Music on my cell phone or "How to Give More Money to Two Industries I Already Give Too Much To"

Walt Mossberg over at The Wall Street Journal has written a review today in his Personal Technology column of the new SprintNextel music store. You need either the paper Journal OR an Online Subscription to read the article, sorry. I will, however, quote extensively...

What I find interesting (in a sad way) is that the music business and the cell phone business just don't get it. They seem to be looking at old economic models and stand in the wasy of technological advancement. Do you make more money selling 100 songs for $2.50 or 500 songs for $0.99?
... Sprint and the record labels have decided to spoil their breakthrough service by setting a stratospheric new price for the legal download of a single song: $2.50. That's 2.5 times the 99 cents that Apple and others charge on their online stores for a better-quality version of the very same song. Right now, Sprint is offering the first five downloads free, but starting with the sixth song, the $2.50-a-song price kicks in. The charges show up on your cellphone bill.

Sprint says its higher price is justified by the convenience factor, the ability to buy a song on the go, when the impulse strikes. The company compares this to paying more than usual for milk at an all-night convenience store, or for hot dogs at a ballpark. Also, Sprint contends, there are many people who find PC-based music stores too hard to use, and they will be willing to pay more for something simpler.

I believe something else is at work here: a lethal combination of two industries many consumers believe typically charge too much. One is the bumbling record industry, which has been seeking to raise prices in the fledgling legal downloading market even as it continues to bleed from free, illegal downloading. The other is the cellphone carriers, or, as I like to call them, "the Soviet ministries," which too often treat their customers as captive and refuse to allow open competition for services they offer over their networks.
Ok, I can sort of understand charging $2.50 for a song because there are some capital costs the need to be recouped AND the record companies need to be paid, but that's not what they're using for justification. They're using the convenience factor argument. However, buying a hot dog at Fenway Park for $3.00 is no a simple convenience, it's necessary if you want to each a hot dog and watch the Red Sox. You can't bring your own. (Though that does bring me back to that Oscar Meyer commercial of the 70's where the father pulls a hot dog on a bun out of his briefcase and hands it to his son. Let's have a weiner roast, you don't have to build a fire, all you need is Oscar Meyer...)

Anyone else wnat to comment on the stupid statement that a cell phone based music store is easier to use or simpler than a computer based store like, I don't know, ITMS? I know there are other stores out there whose interfaces aren't as good as the one iTunes has, but really, how bad of a designer do you have to be to lose out to a cell phone? I just don't buy it. If you can't figure out how to use a music store on a computer, I really don't think you have the cognitive skills to use one on a cell phone much less buy the right phone and purchase the right service. I don't think there's much of a "dumb people" market for Sprint|Nextel to tap into. Then again, people do pay $2.99 for ringtones, which are, for all intents and purposes, parts of songs.

Also, if you want that song you just downloaded onto your cell phone on your computer? You need to download it again (no extra charge!!) ON YOUR COMPUTER which was too difficult for you to use in the first place. Hmmm. Your're dumb, just dumb enough to buy our crap!
The high costs don't stop there. The new music store can be accessed -- so far -- on only two new high-end phones, from Sanyo and Samsung, which cost more than $200, even after rebates. Even then, if you want to store more than about 32 songs on your phone, you'll have to spring for a larger memory card, which costs anywhere from $25 to $100. You have to pay at least $15 a month for a data plan that allows you just to access the music store, though you also get other services.
I really don't think I will be buying one of these phones. Besides, I am an online music success story! I've purchased more music from iTunes in the past year than I had CDs or Vinyl in my life. I'm saving the record labels tons of money on distribution. They should thank me.

Now get out of my pocket.


Breedo said...

Iguess my response to the whole thing is, what the fuck do you need music on your cell phone for?!?!?!?!? For that matter, what the hell do you need an online music store for individual songs for? I've said it for years (a Breedism?), just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should. There's a hell of a lot that technology can do, but most of it is just showing off. Support the artists and buy the whole damn album (yes I still prefer to call them albums, even though it's on a cd).

WV: kmzaen - can't resist, but sticky sheets come to mind...or the best part of Mike that got left behind :-)

Mike said...

Breedo -

You have a fat ass.

