Time after time, when a new technology comes out that affects the music industry, there is resistance by the elders. Lots of resistance, actually. When recorded music was presented as a payable option on vinyl, there was a fear people would stop going to live performances. When cassette tapes could record music off the radio, a turntable or a CD player, there was a fear of a future where no one bought music anymore. There was a very similar fear when Napster came out and people shared MP3s ripped from CDs.
How did the music industry react to this fear? Poorly. Believing lawsuits would curb the use of downloading, without a feasible sign of direct payment to the record label, it only made matters worse. Downloading continued to rise and CD sales greatly dwindled, but even to this day, people still buy CDs and – the format the CD almost torpedoed – vinyl.
If there was anything to be learned about the future of how people consume music, it’s that people want options, not just one option. Whether it’s through streaming services like Spotify or Rdio, purchase sites like iTunes or eMusic, or buying a limited edition vinyl with a free MP3 download, there are many options out there.
So let’s look at three lessons that can be learned by any business trying to adapt to modern times.
The Internet is not going anywhere
“The old music industry underground was characterized by scarcity,” wrote David Greenwald. “Now we have infinity.” What you can obtain on the Internet, whether it’s an MP3 download or buying a car, is drastically much more than yesteryear, where a phone book and/or a specific trip to a location meant procuring an item. The Internet has been the most convenient way of doing things, for personal and professional, for many years and it shows no sign of dwindling in its impact on society.
New technology is not evil
If a model works for years, then why should it change? It’s a great question, but as shown with the music industry’s fractious relationship with the Internet — new technology keeps coming out and will continue to do so. Either adapt or get out of the way.
The much-publicized purchase of Beats Electronics by Apple is a great recent example. Not only did Apple, with its wildly-successful iTunes, iPods, iPads and iPhones, buy into the future, they embraced it. “Downloads for the entire industry have slid more than 13 percent in the first quarter of 2014, while streaming services – which Steve Jobs notoriously ignored, insisting that people didn’t want to ‘rent’ songs – are remaking the music landscape,” wrote J.J. McCorvey in Fast Company. “Thanks to companies like Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube, song and video streams grew to 34 billion this year, an increase of 9 billion from a year ago.”
You can’t force people to go back
Why would you sue your paying customers who are adapting to new technology? The RIAA did so for years and that generated irreparable damage. As the association reluctantly agreed with streaming services, they made money, but nowhere near what they were used to. “I was spending $700, $800 or even $1,000 annually on music,” wrote Zach Epstein about his experience as a consumer in the streaming world. “Now, I spend $13 each month.”
The point is, when the public takes to a more convenient and better (in their eyes) option, you can’t persecute people for going that way. Again, either you adapt to what your customers want or you will slowly crumble.