My journey down the manifesto pathway started sometime in early 2003. The music world was still reeling from the rise and fall of Napster (RIP, June 1999—July 2001) and few industry executives seemed to understand (or care) about the significance of the MP3 audio format. iTunes software, (released Jan. 9, 2001) had been out for about two years but was still largely undiscovered by the masses. Its soon-to-be-famous store would arrive in April 2003. For the music industry it was a time of chaos, confusion and highly charged emotions.
At the beginning of 2003 a grand idea began to root in my head. An idea so simple, powerful and far reaching that I was sure it would be instantly adopted by music industry leaders. On Jan. 10, 2003, MusicRow magazine published my open letter to the heads of the then six major labels, Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, Doug Morris, Andrew Lack, Thomas Mottola, Alain Levy and Roger Ames. The editorial was titled Call To Arms: A Digital Manifesto¹. In the letter I outlined a bold plan and warned of the consequences of inaction.
“The great companies you represent will be rendered impotent unless you act unilaterally to face an issue as important to our industry as the invention of the phonograph— the reality of the digital age,” I wrote in 2003. “We desperately need your leadership to transition into this new world.”
In a daydream I saw myself blanketed by a blinding Wall Street ticker tape parade, standing on a flowery float waving benevolently to my millions of new fans and surrounded by adoring NFL cheerleaders. It was a hero’s welcome for having saved the music and its creators. But unfortunately, over a decade later, the ideas have yet to generate mainstream discussion and my parade remains a dream.
In 2003 I naively believed the simplicity and wisdom of asking people to pay on the way into the digital store would be immediately self-evident. But I was wrong. In the real world choices can be clouded by politics, vested interests and a host of other issues.
I saw up close the complexity of asking an industry to change when I presented the Digital Manifesto concept to the Country Music Association Board of Directors in the early Spring of 2003. It was common practice for members to discuss new technology at meetings. In my few allotted minutes I argued for the creation of two new digital revenue streams for copyright owners—a mandatory Internet access fee for consumers and a royalty on blank recordable media. “The logical intersection of consumers and digital content,” I explained, “is the Internet Service Provider. The ISP is the perfect Internet toll booth. In return for paying the toll, consumers get access to everything online. So the user experience would feel like free, but intellectual property owners would be compensated.”
A few CMA Board members expressed privately they thought the idea was innovative, but hard to implement. However, most of the approximately 65-member group either didn’t grasp the plan and/or dismissed it as purely academic and not practical.
Unfortunately, since the writing of the Digital Manifesto letter, we’ve seen chaos spread throughout the industry. Downsizing and acquisitions, like a grotesque tail wagging the dog, have reshaped the entertainment industry sending it in directions which have hurt the creative and business communities. According to the RIAA, U.S. music shipments have shrunk 50% during the last decade and over $8 billion dollars of retail revenue has evaporated. Additionally, the number of major labels has decreased from six in 2003 to three (including the 2012 acquisition of EMI by Universal Music Group.).
Paul Resnikoff, Publisher/Founder of Digital Music News, writes (6/19/12), “After a decade of drunken digitalia, this is the hangover that finally throbs, is finally faced with Monday morning, finally stares in the mirror and admits there’s a problem.” He lists six points to illustrate the headaches: “(1) No, artists can’t simply tour and sell t-shirts. Shockingly few indie artists can pull this off; (2) The recording is now effectively worth $0; its surrounding ecosystem has collapsed; (3) Spotify is not a beneficial solution for artists. Certainly not right now, and quite possibly, never; (4) Kickstarter will mean something to artists in the future, but only to a relative few. This will not replace the vast financing once offered by recording labels; (5) DIY is rarely effective, and almost always gets drowned by the flood of competing content; (6) Sadly, most artists are worse off in the digital era than they were in the physical era.”
Over the years I’ve come to realize that the Manifesto catch phrase, Pay On The Way Into The Store, was merely a starting point. A more detailed, iteration of the plan is required if it is to be meaningfully debated and given serious consideration.
A decade older (and perhaps wiser) I also see that business realities may mean that change has to come from the bottom up in addition to the top down. If music industry stakeholders can be convinced of this plan’s merits and motivate individuals to spread the idea across a wide range of social media channels, then perhaps as a group we can influence the digital discussion.
Remarkably, years later, even as consumers wield powerful mobile smartphone hardware and faster bandwidth extends to new areas like the automobile dashboard, Pay On The Way Into The Store continues to be the basis for a solid and comprehensive economic digital entertainment industry solution.
So here goes a deep dive on the Digital Manifesto, unplugged, fully-formed and modestly renamed The Digital Solution.
The goal is simple—to place the entertainment industry on solid footing so that as the digital future unfolds, the creative community and intellectual property owners can be fairly compensated and not be left behind. There’s no time to waste…
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1 @MusicRow, The Friday Sheet; January 10, 2003; #153. Call To Arms: A Digital Manifesto, Open Letter To Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, Doug Morris, Thomas Mottola, Alain Levy and Roger Ames. by David M. Ross. ©2003 MusicRow
The Digital Solution by David M. Ross ©2014 BossRoss Media All Rights Reserved