Last week, I was in San Francisco. I picked up a copy of the Guardian, and came upon my first "year end review." To my horror, I recognized only a couple of songs in the top ten. (This is a chronic problem for those of us trying to stay in touch with contemporary culture…or me, anyhow.)
Time to catch up. In the old days, I would have had to buy 10 albums. But now, of course, I can buy 10 tracks (or albums) on line. Or so I thought.
I am not an iPod user. Something about the "closed Apple universe" put me off. I wanted music from many sources that I could play on several devices, not a "sole source" supplier that limited my options.
My iPod alternative was the music service from Microsoft’s MSN. This is where I turned last week. Bad luck.
Beginning November 14th, 2006, MSN will no longer offer music downloads through the MSN Music store. The "Buy" buttons that you are used to seeing on the MSN Music album and artist pages will change to links that connect you to Zune and Real Rhapsody. See below for information regarding how this change will impact your MSN Music account.
There are several things to say here, but here’s the one that strikes me most forcibly. Microsoft has abandoned PlaysForSure. PFS was designed to make it easy for consumers to buy digital music from several sources and play them on several devices. In the place of Apple’s "closed universe," Microsoft was creating something breezier. It was admitting third party players.
Well, with Zune, that’s over. Now music from Microsoft is a closed shop too. Music from Microsoft now plays only on Microsoft devices. And Microsoft devices will play only Zune tunes. Now the Microsoft music universe is as closed as Apple’s.
If I want to continue to buy music from Microsoft, I must:
1) rebuy all the songs I have bought from them already.
2) buy a Zune player
3) buy all future music from Zune
I think that we can divide the world of digital music into two camps. There are those who embrace the Apple iPod as a sole source supplier, but there is so much to like about it, and those who, like me, accept a little imperfect for the protection of an "open universe" approach. Most of the people who used the MSN music service did so, I am guessing, out of this motive. (I mean, is there another plausible reason?)
And what does Microsoft do? It breaks this connection, creates a closed universe, and forces me to join this closed universe. Golly, if I were prepared to join a closed universe (and repurchase everything), why would I not just go over to Apple? Microsoft just managed to remove my one motive for connecting to Microsoft. Nice work, fellas.
This is a brand behaving very badly indeed. Normally, we don’t treat consumers this way. And God save us if we do.
When I was doing research for the Canadian Recording Industry Association on the problem of illegal downloading, my respondents told em that they had several motives. One was revenge. Consumers understood that the transition from vinyl to digital, when prices did not drop, was a piece of pure profit taking on the part of the generation. Also, and this surprised me, they were still pissed off with the "jewel case," that crappy piece of plastic that breaks virtually upon first contact. I wonder if Zune doesn’t supply a new motive for illegality.
In the fall, BusinessWeek indicated that the the illegal download problem is still with this. By the estimate of the International Federation of the Photographic Industry, 20 billion songs were illegally downloaded or swapped in 2005. I think it’s fair to say, that when Microsoft pulls a stunt of the kind (and order) Zune represents, they damage not just their own brand, but the prospects of an industry that is struggling with a gigantic competitor.
Let’s review. With the Zune universe, Microsoft has dispensed with their difference, broken their contract with consumer, forced him/her to repurchase the music, and with this they have supplied a new motive for the flight from legality that now torments the music industry. Really nice work, fellas.
A.G. Lafley, CEO of P&G, said recently that marketers
"must stop thinking of brands from [a] manufacturing point of view. Consumers own brand equities [and] brand messages. [Marketers] need to learn to let go."
Let go of the brand. What good advice. Oh, and Microsoft, while you’re at it, let go of my music.
Bahn, Christopher, Andy Battaglia, Aaron Burgess, Scott Gordon, Liam Gowing, Marc Hawthorne, Jason Heller, Steven Hyden, Josh Modell, Noel Murray, Sean O’Neal, Keith Phipps, Nathan Rabin, Kyle Ryan. 2006. Best music of 2006. December 13, 2006. AVclub.com. here.
Bernoff, Josh. 2006. iTunes are NOT plummeting! Forrester blogs. December 13, 2006. here.
Lehman, Paula. 2006. Free Downloads — After this message. BusinessWeek. October 9, 2006, p. 95.
Melillo, Wendy and Joan Voight. 2006. World on a string. Adweek. December 11, 2006, p. 10. (source for the quote from A.G. Lafley)
Slater, Derek. Speculation – Why Did Microsoft Design. A Copyfighter’s Musings. here.