Is publishing going to end up like the music industry? And is that a bad thing? And what is Bon Jovi whining about?

Bon Jovi recently complained that Steve Jobs – the founder of Apple – killed the music industry.

He reminisces about a magical time when someone would go to the record store and buy an album without knowing what any of the songs were, among other things. Here is the exact quote:

“Kids today have missed the whole experience of putting the headphones on, turning it up to 10, holding the jacket, closing their eyes and getting lost in an album; and the beauty of taking your allowance money and making a decision based on the jacket, not knowing what the record sounded like, and looking at a couple of still pictures and imagining it.”

I’m not really sure what his primary complaint is here, or even how it relates to Steve Jobs and Apple. So he’s upset that we can buy songs individually on iTunes for .99 cents instead of being forced to purchase an entire album?

Is he angry that we’re not physically holding the CD case and looking at the artwork while we listen to the songs?

That’s we’re not closing our eyes and ‘imagining’ stuff as we listen?

Shot to the heart, and you’re to blame! You give logic a bad name!

Whatever his complaints are – and I’m not sure I understand any of them – Bon Jovi doesn’t seem to understand how the music industry works in 2011.

He can’t possibly be complaining about the lack of incoming revenue – especially when he looks at his own bank account. In 2010, Bon Jovi was the top-earning concert tour in the world. His act earned $201.1 million dollars in 2010.

So why the whining?

Clearly things have changed since the time when straight men wore leather vests with no shirts underneath, and permed mullets were socially acceptable. But he must be angry about something…

So if Apple ‘killed’ the music industry, who are the big losers?

The bottom-feeders. If anyone is taking a hit, it’s the music industry’s big producers. And that’s for one reason and one reason only: they’re interchangeable middle-men.

Without the need to promote and distribute physical CDs, why are they even necessary?

If you’re an artist, why create CDs at all? Digital downloads are still making plenty of money for their creators: Apple recently celebrated their 10 BILLIONTH (that’s not a typo) download. So there is definitely enough money to go around, and people willing to pay for your songs.

Want to promote a concert? You don’t need a music producer for that. You can use blogs and social media to promote yourself, free of charge.

Want to sell merchandise? You can have virtually anything created with your logo on it, and sell it on the web or at live events.

So it looks like the only big losers are the multi-millionaires who feed off the artists and take a big slice of the profits.

So who is winning? (not in the Charlie Sheen sense…but ACTUALLY winning)

The consumers. We get more of what we want for less money. We can buy individual songs or whole albums, and preview the songs in advance. And while we’re doing it, we know that a large percentage of every dollar is going into the pocket of the artist, and not a greedy middle-man.

And everyone else benefits from our discovery. If we like what we hear we can tell 10, 100, or 1,000 like-minded friends almost instantly.

The artists. Higher profit margins, more options, and the chance to have their music heard online by millions of people around the world.

So are publishers interchangeable middle-men as well?

For the most part, yes, but they’re currently handling the change in technology better than the music industry did. The Nook, Kobo, Kindle and iPad are offering easy and affordable platforms to download books for a very reasonable price.

But what’s even better are the benefits for the independent writers.

Anyone can put their book on these platforms and set their own pricing – as low as .99 cents – making their work accessible to a growing audience of tens of millions of people. And best of all they can enter the market it in an affordable way that can compete with any established publisher.

This technology is what the Internet can – and should – be doing for businesses all the time: leveling the playing field. No politics or jockeying for position when it comes to shelf space. No multi-million dollar ad campaigns. Just the best work going viral, and the artists enjoying the rewards.

Take Amanda Hocking, who became a millionaire within a year, selling only independently published books on digital platforms. No publisher, no middle-men.

And with the current system in place, there will be many more success stories like this in the future.

The future looks bright (even if Bon Jovi doesn’t think so).

Artists will always make money because we – the consumers – love art.

We want music and movies and books that we connect with on a personal level, and we don’t care who the middle-man is (or if one even exists at all).

The music industry had a chance back in the infancy of Napster to facilitate that connection, but they blew their chance. Now things have changed and they’re never changing back. Book publishers are doing a much better job (so far) but that may change as well.

In the end, the music ‘industry’ (the factory that cranks out physical CDs) WILL die. That’s inevitable. But music itself is impossible to kill because people will always be around to create it. Times change, technology shifts, and the way we enjoy, purchase and share art is always a moving target – but the existence of the art, much like Bon Jovi’s haircut, will never change.

