Warner Music: It was wrong to go to war with our customers [Gasp!]

The music industry may finally be recognizing that it is its own worst enemy. Or not.

Truth will prevail, even when it first has to minnow its way through the calcified brain of a music-industry chief. At least, this is the story coming out of the GSMA Mobile Asia Conference, as reported by MacUser. Edgar Bronfman, a senior Warner Brothers executive, admitted to institutional incompetence:

We used to fool ourselves. We used to think our content was perfect just exactly as it was. We expected our business would remain blissfully unaffected even as the world of interactivity, constant connection and file sharing was exploding. And of course we were wrong. How were we wrong? By standing still or moving at a glacial pace, we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find and as a result of course, consumers won."

As TechCrunch notes, it's actually pretty amazing to hear the music chief openly admitting that the music industry considers[ed] its customers hostile combatants on the other side of a war.

Sad. But what may be worse is that Bronfman can't seem to understand the word "choice," as revealed by a later comment:

For years now, Warner Music has been offering a choice to consumers at Apple's iTunes store the option to purchase something more than just single tracks, which constitute the mainstay of that store's sales. By packaging a full album into a bundle of music with ringtones, videos and other combinations and variation we found products that consumers demonstrably valued and were willing to purchase at premium prices. And guess what? We've sold tons of them. And with Apple's co-operation to make discovering, accessing and purchasing these products even more seamless and intuitive, we'll be offering many, many more of these products going forward.

The "with ringtones, videos, and other combinations" I'll buy (though, in fact, I never have). But if Bronfman thinks he's doing anyone a favor by forcing a full album sale (as is sometimes required on iTunes), he's fooling himself. This is a way to force-feed the old model onto customers, and not a way to bring choice.

If customers wanted the entire album, they'd buy it (as I sometimes do). But thinking that adding a ringtone to an album makes people want to buy the entire thing is wrong. They're buying the ringtone because the labels force customers to do so if they want to get the select tracks that they want.

I guess I should be happy that Bronfman has at least admitted partial error. That may well be a gateway to full recovery. Or not.

About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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