SUNNYVALE, CA (Hypebot) –
Convenience Wins, Hubris Loses and Content vs. Context
"…Amazon’s finally done what was clearly the right solution
in 1999. Music in the format that people actually want it in,
with a Web-based experience that’s simple and works with any
device. I bought tracks from Amazon…downloaded them, sync’d
them to my new iPod Nano, and had them playing in my home audio
system in less than five minutes. PRAISE JESUS. It only took 8
years…How much opportunity have we lost in those 8 years?…"
"Hello. My name is Ian Rogers. I’ve been building digital media
applications since 1992, dropped out of a Computer Science PhD
program to tour with Beastie Boys in 1995, and have been
purchased by both AOL and Yahoo! in the ten years since then,
with a stint running the new media department for a record
label in the middle. Currently I work at Yahoo! Entertainment
on Yahoo! Music.
First, a question: How many of you have tried Amazon’s MP3
Back in 1999 I ran Winamp.com for Rob and Justin. Napster came
on the scene and we thought, “Wow! There’s a market for MP3s!”
We had millions of people using Winamp, visiting Winamp.com for
skins and plugins — it was by far the largest community of
MP3-lovers. We naively and enthusiastically suggested to labels
that we’d be a great place to sell MP3s. The response from the
labels at the time was universally, “What’s MP3?” or “Um, no.”
Instead they commenced suing Napster. We were naive to be sure,
but we were genuinely surprised by the approach. Suing Napster
without offering an alternative just seemed like a denial of
fact. Napster didn’t invent the ability to do P2P, it was
inherent in TCP/IP. It was like throwing Newton in jail for
popularizing the concept of gravity.
Nullsoft subsequently built and prematurely released a program
called Gnutella which became the basis for true P2P of the
coming years. When Tom Pepper told Time Magazine that Gnutella
was for “sharing recipes” he really said it all: This is so
much bigger than just sharing music. This is physics. It’s
trivial for one person to transfer bits from one person to
another. Trivial. Unstoppable. PUT YOUR ENERGY ELSEWHERE, we
thought out loud.
I caught a lot of heat from my music industry friends for
Nullsoft’s Gnutella leak. In a long and impassioned email in
1999 I wrote to everyone I knew in a band, at a label, or music
journalism (whatup, Jay!) and urged them to sell their content
to their users in the format they were asking for: MP3. Make it
easy, I wrote, and convenience will beat free.
Well, we (you included) did lots of other things instead. While
running “New Media” at Grand Royal I released the first
day/date digital/physical release with At The Drive-In’s
“Relationship of Command”. Thanks to EMI requirements (hi Ted!
hi Melissa!) it was DRM’d WMA and we sold about 12 copies in
the first month, probably all to journalists. Years later I
helped Yahoo! build Yahoo! Music Unlimited, a Windows Media
Janus DRM-based subscription service. Record labels for their
part participated in no end of control experiments: SDMI,
Liquid Audio, Pressplay, Coral, etc, and they continue to this
But now, eight years later, Amazon’s finally done what was
clearly the right solution in 1999. Music in the format that
people actually want it in, with a Web-based experience that’s
simple and works with any device. I bought tracks from Amazon
(Kevin Drew and No Age), downloaded them, sync’d them to my new
iPod Nano, and had them playing in my home audio system
(Control 4) in less than five minutes. PRAISE JESUS. It only
took 8 years.
8 years. How much opportunity have we lost in those 8 years?
How much naivety and hubris did we have when we said, “if we
build it they will come”? What did we spend? And what did we
gain? We certainly didn’t gain mass user adoption or trust, two
prerequisites to success on the Internet.
Inconvenient experiences don’t have Web-scale potential, and
platforms which monetize the gigantic scale of the Web is the
only way to compete with the control you’ve lost, the only way
to reclaim value in the music industry. If your consultants are
telling you anything else, they are wrong.
Yahoo! Music demonstrates this scale discrepancy perfectly.
