Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Yahoo! Convenience wins so no more drm

Yahoo!'s Ian Rogers gave a wonderful presentation at a digital media conference a couple of weeks ago in the midst of which he declared that Yahoo! would no longer deal with the music labels if they required DRM.

"Back in 1999 I ran for Rob and Justin. Napster came on the scene and we thought, “Wow! There’s a market for MP3s!” We had millions of people using Winamp, visiting for skins and plugins — it was by far the largest community of MP3-lovers. We naively and enthusiastically suggested to labels that we’d be a great place to sell MP3s. The response from the labels at the time was universally, “What’s MP3?” or “Um, no.”

Instead they commenced suing Napster. We were naive to be sure, but we were genuinely surprised by the approach. Suing Napster without offering an alternative just seemed like a denial of fact. Napster didn’t invent the ability to do P2P, it was inherent in TCP/IP. It was like throwing Newton in jail for popularizing the concept of gravity...

But now, eight years later, Amazon’s finally done what was clearly the right solution in 1999. Music in the format that people actually want it in, with a Web-based experience that’s simple and works with any device... It only took 8 years.

8 years. How much opportunity have we lost in those 8 years? How much naivety and hubris did we have when we said, “if we build it they will come”? What did we spend? And what did we gain? We certainly didn’t gain mass user adoption or trust, two prerequisites to success on the Internet.

Inconvenient experiences don’t have Web-scale potential, and platforms which monetize the gigantic scale of the Web is the only way to compete with the control you’ve lost, the only way to reclaim value in the music industry...

Yahoo! Music demonstrates this scale discrepancy perfectly... Oh have we got a deal for you! If you’re on Windows XP or Vista, and you’re in North America, just download this 20MB application, go through these seven install screens, reboot your computer, go through these five setup screens, these six credit card screens, give us $160 dollars and POW! Now you can hear that song you wanted to hear…if you’re still with us. Yahoo! didn’t want to go through all these steps. The licensing dictated it. It’s a slippery slope from “a little control” to consumer unfriendliness and non-Web-scale products and services...

But this isn’t news, nor is it particular to the digital age. History tells us: convenience wins, hubris loses. “Who is going to want a shitty quality LP when these 78s sound so good? Who wants a hissy cassette when they have an awesome quadrophonic system? Who wants digitized music on discs now that we have Dolby on our cassettes? Who wants to listen to compressed audio on their computers?” ANSWER: EVERYONE. Convenience wins, hubris loses. [check Fredric Dannen’s comments here]

I’m here to tell you today that I for one am no longer going to fall into this trap. If the licensing labels offer their content to Yahoo! put more barriers in front of the users, I’m not interested. Do what you feel you need to do for your business, I’ll be polite, say thank you, and decline to sign. I won’t let Yahoo! invest any more money in consumer inconvenience. I will tell Yahoo! to give the money they were going to give me to build awesome media applications to Yahoo! Mail or Answers or some other deserving endeavor. I personally don’t have any more time to give and can’t bear to see any more money spent on pathetic attempts for control instead of building consumer value. Life’s too short. I want to delight consumers, not bum them out...

Lets envision the end state and drive there as quickly as possible. Lets not waste another eight years on what is obvious today. Lets build the tools of a healthy media Web and reward music-lovers for being a part of it.

In the end you get what you pay for. I won’t spend another dime paying engineers to build false control, making listening to music harder for music-lovers. I will put all of my energy into making it easier and making the experience better. I suggest you do the same."

Hopefully Yahoo Entertainment will follow words with actions but I can't see DRM going away any time soon. Thanks to Ian again for the pointer.

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