Posts

Sometimes it takes a while for ideas to spread and become perceived as good ones. The “Music Like Water” metaphor where for a low monthly fee, people would have access to all the music they want in a kind-of music utility is one such idea.

In a variety of recent announcements, the once mighty major labels have begun to accept the idea that maybe, the old way of squeezing cash out of consumers for music – might need to be replaced with another model.

Emusic has been pioneering a hybrid subscription/download models for many years and is currently the #2 supplier of “paid for” digital music behind iTunes. Now both Sony/BMG and Warner Music are speaking publicly about subscription and utility models that they intend to explore.

Warner has gone so far as to hire Jim Griffin to head up development of a new business to bundle a monthly fee into consumers’ Internet service bills for unlimited access to music. Whoa!

The plan—the boldest move yet to keep the wounded music industry giants afloat—is simple: Consumers will pay a monthly fee, bundled into an internet service bill in exchange for unfettered access to a database of all known music.

Bronfman’s decision to hire Griffin, a respected industry critic, demonstrates the desperation of the recording industry. It has shrunk to a $10 billion business from $15 billion in almost a decade. Compact disc sales are plummeting as online music downloads skyrocket.

“Today, it has become purely voluntary to pay for music,” Griffin told Portfolio.com in an exclusive sitdown this week. “If I tell you to go listen to this band, you could pay, or you might not. It’s pretty much up to you. So the music business has become a big tip jar.”

Nothing provokes sheer terror in the recording industry more than the rise of peer-to-peer file sharing networks. For years, digital music seers have argued the rise of such networks has made copyright law obsolete and free music distribution universal. 🙂

Bronfman has asked Griffin, formerly Geffen Music’s digital chief, to develop a model that would create a pool of money from user fees to be distributed to artists and copyright holders. Warner has given Griffin a three-year contract to form a new organization to spearhead the plan.

Griffin says he hopes to move beyond the years of acrimonious record industry litigation against illegal file-swappers, college students in particular.

“We’re still clinging to the vine of music as a product,” Griffin says, calling the industry’s plight “Tarzan” economics.

“But we’re swinging toward the vine of music as a service. We need to get ready to let go and grab the next vine, which is a pool of money and a fair way to split it up, rather than controlling the quantity and destiny of sound recordings.”

Read more from Portfolio here.