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Godin takes "music lessons" from labels' slide

Posted on: 01/10/2008

From Seth Godin’s blog: “Things you can learn from the music business (as it falls apart)…

“The new thing is never as good as the old thing, at least right now.

“Soon, the new thing will be better than the old thing will be… Wax nostalgic about the old thing, but don’t fool yourself into believing it’s going to be here forever…

“Past performance is no guarantee of future success.

“Every single industry changes and, eventually, fades. Just because you made money doing something a certain way yesterday, there’s no reason to believe you’ll succeed at it tomorrow…

“The music business built huge systems. They created top-heavy organizations, dedicated superstores, a loss-leader touring industry, extraordinarily high profit margins, MTV and more. It was a well-greased system, but the key question: why did it deserve to last forever?

“It didn’t. Yours doesn’t either…

“Interactivity can’t be copied.

“Products that are digital and also include interaction thrive on centralization and do better and better as the market grows in size (consider Facebook or Basecamp)…

“The winners in the music business of tomorrow are individuals and organizations that create communities, connect people, spread ideas and act as the hub of the wheel… indispensable and well-compensated.

“Permission is the asset of the future.

“For generations, businesses had no idea who their end users were… Today, of course, permission is an asset to be earned. The ability (not the right, but the privilege) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them…

“The opportunity of digital distribution is this: When you can distribute something digitally, for free, it will spread (if it’s good). If it spreads, you can use it as a vehicle to allow people to come back to you and register, to sign up, to give you permission to interact and to keep them in the loop.

“Many authors (I’m on that list) have managed to build an entire career around this idea. So have management consultants and yes, insurance salespeople…

“This is a big one: The best time to change your business model is while you still have momentum.

“…The time to jump was yesterday. Too late. Okay, how about today?..

“Remember the Bob Dylan rule: it’s not just a record, it’s a movement.

“Bob and his handlers have a long track record of finding movements… What Bob has done (and I think he’s done it sincerely, not as a calculated maneuver) is seek out groups that want to be connected and he works to become the connecting the point… Bob Dylan never said, ‘I make vinyl records that cost money to listen to.’ He understands at some level that music is often the soundtrack for something else…

“Don’t panic when the new business model isn’t as ‘clean’ as the old one.

“…Get over it. It’s the only option if you want to stay in this business… If there’s a business here, first few in will find it, the rest lose everything.

“Read the writing on the wall.

“…Industries don’t die by surprise. It’s not like you didn’t know it was coming. It’s not like you didn’t know who to call (or hire).

“This isn’t about having a great idea (it almost never is)… this is about taking initiative and making things happen…

“Don’t abandon the Long Tail.

“Everyone in the hit business thinks they understand the secret: just make hits… Of course, the harder you try to just make hits, the less likely you are to make any hits at all…

“Instead, in an age when it’s cheaper than ever to design something, to make something, to bring something to market, the smart strategy is to have a dumb strategy… Do a great job, not a perfect one. Bring things to market, the right market, and let them find their audience…

“Understand the power of digital.

“…You may believe that your business doesn’t lend itself to digital transactions. Many do. If you’ve got a business that doesn’t thrive on digital, it might not grow as fast as you like… Maybe you need to find a business that does thrive on digital.

“Celebrity is underrated.

“…Frank Sinatra is dead and he’s still profiting. Elvis is still alive and he’s certainly still profiting…

“Many businesses now have the power to create their own micro-celebrities. These individuals capture attention and generate trust, two critical elements in growing profits.

“Whenever possible, sell subscriptions.

“Few businesses can successfully sell subscriptions (magazines being the very best example), but when you can, the whole world changes. HBO, for example, is able to spend its money making shows for its viewers rather than working to find viewers for every show.

“The biggest opportunity for the music business is to combine permission with subscription. The possibilities are endless. And I know it’s hard to believe, but the good old days are yet to happen.”

Read Seth Godin’s entire blog post here.

No analysis, actually — just an observation: The points Godin makes about the music business and its lessons for other industries struggling to evolve in a new digital era seem especially relevant to broadcast radio.

Radio, like the music industry, needs to decide whether it will spend its time chasing audiences — or — creating the right content, cultivating communities, and making the connections… in other (Godin’s) words, “Bring things to market, the right market, and let them find their audience…” — PM

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