in the Air
week’s Apple announcement was pretty stunning in a lot of
ways, even if it didn’t include any announcement of the digital
release of the Beatles catalog, which we still hear is coming.
For one thing, the new big iPod “Classic” has a 160 GB hard
drive, big enough to hold, according to Steve Jobs, 40,000
songs. OK, 40,000 anemic sounding MP3s that will give you
a headache, but, still, let’s think about this for a second—you’ve
already laid out a fairly painful $300-400 for the iPod. Now,
let’s assume you follow the rules and feel that the only moral
choice for populating your new iPod is to buy songs through
legitimate retail channels, like, say, the iTunes store! OK,
big assumption, but follow me here: Songs cost, at least for
now, 99 cents each, which seems like a fine price for a song.
But to fill up your iPod, you’ll be running up a $39,600 tab
on your Visa card.
Have you ever walked around with $40,000 in your pocket? Me
neither. Do you think you would be comfortable walking around
with $40,000 in your pocket? How many parents out there have
heard this: “Mommy, I lost my iPod,” or “Daddy, I dropped
my iPod in the toilet”? Oy.
Of course, these super-capacity iPods aren’t really about
music. They’re about movies and TV, and the idea that people
really will want to watch stuff on a dinky screen. The jury’s
still out on that, and so’s the market. NBC television just
pulled all of its content off the iTunes store over a pricing
squabble, and downloadable movies are still an open question.
Me, I prefer watching on the 50-inch plasma screen on my living-room
wall, but in reflective moments I’ll concede that the dusty
old 25-inch Trinitron was really just fine.
Probably the most significant thing about last week’s Apple
announcement was the introduction of the new WiFi enabled
touch-screen iPod, which has all the bells and whistles of
the instantly-iconic iPhone, except the phone. Watch out for
There was a lot of noise made about the announcement that
these things were going to be tied in with the WiFi systems
at Starbucks—if you take your iPod to a Starbucks, a new button
will appear on your screen, and if you like the song that’s
playing over the Starbucks sound system, you can push that
button and buy that song right there and then.
Which is pretty sexy and cool. And ultimately stupid, until
you realize that it’s the tip of the iceberg. Consider the
following: A week ago, there was a lengthy feature in The
New York Times Magazine with Rick Rubin, the Buddah-like
producer of everybody from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Johnny
Cash. Rubin, who was recently named president of Columbia
Records, predicted that the future of the music business wouldn’t
involve selling music—that people weren’t going to be buying
disks or files or anything. Rather, Rubin described a world
where everybody’s music came literally out of the air, through
wireless subscription services—what digital maven Jim Griffin
years ago christened “The Celestial Jukebox.” All the music
ever made will be available everywhere to you for a subscription
fee, maybe a modest surcharge on your phone or cable bill,
with the music delivered via wireless broadband networks.
A president of a major record company says we’re headed
Now consider this: Earlier this week it was announced that
Apple is sniffing around the FCC’s wireless-spectrum auction,
looking maybe to grab a piece of the sky, and the first and
biggest step towards the ability to host a wireless phone
company. Or a wireless music-delivery system that’s always
on and always accessible to that little wireless Apple receiver
in your pocket. It’s not like Apple doesn’t already have the
music library, coded up and ready to go. And it’s not like
subscription services for music streaming are far-fetched—Rhapsody
and the “new” Napster have been offering them for a couple
of years now. But not with the panache, not with the hardware,
not with the marketing muscle and brand loyalty that Apple
Until now I figured these subscription deals were doomed to
failure, that people wanted to “own” music, not just have
access to it. But I’m from a generation that coveted the drive
to the record store, the big cardboard record jacket loaded
with images and information, the smell of the vinyl, and the
sound of the needle slipping into the groove. These things
all seem so quaint and distant and antique now. Almost ridiculous.
The future, I think, is in the air.
Rapp is an intellectual-property lawyer with offices in Albany
and Housatonic, Mass. He teaches art-and-entertainment law
at Albany Law School, and regularly appears as part of the
Copyright Forum on WAMC’s Vox Pop. Contact info can
be found at www.paul rapp.com. Comments about this article
can be posted at rapponthis .blogspot.com.