The Future of 90 Second Commercials In Exchange For Downloading "Free" Music

The latest attempt by the record industry to swim upstream against Apple's iTunes appears destined to fail even before it ever gets started -- at least that's what the majority of my USC students think. Free music is a good thing. Being forced to watch a 90-second commercial every time you download that free music is a bad thing. Not being able to own the music is one thing. Having it all disappear within six months is quite another thing. This leads some Gen Y'ers to ask "What are these folks thinking?" Yesterday's announcement that Universal will take several million dollars in upfront money from Spiral Frog for a December launch of this new video service that takes its victims' eyeballs hostage for long commercials is way, way off. Apple's Steven Jobs must be beyond rolling on the ground and laughing. After all, he's the guy who made his second place computer company a major force and standard setter in the music industry. Jobs proved that earlier this year when he stared down a potential rebellion by some record labels pushing variable pricing for iTunes music. Jobs stuck with his 99 cent per download "magic number" and prevailed. So what's up? Record labels are smarter than this, right? They really know their young market, don't they? Well, not so fast. They seem to spend so much time on non-productive ventures when what they really should consider is cooperating with the inevitable. Oh, yes -- I know my music industry students are not anywhere near 100% representative of their peers, but I wouldn't bet that these very early "non-adopters" of free music (that's really not free and not really theirs) will work. Here's another approach: let the marketplace design the future of online music. P.S. They'll likely design iTunes with a few minor changes. Maybe the labels should finally accept iTunes as the industry standard as well. Invent a new "wheel" only when a new "wheel" needs inventing. For now -- this chilling thought: CD sales are still declining and most labels have no real workable strategy to monetize downloading of music. The prognosis for Spiral Frog is not good.