That said, why should I support an artist who makes a couple of good songs per album by buying the CRAP he/she/it produces. I AM THE CONSUMER HERE. Do you really think that the artist is making music and albums for any other reason but to sell them? I will reward the artist for the good songs by buying the ones I want to hear. If it turns out I like every song on the album, I'll buy all of the songs on the album. However, if I like only one song or only want one song from the album, I will buy that one.

Face it Dave, complete works as an album is the exception rather that the rule these days. Led Zeppelin made awesome albums as did Pink Floyd. All of the songs tended to complement each other and form a cohesive block. No so much anymore -- you even see bands that once produced great albums now only produce a single with 9 filler tracks. (Metallica, G'n'R (ok that was 1992), etc.)

This isn't technology for the sake of technology. This is a new distribution methodology that the record companies and artist need to figure out. Independent labels and independent bands love this new distribution method.

I do agree with your "music on a cellphone WTF???!?" stance. I am a firm believer that a phone is a phone and an MP3 player is an MP3 player. Separate functions, separate devices.

You seem to becoming a bit of a Luddite, Mr. Breeden. Technology for the sake of technology breeds innovation. Did we really need to go to the moon in the 60's? Nope. However, by doing so we as humans made advancements in areas such as materials science that have a direct affect on your livelihood -- cheaper plastics, safety glass, freeze dried ice cream, various safety technologies that are in your automobile.


Mike said...

One more thing...

No, the landings weren't faked.


Breedo said...

Um, yes we did need to go to the moon. The long term future of our society is not on Earth, so in fact *more* space travel and exploration has really been necessary. And technology for the sake of technology does not always breed innovation...most of the time it just produces more crap for technofiles to ooh and ahh about without providing much substinance or purpose...but pleasant accidents still occurr :-)

But back to the original topic. Yes indie labels and bands like this distribution method because they reap a larger percentage of the profit this way. That is still not the norm, though. Just like Zeppelin and Floyd albums in the 70s where nearly the whole thing was awesome were not the norm back then. They stood out, but most albums back then were full of shit. It really wasn't that much different than today, except there aren't as many standouts today that make a solid album from start to finish. But then again, why should they when their songs are released as singles!

Maybe it's just a backlash by the industries to what Zeppelin did. They refused to release singles (there was only one exception) and instead forced Atlantic to only release the whole album. The result was that a good album sold as well as singles. Which resulted in more profit for the band and revolutionized the music industry. Seems like we've come full-circle to having singles be the main push, and that is because of the record companies. They push the singles to the radio stations and oversaturate the airwaves. Ironically this kills bands more than anything...overexposure is not a good thing...lol.

Why should the record companies and artists need to figure out a new distribution method? What was so wrong with the old way? Yes, I know it is here and they have to deal with it, but I'm trying to get back to the point of why do we really need an online music store for individual songs

Mike said...

Why do we need an online music store for singles? Well, because it makes sense? The record companies like the idea because it costs less to make a sale and consumers like it because they can buy singles for $0.99 and not have to go to a brick and mortar shop.

Really David, you could pick a better example of "technology for the sake of technology" than online music sales. I'd argue that online music sales are an extension of online commerce in general. Then again, you probably think that's bad as well.


Jennifer said...

"Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should" is probably not a Breedism. I seem to recall reading that in Jurassic Park several times, Breedo.

I am in full agreement about the mp3 phone and what purpose does it really serve, but I'm not with you on the on-line music store thing.

There are good arguments for purchasing music on-line including environmental benefits, cost benefits (benefits to all parties, including the artist).

Your arguments against it amount to not liking it and hating the way the record companies promote singles. That doesn't really have much to do with technology for technology's sake.

What seems most disingenuous about your argument is that you criticize the record companies on one hand (overly promoting singles through radio/video which predates on-line stores by a long time) and then saying its system of distribution (which is linked arm-in-arm with promotion) works just fine.

Breedo said...

"What seems most disingenuous about your argument is that you criticize the record companies on one hand (overly promoting singles through radio/video which predates on-line stores by a long time) and then saying its system of distribution (which is linked arm-in-arm with promotion) works just fine."

No, I criticised the record companies for profiteering by selling singles instead of albums. This profits the record companies and hurts the artist. My point about the system working fine was referring mainly to cds and tapes (in other words, whole albums instead of singles).

