Anyone who read Universal CEO Doug Morris' recent Wired interview knows just how conflicted he and his fellow execs are about this whole digital revolution Music 2.0 thing. But even the closest observer couldn't have been prepared for the company's recent schizophrenic behavior.
On the one hand you have Universal right behind EMI jumping into the DRM free mp3 waters with both feet. Just yesterday, the company cut a deal with the world's largest cell maker Nokia to provide phone buyers with a year of free access to the label's music as part of a "Comes With Music" campaign to be launched in the second half of 2008. (UPDATE: Cell buyers can download unlimited tracks for 12 months and keep them. But the songs come with DRM that prevents copying to another portable device. READ FULL UPDATE AND ANALYSIS.) It's one of many creative deals that Morris and Universal Music have made over the last year to monetize the label group's massive catalog.
But now its come to light that Universal is systematically forcing its artists and web sites that offer song sampling (MySpace, etc.) to cut the samples to 90 seconds. Exempted are sites who pay Universal for each stream. Universal artist Colbie Callat apologized to her fans:
"..bad news. Due to circumstances beyond my control I have to swap the songs out on my page for 90 second versions instead of full length versions. In fact some of the songs have already been swapped as I write this."
COMMENTARY: Is Doug Morris so out of touch that he believes that full song streaming will replace sales? Does he really think that a dedicated fan is going to surf over to each individual MySpace page, find a song, click on it, wait for it to play, and then repeat that process every 3-4 minutes to hear the songs they crave? It's less work to grab the songs free via any mp3 blog or P2P.
Music discovery is the key to sales; and with radio and traditional becoming less relevant, full song streaming is the only way for many consumers to learn about a new artist they've read or heard about. In Music 1.0 a great print review did not necessarily lead to sales. In the new music business, 90 seconds of music will not be enough either.
DEAR MR. MORRIS,
You're obviously a very savvy businessman. That means you know that the payoffs for some of the best deals don't always come right away. Sometimes you've got to give the shills a real taste before they'll open their wallets.