Sinking in a Sea of Piracy

July 26, 2008

This was my response to a post about the oddity of Yahoo’s latest of a string of failures in music players and services, comparing it to the broader ecosystem of the music industry:

I realize it’s beating a dead horse, but you left out the largest, most vibrant part of the “ecosystem”, the only part worth discussing: piracy.

I still don’t understand why — frankly — anybody cares what Yahoo and Napster and even iTunes do.  They’re a largely irrelevant footnote, a strange march of impossibly flawed products targeting tiny niches of occasionally-curious users and manic well-wishers.  That’s like discussing operating systems exclusively in terms of Minix and OS/360, while occasionally remarking “oh, ya, and there’s this thing called Windows, but whatever.”  **

And in this broader context, it doesn’t seem strange at all that Yahoo’s latest initiative failed.  Just like every other of its kind.  The world has very, very clearly said it doesn’t want those, at every possible opportunity.  History books will remark “At the turn of the 21st century there were a series of attempts to commercialize digital content by enforcing an antiquated notion called ‘copyright’ — the right to control who could make copies — all of which obviously failed.”

If there’s anything we “need to accept” it’s that piracy is the biggest game in town, has been from the start, and will probably be forever.

Piracy *is* online music, and the only lasting success anybody is going to see in this industry is by augmenting or avoiding it.  But not by competing head on.

** OS/360 is the iTunes of the bunch: very relevant and commercially successful to a small demographic.  Indeed its success is precisely due to a recognition of not being for everyone.


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