I recently envisioned the death of the pop music era. It goes a little something like this... a one... a two...

On September 2, 2003, George Hotelling put a piece of music he purchased for 99 cents from Apple's iTunes service on sale at E-Bay. It was promptly yanked, and legal chaos ensued.

Apple's legal goons refused to decide whether this was a violation of iTunes' EULA, or whether the Right of First Sale would apply. Peter Lowe, a Director of Marketing from Apple, commented that this method of resale was impractical both technologically (it would involve transferring the users entire account for the sake of one song) and economically:

"Economically, I don't believe there is going to be much of a market for resold music...We just don't see it as that much of an issue."

Mr. Lowe also dismissed the feasibility of resale based on the low price point of a single online track. I don't know about you, Mr. Lowe, but I'd much rather pay 50 cents than 99 cents, especially when I'm buying 100.

Assuming that the resale of online music becomes legalized, practicalized, and widespread, this could mean the end, or at least reasonable limits to the mass-consumption pop crap that floods the music market.

With resale available at the press of a button, after the initial catchiness has worn off and the latest Britney song has become just as sickening as the rest, the User A can release his copy for a resale at the going market rate. This rate would depend on the original track price, number of copies for sale and the number of potential buyers.

User B, who hasn't become sick of the song yet, can pick up A's used copy instead of buying another new copy. This curbs the sale of a song to the number of unique users actually interested in the song at one time. Massive sales will no longer be the sole yardstick for a musician's economic success -- staying power now comes into play.

Instead of releasing lowest-common-denominator slop to try to appeal to all people at once, recording artists will be forced to make solid works aimed at specific listeners, who will want to hold onto it for a long time. Or at least it will even the field between those who do and the slop-shovellers at Sony.

It could even start a futures market -- people buying thousands of copies of a song at a cheap point, hoping that it will regain popularity at some future point. This could redefine the term "entertainment industry" as we know it.

Of course, this is all based on the above (false) assumption that companies have their consumer's interests at heart. Since they want to sell as many songs at as high of a price as possible, Apple will design iTunes to make sure that this never becomes possible.

Used music sales already exist, of course, and online used music sales are even quite popular. Here the major pitfalls of used music sales which online resale would overcome:

  • Lack of consistent service - Current services rely either on other human beings (ie. E-bay) or visiting used record shops. Music buffs may frequent these shops, but average listeners, the main consumers of pop-crap, don't.
  • Quality - You never have to worry about someone scratching your vinyl or getting greasy fingerprints on the lyrics. There is no perceived depreciation of the goods due to packaging. (Of course, the argument about MP3 quality still applies the other way.)
  • Trust - More of a combination of the above two, the purchaser knows exactly what they are getting before they buy it, and have no fear of receiving a damaged or inferior product (or being completely ripped off.)
SOURCES: (Note that this is not a "factual" per se)
  • My wacky, wacky brain. Adapted from a slashdot comment I wrote on September 8, 2003.
  • Fried, Ida and Hansen, Evan (2003, September 10). Apple: Reselling iTunes songs 'impractical'. Businessweek Online. Retrieved September 11, 2003, from http://www.businessweek.com/technology/cnet/stories/5072842.htm

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