French MPs are examining measures that would force the sharing of copy-protection software with the aim of ensuring that any music can be played on any player regardless of format or source:
The French bill says that proprietary copy-protection technologies must not block interoperability between different systems.Rightly, the French are worried about monopolies. DRM is cast by the industry as a way of stopping 'piracy', but it's blindingly obvious that the most compelling reason for DRM is to lock people into a vertical niche markets - if you have an iPod and you buy all your music from the iTunes Music Store, you become dependent on future iPods and iTunes to play your music. Yes, there are workarounds, but if you've invested hundreds of pounds on hundreds of tracks, burning them to CD and then re-ripping them is not an attractive option. Forcing interoperability would be great for the consumer and, ultimately, I believe it would be great for the industry too. I had a really interesting chat yesterday with a researcher from the BBC's Money Programme about new business models for the creative industries, and it really set me to thinking about where they have gone wrong. The industry's existing business models are based on scarcity - they control production and distribution of creative works, and the value is (or rather, was) in the scarcity of those works. Because you couldn't obtain them any other way, you had to buy them from the producer. New business models will have to be based on abundance. Instead of controlling the flow of product on to the market, the industry is going to have to accept that as soon as they have a product, it's going to be digitised and distributed whether they like it or not. This abundance, this ability to easily copy bits, is not going to go away, and it will never be thwarted by either technological methods or legislation. Instead, business models have to take into account ease of acquisition, value for money, quality, and speed of access. They will have to make their products - including their entire back catalogues - desirable, accessible, high-quality and simple to purchase. Who really wants to faff about with a P2P network and risk getting some nasty malware on your PC if you can buy what you want right here, right now, at a reasonable price? It is my belief that one reason that the creative industries are so far off the path of success in this economy of abundance is a thing called the 80-20 Rule: 80% of your profit (allegedly) comes from 20% of your customers/products. Thus has business attempted to cut out the less profitable 80% of their customers/products. You can see this in the way that record labels focus almost exclusively on their top-selling acts, seek to replicate those acts in their new signings, and dump any band who fails to recoup the costs of their first single (or album, if they are lucky enough to get that far along in the process). This focus on the 20% means that the industry discards the 80%, without ever considering the fact that if they made their 80% more easily accessible, they could turn a decent profit on that too. If you've ever examined the blogosphere or social networking or any of those other web phenomena, you'll be familiar with the power law distribution, aka the Long Tail, another name for the 80-20 Rule. In blogs, it says that the minority of blogs get the majority of links and traffic. The stupid blog commentator thus focuses on that minority, believing that because they get the majority of the Google-juice, that that is where the power is. In actual fact, they should focus on the Long Tail. The majority of area underneath a power law curve is under the tail, not the head, and this is where we get into power law marketing, or niche marketing. And this is where the creative industries are losing out big stylee. Digitise your back catalogues, make them easily accessible, affordable for bulk buying, and you can immediately tap into the sort of format re-purchasing that started in the late 80s when the price of CD players dropped out of the luxury goods niche and people started replicating their tape or vinyl collections on CD. Now people want to replicate their tape/vinyl/CD collection in MP3, but they remember buying CDs of music they'd already bought 20 years before, and they resent the idea of paying full price for it a third time. Unlike CDs, however, bits don't cost all that much to create or distribute, and there is no compelling reason for consumers to pay full price. The technology for digitising music has been created; the technology for distributing digitised music has been created; the incentive for buying digitised music has been created. What more is the industry waiting for? The belief that music is property and that download is theft and that consumers are criminals is pervasive in the creative industries. They have a misplaced faith that DRM is going to solve their woes. Instead, they need to discard DRM and start thinking creatively about how to distribute their music to as many people as possible, and turn those people into fans who will then reach into their pockets and hand over real money for something that has real value. I doubt that they will do this voluntarily, but if this French bill is passed, it may just give them the push they need.