Why Universal’s Dissing of iTunes Doesn’t Really Matter

One of the biggest pieces of news about digital music last week was that Universal Music was going to deign to sell their music without DRM. This is, of course, a good thing for consumers, especially in a week where Google Video’s wholesale abandonment of their service showed just how fracked-up DRM schemes actually are.

The other big news in Universal’s announcement is, of course, that they aren’t going through iTunes to sell the DRM-free music, despite the reported success of EMI’s non-DRM’d tunes. This is widely seen as the latest dick-wave in an ongoing pissing contest between Universal and Ap–

Quick, name three Universal Music artists!!

Could you do it? I mean, without running to your record collection or the internet. Chances are, you probably couldn’t.

Because nobody knows or cares anymore which artists are on what major label. To the average consumer, their isn’t a damn bit of difference between any of the major labels: from our perspective, they all try equally to gouge us with inflated prices while simultaneous branding us as criminals when we rip CDs for our friends. And a pox on all of them.

Once upon a time, it felt like there differences between the majors — the types of artists they signed, how they branded themselves, etc. Nowadays, “what label are they on” isn’t even in the discussion. Hasn’t been for a long time. U2 has been one of my all-time favorite bands from the moment they released Boy, but I neither know nor care which label they ended up on after they left Island.

Learning which label an artist was on is one of those things that actually started taking a hit during the transition from vinyl to CD — I mean, there was no CD comparision to the Epic hypno-design, and now, the labels are essentially just parenthetical words lost in the metadata about a song or collection of songs.

Still it’s weird: Universal is making it harder for us to find whoever in the hell records for them these days. It’s as if, 25 years ago, Warner Bros records declined to sell their new Compact Discs at Tower Records because they didn’t like the attitude of the clerks.

And its such a crapshoot out there right now in the legit digital music download world right now that the guess here is that this won’t affect the average consumer at all. They are going to go to iTunes or eMusic search for an artist, and if they can’t find that artist, they are going to try other means.

My guess is that those other means won’t include Google & Universal’s gBox service — just because it seems like they’ve set it up to be somewhat confusing.

The way gBox is expected to work — it debuts August 21 and ends January 31, 2008 — is that the service will get referrals through ads that UMG purchases from Google at standard advertising rates. When users search for a band or a song using the Google search engine, ads will appear next to the results directing them to gBox.

Wow. Really? Forget the crazy-ass roundabout way they force you to get to the service — why can’t I just to to www.gbox.com again? — this entire thing is predicated on the fact that you have to know which artists are on Universal. Which you don’t.

(BTW, I just went to gBox site using Firefox, and was told that “Hey, you need to be on a Windows machine and use Internet Explorer to play with gBox.” So unless that changes in the next week, this is going to work out really well.)

The bottom line is that the entire system is still so messed up –otherwise it wouldn’t be big news that John Lennon’s solo catalog is now on iTunes! — that it’s actually a testament to us consumers that any music is sold online at all!

That’s why Universal dissing iTunes doesn’t really matter. It’s just one more messed-up thing in a system that currently seems broken beyond belief.

Here, again, is simply what we want in downloaded music:

  • The entire Long Tail of recorded music.
  • No DRM on any of it.
  • Fair pricing.

Everything else flows from that. This is exactly what has been available to us online for the past decade — just not from the major labels.

And until they start offering it up, they are going continue to lose the war that they’ve declared on digital music.

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  1. […] Why Universal’s Dissing of iTunes Doesn’t Really Matter – Because nobody knows what artist is on what label anymore, and the online music space is so fracked up that one more thing like this just doesn’t matter. […]

  2. […] like we are in another round of download service offerings. Add these to the DRM-free service that Universal announced last month, and the long-rumoured Amazon download stores, and consumers will have every type of […]