the top of the market. But now it's too expensive to reach all those eyeballs and people don't care. They've got choice. Which they're exercising.

MOVIELINK/CINEMA NOW

Can you say PressPlay?

It's not about demonstrating you're moving forward, it's about giving the customer what he WANTS!

People don't want to watch movies on their computers, they want to download them from the Net and watch them EVERYWHERE! And maybe, if cheap enough, and marketed well, more people will own more movies. Movies can be MADE to download on the Net. But by trying to protect the theatre experience and DVD cash cow the movie studios are not only leaving money on the table, they're demonstrating they're ignorant and losing the trust of the consumer.

You wonder why the ratings for the Oscars sucked? The same people who kept saying how great it is to see the flick in the theatre are in control of not only the show, but the business.

I watched the Oscars on a plasma Pioneer HD television with a B&W surround sound system. That's a better viewing experience than everywhere but the ArcLight. Furthermore, the best of television eclipses all the film dreck. Because it's not made for EVERYBODY! Risks are taken. It's about story, not EXPLOSIONS!

PELLICANO

I've been around, I'm an attorney, but I had no idea the business was rigged to this degree. Who's worse, a rapper with a gun or Brad Grey or Bert Fields?

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