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Imagining Apple's future digital media format

Christopher Breen | Sept. 19, 2014
Having a reasonably undiluted Irish heritage, I can attest that not all of us have the fabled "gift of gab." So when U2's Bono recently mentioned to Time's Catherine Mayer that the band and Apple were working on a new digital music format, you have to credit it not to his Irish origin but rather to the notion that the man's made a career of speaking his mind.

Having a reasonably undiluted Irish heritage, I can attest that not all of us have the fabled "gift of gab." So when U2's Bono recently mentioned to Time's Catherine Mayer that the band and Apple were working on a new digital music format, you have to credit it not to his Irish origin but rather to the notion that the man's made a career of speaking his mind.

Other than his suggestion that such a format is in the works, we have no details. But that doesn't prevent me from speculating on what it might mean. Key here, I believe, is what current digital downloads and streams lack, both from an artist's and consumer's perspective. Let's imagine.

For the love or money

In that Time article, Bono spoke about the desire to see musicians and songwriters paid for their work. And he has a point. With the advent of bit-perfect copying of digital music and the ability to share it across the Internet, record and song sales have declined. And because sharing is so widespread, music has become largely valueless in the eyes of consumers. "Free" music services such as Pandora and YouTube serve to underscore this idea.

As such sales kept a lot of artists in the business, where have they turned to make the daily loaf? Some have taken to performing and merchandising their name, but unless you're already established, this is a difficult path. Less well-known artists depend on fan support and have expanded their skill set to include production and session work. Still others gave up the major label dream years ago and have set out on an independent avenue where they not only write, record, and perform, but book and market their own performances.

U2 (and allegedly Apple) are taking a step back and asking the important "Why is it that just about everyone else in the world deserves to be paid for their work but not artists?" question.

The Cynical respond "They do it for the love of music." (Or worse, "If they'd wanted to make money they wouldn't have chosen music as a career.") The difficulty, of course, is that love don't pay the bills. Romantic as the notion of the starving artist may be, the reality is nothing but grim.

And so it seems that any effort along these lines will involve some form of digital rights management (DRM). And yet we've been down this path before. Consumers didn't like it and, frankly, neither did Apple as it was instrumental in removing DRM from digital purchases. So what exactly could such a scheme offer to consumers that might compel them to pay for music rather than steal or stream it?

 

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