Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Idle threat of the week

Sadly there were no significant idle threats this week. I even called an emergency Columbus Day meeting of the panel of judges, and we still found nothing. The last time this happen was the third week of May in 1999. That was the week Star Wars Episode Four: The Phantom Menace was released. The legend goes the world was too overwhelmed in anticipation of the long awaited prequel to make threats of any kind. Then the movie sort of stunk, and everybody went back to the normalcy that is not waiting in line for a stinky movie, but is making lots of idle threats.

We don't yet know what caused this week's dearth of idle threats. History is best understood backwards. And since this historic event is sure to be studied by historians, one day we should have the answer.

It's not like there weren't any threats issued between October first and seventh. It's just that they all felt true. In fact, Radiohead's threat to completely dismantle the music industry by releasing their next album on their own website, at a pick-your-price rate, is one of the scariest and most legitimate threats we've come across in recent memory.

The music industry as we know it has come against possible existential threats before. Decades ago, the simple old recordable cassette was supposed to knock the wheels off the whole thing. Of course, it did nothing of the sort.

But the threat downloading music posed has always felt different. Suddenly here was a technology that completely obliterated the old methods of production and distribution -- quite a double whammy already -- and gelled perfectly with the Ipod -- perhaps the most ubiquitous new lifestyle toy in years.

Radiohead is able to fulfill the promise of music straight to the masses because the band is no longer shackled by a record contract. If Radiohead's gambit works -- and I suspect it will -- other artists with platinum reach will follow suit once their contract runs out. Free agents Oasis and Nine Inch Nails have already indicated they are planning sales models similar to Radiohead's.

Not only can these artists distribute music from their sites, but they can also use the increased traffic to sell more merchandise. If given a choice, a kid today might be reluctant to pay the full ten dollars for music they can easily get for free. But they aren't going to think twice about paying 15 or 20 dollars for a t-shirt of their favorite band.

The next logical step would be for the power bands to go after the real money, and take on the monopolistic up-charging behemoth that is Ticketmaster. But, logical or not, taking down Ticketmaster has proven to be quite the tricky proposition in the past. One that could end up garnering a band their very own Idle Threat of the Week.

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