Yahoo! is the world’s #1 Internet destination. Hundreds of
millions of people visit Yahoo! each month. Yahoo! Music is the
#1 Music site on the Web, with tens of millions of monthly
visitors. Between 10 and 20 million people watch music videos
on Yahoo! Music every month. Between 5 and 10 million people
listen to radio on Yahoo! Music every month. But the ENTIRE
subscription music market (including Rhapsody, Napster, and
Yahoo!) is in the low millions (sorry, we don’t release
subscriber numbers, but the aggregate number proves the point),
even after years of marketing by all three companies. When you
compare the experiences on Yahoo! Music, the order of magnitude
difference in opportunity shouldn’t be a surprise: Want radio?
No problem. Click play, get radio. Want video? Awesome. Click
play, get video. Want a track on-demand? Oh have we got a deal
for you! If you’re on Windows XP or Vista, and you’re in North
America, just download this 20MB application, go through these
seven install screens, reboot your computer, go through these
five setup screens, these six credit card screens, give us $160
dollars and POW! Now you can hear that song you wanted to
hear…if you’re still with us. Yahoo! didn’t want to go through
all these steps. The licensing dictated it. It’s a slippery
slope from “a little control” to consumer unfriendliness and
non-Web-scale products and services.
But this isn’t news, nor is it particular to the digital age.
History tells us: convenience wins, hubris loses. “Who is going
to want a shitty quality LP when these 78s sound so good? Who
wants a hissy cassette when they have an awesome quadrophonic
system? Who wants digitized music on discs now that we have
Dolby on our cassettes? Who wants to listen to compressed audio
on their computers?” ANSWER: EVERYONE. Convenience wins, hubris
loses. [check Fredric Dannen’s comments here]
I’m here to tell you today that I for one am no longer going to
fall into this trap. If the licensing labels offer their
content to Yahoo! put more barriers in front of the users, I’m
not interested. Do what you feel you need to do for your
business, I’ll be polite, say thank you, and decline to sign. I
won’t let Yahoo! invest any more money in consumer
inconvenience. I will tell Yahoo! to give the money they were
going to give me to build awesome media applications to Yahoo!
Mail or Answers or some other deserving endeavor. I personally
don’t have any more time to give and can’t bear to see any more
money spent on pathetic attempts for control instead of
building consumer value. Life’s too short. I want to delight
consumers, not bum them out.
If, on the other hand, you’ve seen the light too, there’s a
very fun road ahead for us all. Lets get beyond talking about
how you get the music and into building context: reasons and
ways to experience the music. The opportunity is in the chasm
between the way we experience the content and the incredible
user-created context of the Web.
By way of illustration (and via exaggeration), in a manner of
speaking iTunes is a spreadsheet that plays music. It’s
context-free. You just paid $10 for that album — who plays
drums? I dunno, WHY DON’T YOU GO TO THE WEB TO FIND OUT,
BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE THE CONTEXT IS.
But the content experience on the Web is crap. Go to Aquarium
Drunkard, click an MP3. If you don’t get a 404, you’ll get a
Save As… dialog or the SAME GOD DAMN QUICKTIME BAR FROM 1995.
OMFG. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THIS IS ALL WE’VE ACCOMPLISHED IN 15
YEARS ON THE WEB? It makes me insane.
So we have media consumption experiences with no context
(desktop media players) and an incredible, endless, emergent
contextual experience where media consumption is a pain in the
ass, illegal, or non-existent (the Web). FIX IT. Your fans are
pouring their music-loving hearts into blogs, Wikipedia, etc
and what tools have you given them to work with? Not much,
This is what I’m vowing to devote my energy, and Yahoo!’s
Lets envision the end state and drive there as quickly as
possible. Lets not waste another eight years on what is obvious
today. Lets build the tools of a healthy media Web and reward
music-lovers for being a part of it.
In the end you get what you pay for. I won’t spend another dime
paying engineers to build false control, making listening to
music harder for music-lovers. I will put all of my energy into
making it easier and making the experience better. I suggest
you do the same.
Thanks for listening.