Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Steve Jobs to music (and movie) industries: check

The last desktop computer I owned was the Mac Performa. It was a beast of a machine, a lout which took over most of the desk and was a right pain to move, but it served me well from about …

Mon, Feb 4, 2008, 09:40


The last desktop computer I owned was the Mac Performa. It was a beast of a machine, a lout which took over most of the desk and was a right pain to move, but it served me well from about 1995 to 2000 or thereabouts when I moved onto laptops.

Like all the computers of its vintage, it had a floppy disc drive. I don’t remember if I used it much (probably not, because it also had a CD drive), but I do remember a slight unease when Apple introduced their first range of laptops and computers which said no to the floppy. It seemed to be the end of an era.

I haven’t really thought much about that old Performa for a while, but I found a handful of floppy discs in a dusty box over the weekend which set me thinking about how ruthlessly technology deals with obsolescence. Now, Steve Jobs has his eye on getting rid of the CD and DVD. The recent introduction of the Macbook Air, which does away with the CD and DVD drive altogether, is a step in that direction. If you buy the new machine and you want to listen to music or watch a DVD, you have to do so wirelessly or splash out out on a seperate drive. No doubt Jobs and co think that those who buy the new Macbook Air will buy their music and rent their movies from iTunes.

But what’s really interesting about this is the coded signal it sends to both music and movie industries: adapt or die. It’s not as if either industry is not already fully aware of this, but the message is now abundantly clear. The future, as far as Apple are concerned, does not involve plastic discs of any description.

Given how successful the iPod has been as an evangalist for digital music – and how it has also helped to breach so many safe harbours the music industry thought might protect its lucrative revenue streams – Jobs clearly thinks he has the pulse of the consumer when it comes to second-guessing their future consumer splurges. As far as he is concerned, that future will not involve the purchase or use of those plastic discs which helped turn the music industry into a fat, bloated cash-rich sector in the early 1990s.

Only problem is the music industry is still largely in hock to the old business model, the one which involves CDs and actual physical product. Oh, they’ll talk downloads and digital strategies until they’re blue in the face, but the sums just don’t add up and the revenue they’ll get from digital sales will never be enough to cover the costs they’ve incurred. Most labels are still daydreaming of a return to an utopia of yet another format change and yet another big bag of cash. Even though the facts are right there in their faces, they still think there’s a way out of this impasse. They think they can out-run technology and are still holding out contracts to new acts with all the old shibboleths in place.

That battle is over. What Steve Jobs appears to be saying now is quite simple: check. The next move will be very interesting.

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