Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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The Napster Thing

I think it was Mark Twain who said, "Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." Welcome to Napsterville, folks.

I hear arguments about how "just because the technology is available doesn't mean you should use it", which I suppose is fair. I also heard a lot of whining when music people first freaked out at "home recording" of cassette tapes. Of course, if MTV and VH1 are any indication, that argument didn't exactly pan out.

But I come from a completely different point of view on Napster and the like: it simply doesn't matter. Here's why:

Everyone seems to be coming at this issue from the wrong perspective. Let me ask you: anyone reading this feel outraged that the buggy whip industry -- once a prominent force in the horse drawn carriage days -- is almost as extinct as the proverbial dinosaur? Anyone care? What about those nifty dial phones? How about those thousands of stick-your-finger-in-the-hole-and-twist dial-manufacturers that were ruthlessly thrust aside by push button technology?

Oh, the humanity!

Hey, what's really happening is the paradigm shift that all the egghead futurists were warning us about in the 1960's. It's progress, which can often come through the door in fairly ruthless manner. What -- you thought all this great "point and click" stuff was being laid at your feet WITHOUT a price? Get real. The old gray mare got replaced by the cool gray Oldsmobile. Same thing's coming down the road for music, TV and movies.

Not that I side with either party. I don't, because I don't have to. The market forces are doing the work for me. In this case, the music industry isn't going to eat it; the EXISTING music infrastructure is going to eat it. But that doesn't mean the music industry ends. Phillip Morris arguably killed off millions of people with their cigarettes while cigarettes were in fashion. Now, with tobacco teetering on the verge of becoming a controlled substance, are they packing up and going home? Hardly. They've diversified into different businesses. So until Kraft Velveeta is declared a public nuisance (itself a questionable call), Phillip Morris will survive and likely flourish.

You want the real story on Napster? It ain't about anyone ripping off anyone else. It's about paying the price of moving forward. It's about a business that has -- despite what you may read in their annual reports -- never been run like a business and is now feeling it where it counts.

And it's far from over. Just wait until we're all linked via high-speed bandwidth. You'll hear the same whining from TV and movie studios that you're hearing from the music industry now, only then it'll be about TV. The comparisons will be about VHS and Beta.

The one thing that WON'T change is the foot-dragging of the entertainment industries as they whistle past the graveyard.

Rob Frankel

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