Reservoir Media Management - NEW OLD MUSIC FOR SALE: APPLE'S NEXT VENTURE
 
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NEW OLD MUSIC FOR SALE: APPLE'S NEXT VENTURE

NEW OLD MUSIC FOR SALE: APPLE'S NEXT VENTURE

3/13/2013

If there’s one seemingly inescapable argument that’s prevailed in the music industry over the last several years, it’s the relationship of music to its listeners.  Does anyone really “own” a song now that music is primarily handled digitally?  What’s better, song access or ownership?  And so on, and so forth.

Apple, the authority on digital music sales, has always implicitly held the position that musical works are objects to be owned—while streaming services like Pandora and Spotify popped up and flourished over the past decade, Apple’s iTunes has steadfastly made billions in the business of selling, not streaming, musical singles, albums, and later movies, TV episodes, mobile applications, and e-books, with streams like Podcasts making up just one aspect of their retail offerings.

This week, the digital giant solidified their stance on music as a commodity with the filing of a patent for the resale and loaning of digital content like songs, e-books, and films.  The idea, it seems, would be to purchase a digital asset, and then, in the instance that you no longer feel you need it to be a part of your personal library (“I’m so sick of this song!”), transfer ownership of the asset to another individual.  Your access to the item would end, while the new owner could enjoy it as though they’d purchased it directly from Apple.

On the surface, the idea sounds like a winner, but the concept raises a few questions about the program’s actual benefits and restrictions.  Would a used song be sold at a discount, the way a record would in a physical second-hand music shop?  And if it was, how would Apple justify the reduced pricing to a record label or publisher—with digital usage, it’s highly unlikely that there would be any wear and tear to the asset, which is usually what gets you the discount with physical goods.

Now that we’re really thinking about it—does the original content owner get a cut of the sale, consignment shop-style?  Business Insider implied that labels might be able to set parameters on resale rights, saying, perhaps, that you can only resell or loan a song after a certain period of ownership (basically, no flipping).  Would that deter the program from really getting off the ground after its initial introduction to the public?  Plus, will all this reselling business incentivize labels to start pulling content after limited sales periods, thus increasing demand for the hard-to-find items and driving up resale prices to the benefit of all who stand to make a profit?

The geniuses at Apple always seems to know what they’re doing, even if it takes them a moment to get their footing, so we trust that all of these issues and many more will be answered in the months to come.  We’ll be staying tuned to see how it all plays out.

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