Apple Checkmate’s Music Labels In Purchase of Lala

For the past decade, the way music is distributed has changed dramatically–and it has been Apple pushing it virtually every step of the way.   It now seems prophetic that Apple Records sued Apple, Inc. all the way back in 1978, the outcome of which banned Apple, Inc. from entering the music industry (for a while, at least).  Oh how times have changed.

The rise of the iPod and the MP3 brought us to the final destination for music’s distribution medium–the  Internet.  CDs are practically extinct.  Sites like Pandora and newcomer GrooveShark allow nearly unlimited free music listening in streaming format.  More recently, cheap hardware devices like the iPhone, Roku, and even some BluRay players have added streaming capabilities from the likes of Pandora and Netflix.  Access to music and movies has never been cheaper for consumers.

All of this leaves me (and probably lots of musicians) to wonder, what’s the point of record labels?  Distribution costs on a per-listen basis are effectively $0, and many people are discovering their new music by streaming it.  99.9% of songs are just a URL away.  It used to be the label did your marketing, PR, and distribution, but the cost of all of those things is nearing zero as well.  Bands have a litany of tools freely available to market themselves online, the most powerful of which is services like Pandora and Grooveshark, and now iTunes’+Lala.

I ask today’s musicians, are record labels really doing anything other than stealing a slice of your hard earned money?

For music lovers, how do you feel about pay-per-listen versus owning physical media?

Blu-ray, shmu-ray

Apparently the Blu-ray Disc Association (wow, their parties must be legendary) believes that the high definition discs are poised to breakout into the mainstream with Chinese manufacturers getting in on the action.

Not to get sidetracked or anything, but are they implying that any of the Blu-ray players purchased thus far were not, in fact, manufactured in China? But I digress…

I continue to be completely baffled by the push to cram yet another optical disc format down consumers’ throats.  Since I downloaded my first MP3 in 1994, I’ve thought to myself, “gosh, it seems like an awful waste to make all those plastic discs and ship them all over the world when people could just download music from the Internet.”  Fifteen years later, where do most people discover and obtain their music?  Online.  Despite the movie industry’s penchant for lagging the music industry by about 3-5 years in their transformation to “digital”, the studios don’t see the writing on the wall?

Video has gone streaming!  Netflix, Hulu, CBS, ABC, NBC, Amazon, iTunes, YouTube.  Even your cable company’s OnDemand service.  People are streaming video, and they’re doing it on the cheap.  And if they’re not streaming it they’re downloading it.  And if they’re not downloading it, they’re TiVo-ing it, which is just like downloading it (albeit very slowly :-P), and saving it to watch later.

So, with my $9.78 a month spent on Netflix, I can watch unlimited movies streaming live online.  Sure, they don’t have everything.  But they have a lot.  And it’s plenty to hold me over until my next DVD from my queue arrives in the mail the following day.  Honestly, how many movies can I watch?  I’ve got more than enough from Netflix alone to keep me happy, fat and unproductive sitting on my couch or in my bed.  Yet, there’s always more if you want to grab something off of iTunes.

I’ve done the math.  I own about 75 DVDs.  That’s roughly $1,500.00, or $20 a DVD.

Netflix costs me $117 a year, and I can watch 72 DVDs a year, plus, let’s say conservatively that I watch one movie a week streaming for free from Netflix.  That’s 124 movies a year, which works out to 94 cents a movie.

94 cents.  It cost me $20 per DVD.  I’m pissed!!  You say, “oh but you watched them more than once.”  Yes, that’s true.  But not much more than 3 or 4 times.

Blu-ray discs cost even more.  They certainly have come down in price, but I’m sure as hell not gonna buy movies that I have on DVD all over again.  Especially when I’ve got an upscaling DVD player.

Another thing to consider, Blu-ray is obnoxious to watch if you don’t have a TV with 120 Hz refresh (which I don’t).  My friend was showing me “how cool” HD looked on his new player, and I didn’t want to say anything.  Yes, the image quality was great–no argument here.  But on a 60 Hz refresh rate screen, the image quality was too good.  I could see the gaps between the frames, it was difficult to watch.  I’m not going to go shell out another $1,500 for a new flatscreen, at least not for a couple more years.  By then, streaming HD video will be pervasive (it nearly is now).

Blu-ray, you’re fighting a losing battle with time.  The limited utility of owning a movie on a physical medium (except, perhaps for those who are absolute diehards), plus the significantly higher cost just makes buying Blu-ray a poor choice.  If you can spend $100 on hardware that will play Blu-ray discs, versus spending $100 on a Roku, or perhaps (for a bit more $) an AppleTV and setting up Boxee, you really would be foolish to go with Blu-ray.

Maybe if those Chinese manufacturers can make the players for $0.01.  I don’t think they’ve gotten their labor costs that low ;-).