Universal Music trying to Zune the iPod?

In a funny turn of events, Universal Music, emboldened by their on-paper success in screwing Microsoft for a license fee on every Zune MP3 player, thinks they can use this lever to get a piece of Apple’s iPod business. Good luck with that.

Ok, lets just stand back and look at this. The reviews for the Zune have been universally dismal. It is a case study in Digital Rights Management taking supremacy over usability and customer experience. It’s almost like Microsoft took everything we have learned about the importance of design and user experience from the iPod’s success, rejected it all and tried to respond by mimicking features and making nice with the major labels. It is also setting up to be the biggest tech gadget failure in a long time.

Rob Hyndman’s been all over this, pointing me to the fact that by wrapping the whole device in DRM, Zune assumes everything is proprietary content – even free and Creative Commons licensed content.

A music industry with enlightened self-interest should be watching closely and learning. Which business model sells more music, facilitates discovery of emerging artists and delivers more revenue to the music industry: Apple’s or Microsoft’s? In the face of having their entire business evaporate without an exit strategy, Apple provided a golden egg in the form of a sustainable, popular and growing business model for paid digital downloads. Yet the industry is still at odds with their most important partner.

Universal’s attempt is ridiculous on its face. It makes the assumption that every customer is a thief. I have pointed to the music industry as the canary in the coal-mine as content goes digital. I guess this means the battle between big-media and customers will continue for a long time, until the new models emerge. In the meantime, the new mammals of indie content creators and digital platform makers are scurrying in the underbrush.

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