If you go back and read my original post, I never said anything about online stores for whole albums. I mainly questioned the need for phones that play music. I do question the need for buying singles online, but I recognize the reality of lazy ass technofiles thinking they're latest gadget is cool.

As an aside, is every single one of my posts automatically scrutinized for the tiniest opening to pounce? It's like some people don't even read what I write (or make the slightest effort to get my drift). Sheesh :-)

WV: dmuua - Vincent Price returns from the dead...or just his laugh

Mike said...


The record business has mostly been driven by the sales of singles. Elvis, the dude that san La Bamba, Buddy Holly were all made popular by the single. People bought singles. The whole album thing came later.

Singles are and always have been part of the music scene -- it's not profiteering. It's a way of getting the music in small affordable quantities into the hands of the consumers. Don't kid yourself, without consumers there wouldn't be nearly as much music.

As to the aside, there is actually a whole sub culture that dissects your posts within minutes of them being posted here and feeds them into a Turing machine. Sorry Dave, you're a computer. :)

So, I am a Lazy-ass technophile for owning an iPod? Damn, there are MILLIONS of lazy-ass technophiles in America then -- we're all going to hell.

Also, I answered your question of why we/I need an online music store for individual songs -- to try out a wide variety of music that I normally wouldn't hear on the radio. A lot of times I will buy a single or two from an album and wind up liking the band enough to buy their album and maybe another one by them. In the process of buying singles I am exposed to a lot of different music. Ultimately it's good for the consumer and it is good for the bands.


Breedo said...

Don't kid *yourself*. Selling singles is about profit, not about getting the music out to people in small quantities - that's a byproduct. And buying a single or two to test out the band to decide if you should buy the album doesn't fly. The singles you hear on the radio and that gain early notoriety are not picked by the band. The album is a package deal...you buy it for the songs you know and discover what else the band has to offer. Sometimes you like a couple other songs on there, sometimes you don't like any other songs, and sometimes the whole frickin' album rocks. Without sampling all their wares, you really don't know what the band is about. Bands become one hit wonders (if that) and music quality drops. When we get to the point where all that matters is the single, musicians become disenchanted with the business, and we the consumers miss out on good music.

Funny how you look at this from the business side and I look at it from the musician side. We'll disagree about a lot of things on this issue, but don't kid youself into thinking promoting singles is anything but a marketing strategy. It profits the record companies and download sites. Musicians in general and in the long run do not want to have their music sold as singles.

Mike said...


What the fuck is up with you? Your statement: And buying a single or two to test out the band to decide if you should buy the album doesn't fly. uhh, that's how I buy a lot of my music. I will hear a single on the radio, think I may like the band, go to iTunes, listen to the 30 second clips of the songs, and buy a single or two. If I like said single or two, I will buy the whole album. The advantage of being able to buy individual songs from an album is that you can hear songs that would never be played on the radio and you would have no hope of ever hearing them. I never said singles weren't profitable, they are. If you sell pizza by the slice you'll get more revenue selling 8 individual slices than a whole pie. The key is you find the right mix of slices and whole pies to make your customers happy -- you don't try to sell a whole pie to someone who only wants a slice and you don't sell a slice to someone who wants the whole pie. A lot of people refuse to buy from online stores because you don't get the tangibles -- the liner notes, the cool cover artwork, the Sony Rootkit that invades your computer.

I believe that the availability of so much music online is helping to broaden people's musical horizons. I know I listen to a lot of different stuff these days that I would never have in the past. I've purchased over $200 in music online in the past year -- I never would've spent that much on CDs.

I like "Superfreak" but there's no way in hell I will purchase a whole Rick James album -- I just don't like his stuff with the exception of "Superfreak." I often don't care to know what a band is all about. I care about listening to music that I want to hear. It's as simple as that. Come down off your Ivory Tower of Music and step into the shoes of a non-musician who isn't ga-ga about music in general and you will find people who want their music al-la-carte and will buy it that way if given the chance.

Bands I've discovered through iTunes buy purchasing singles and then the whole album:
The Shinns
The Killers
Fiama Fumara (think Cranberries singing in Italian)
Kraftwerk (German techno from the 70s)
Robert Miles (Euro techno/electronic/dance/whatever)
The Garden State Soundtrack (ok, not a band, but a good album nonetheless)