Industry Insider: The Impending Digital Purge Print
Wednesday, 26 December 2007 07:19
Image By John McGlasson - GJD Contributor
Bandwidth is a strange thing, in that there's a finite amount of it. Mankind seems to be ignoring the very real issue of infinite information storage; servers cost money, use energy, and take up space. As information of all kinds becomes less useful, what is the obligation to store it forever? One's mind can be eased, or terrified, by the fact that the Google monster is currently bingeing upon all available information, while circling the Earth, photographing it, and storing your search information for future determination of what information is useful to society. And I have to assume that at some point, there'll be a purging of data that is determined, by man or machine, to be no longer useful, and no longer worth storing.
My powerful inner-nerd is reminded of the machine planet that V-ger built for itself in a Star Trek movie, was it actually a planet of servers? Wouldn't it require at minimum a planet of servers to store all the Universes' knowledge? Are we going to one day launch the Google Server Planet? The ultimate DeathStar of intrusion, which sees all, knows all, and stores it? I shudder yet simultaneously delight at the thought!

To return to Earth and our more immediate problems, just how long do we expect Steve Jobs to store his Global Music Library we know as iTunes?

Over the last couple years it's become short work to achieve digital distribution for your music, arguably any artist can get their stuff up on iTunes, among countless other digital outlets, but we have to assume the day is going to come when all these titles from independent artists that very rarely, if ever, get downloaded, are going to be purged from digital download providers' servers based on pure economics; a title that generates no revenue doesn't justify the disc space to store it. Digital stores begin to resemble brick-and-mortar retail operations when floor space becomes a premium.

All this is amazing to me, because while we welcome the death of most physical retail distribution and sales, I'd feared that all semblance to the "old way" of doing business was gone forever. But in many ways, we're right where we started. Labels are going to be back in charge, and we're back to fighting over floor space, but now it's virtual.

In another unexpected twist back to the recent old days, distributors rule again, they're just a different kind of distributor. There's no product to ship, no product floating around in stores and warehouses, used against you to withhold your funds for sales that took place two years ago, we're selling the actual intellectual property, which is a beautiful thing if you ask me. There's a new honesty to this kind of music business, the distributor has to care, they have to push the product, because shelf-space is going to be at a premium, so their catalogs will be limited to what they really believe in.

With few exceptions, it's simply not worth the money to handle the accounting for an independent artists' single album or two. The proceeds from such titles are usually pennies. As distributors struggle with the mountainous task of accounting for each download of each track, dividing up the funds, and storing all that info, well let's just say I'd hold the accuracy of every distributors' accounting department under the most powerful microscope of scrutiny right now, to say they're overwhelmed is kind. They can't handle it. And there's no way for you to verify it, you have to trust their accounting.

CD Baby is a great example of what's to come. While I have no inside info to verify this, it's my opinion that now that CD Baby is obviously being treated as a label in the way they report their sales figures, if they want to have a good catalog that's taken seriously when it comes time to divide up that valuable online shelf space in the future, CD Baby is going to have to do what all labels do, pick their best, strongest artists and purge the rest. I don't see how they can continue to be an outlet for literally anyone who wants to put their stuff up on CD Baby for sale, because the digital outlets will begin to see them as the source for non-performing, bandwidth-robbing titles, that don't generate enough revenue to justify the disc space to store them.

So the labels that have a reputation for holding a great catalog will build relationships with online distributors over time, or extend into the "new world" those relationships they'd built in the "physical world". The strength an artists gains from consolidation with a good label and its other artists is in the ability to get the music distributed to the people. The vetting process will once again be in the hands of the labels, the people that love the artists and the music. It appears that, as in the "old" music world, the dividing line between good music and bad will largely be signed or unsigned. Independent artists won't be able to get distribution without the reputation, promotional abilities, and strength of consolidation that a great label provides.

As the public screams for a new vetting process of artist talent, the responsibility falls back into the hands of the labels to find, develop, promote, produce, and distribute artists. I welcome the task!

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it is a life-long guitarist, producer, and founder of o.i.e. Records, Ltd., a musician-oriented independent record label based in central Illinois.