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Universal chief rues Apple's 'golden handcuffs'

We'd love to leave, but the money's too good

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Universal Music Group boss Doug Morris, profiled in the current issue of WiReD, isn't the first person to regret a business arrangement with Steve Jobs. As the head of the world's biggest record label, Morris' blessing was instrumental to the success of iTunes Music Store.

But his reasoning in 2007 sounds very strange.

Feature writer Seth Mnookin [not an anagram] suggested that Universal had created "an Apple Walkman that played only Apple cassettes". While Morris' minder says that with hindsight UMG should have mandated the format, Morris seems to have no hindsight at all.

"It never crossed anyone's mind!" that UMG was giving Jobs a powerful lock-in, we learn. Jobs had sold the iTunes proposition to UMG with the argument that it would only run on Macs. The Windows version of iTunes followed six months after the Mac-only launch.

"We were just grateful that someone was selling online. The problem is, he became a gatekeeper."

Why not leave this abusive relationship altogether, then?

"We make a lot of money from him, and suddenly you're wearing golden handcuffs. We would hate to give up that income."

Aah.

It's an unremarkable profile, save for the tidbit that UMG sees "free" (at the point of delivery) music as the way forward. In other words, it has to look free to us, and the service providers can subsidise subscriptions for us.

And that's it, save for two typically WiReD embellishments. One bigs up Apple, while the other bigs up the record labels.

The article claims that 22 per cent of all music sold in the US will move through the iTunes store. But this is units, not revenue: the actual revenue generated by iTunes is much smaller.

The other is much more telling. It's this throwaway description:

"Today, the Big Four record companies — Universal, Warner Music Group, Sony BMG, and EMI — are all enormous corporations."

Just out of curiosity, we checked how many times WiReD had used the phrase either "enormous corporations" or "enormous corporation" in its fifteen years of reporting about the giants of the modern capitalism. Unless our Google is defective, this is the very first time either phrase has been used.

In fact this year, Apple's revenues alone will surpass the revenues of the entire global sound recording industry.

Big Steve is already bigger than Big Music.

That's quite a remarkable omission. Microsoft, Oracle and Google have all been profiled without earning the accolade.

We thought you'd appreciate the missing perspective.

As I've written before, the idea that record labels are huge is a popular myth. Perhaps it makes us feel better to believe it - but it simply isn't true. When a sound recording industry representative makes a bellicose statement, we're not being savaged by a multi-headed Cerebrus, the mythical hound of Hades. It's much more like a Chihuahua with a leg missing, having a yap.

Mail the heretic, here. ®

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