PHEW! That was exhasiting…if I could keep my rants to under 1,000 words I’d probably crank out more of these. THANK YOU for reading, and I hope you drop me a comment below. I’ll be back sooner than later…

I love you guys,

Blake xox

PS: Are we hooked up on Facebook yet? If not click here, and we’ll instantly become BFFs. It’s like magic.

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23 Responses to Is publishing going to end up like the music industry? And is that a bad thing? And what is Bon Jovi whining about?

  1. Good rant, Grrl, in a good cause. The first problem for Big Music was disaggregation. The next will be self publishing. Can an independent musician sell her songs on iTunes? On the flip side, discovery is a HUGE problem for readers and listeners, independent writers and musicians. If you want something (a particular kind of something that matches your taste), how do you find it? If you have a particular something, how do you let others know about it? If you’re Charlie Sheen maybe social media are the answer. For those less famous, it’s a big problem. Self publishing sensation Amanda Hocking put her work on Amazon and got nowhere until she sent free copies to the book bloggers to get her work noticed.

  2. hezzer19 says:

    leather vests with no shirts underneath, and permed mullets were socially acceptable.


    Excellent post. As someone who remembers a time when permed mullets were socially acceptable *shudders* I have to admit I prefer the tangible product than the digital versions. There was no better way to spend a Saturday than wandering around Sam the Record Man or the World’s Biggest Bookstore and spending every dime you had. Sams is no more and the worlds biggest bookstore is the Kindle Store at Amazon.

    I guess the point is that as long as we still have music and books the format is irrelevant but I will always miss Sam the Record Man.

  3. BuckarooHoliday says:

    You got it right with your tweet about record companies not keeping up with the digital revolution. Their reaction was the complete opposite of what it should have been. Only recently have they begun to catch up, mostly due to artists themselves, I think.

    My issues with digital vs. analog is less to do with the quality of the songs on an album and more to do with selling those songs as low quality MP3s. I don’t know if iTunes still does it, but 128kbps for music is definitely a rip off. In that regard, Apple might be killing music.

  4. Dave Flora says:

    No, no, no.

    The problem with your theory is that it’s too idealistic. In an ideal world, someone makes something really cool, it goes viral, and people buy it all over the world thanks to the internet.

    What REALLY happens is that someone makes something really cool, but no one sees it because EVERYONE is making so much crap that it’s completely hidden in the fog of crappiness.

    A publisher’s role is to sift through all the piles of worthlessness, pick out the cherries of actual worth, and present them to retail stores (or iTunes) to buy. It’s a screening process…it always has been.

    So, I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of publishers in that sense (whether print or electronic) because people just don’t have the time to sort through all of the MySpace and Facebook bands to find something good. Too many choices = bad.

    So, I guess that Bon Jovi actually makes kind of sense. Kind of. Man…that’s weird. 🙂


    • edinflames says:

      I agree with Blake for the most part, in an ideal world there really is no need for the middleman.

      The problem, as Dave here points out, is discovery. I can see the solution to this partly in social networks of the future and partly in the progression of the absorption of old media (TV, radio, etc) into the internet. That said, this is really more of a vague hope than something I have evidence for; looking at music today it is clear that while access to music and plurality of style have both greatly increased in the last 10 years, so the ‘mainstream’ has declined in terms of quality and variety. Sadly, more people still defer to the mainstream music sources (MTV, BBC Radio 1, X-Factor, American Idol, etc) than trust themselves to look for diamonds in the rough. People also love to follow trends.

      Traditional print publishing is in terminal decline. I say this with some degree of confidence because industry recruitment of graduates has all but dried up, much to my chagrin. The primary reason for this is technological change and ultimately it will be a good thing for talented writers, but for the moment the familiar bugbear of ‘discovery’ haunts the business, creating a competitive vacuum dominated by celebrities (which bothers me a great deal, because they are sh!t writers) and their autobiographies or dull novels, as publishers perceive them to be ‘low-risk’.

      Personally I think comics is the medium which has the most to gain from this brave new world, without loosing too much of its existing infrastructure. There will always be a demand for printed comics and once a comic-kindle is market-ready then we could see an explosion in digi-comics sales.

      Another major development will be ‘on-demand’ book printing. When this arrives for comics there could be infinite scope for indie talent to flourish independently, as stores could cater for EVERY customer by virtually stocking EVERYTHING. Exciting stuff.

      Blake, you may have heard of the Espresso printer? If not, have a look here:
      From your comments in the article above, I reckon it’s right up your street.

    • I went to your blog, man, and off to Doc Monster. And you can’t find a publisher? Well, it isn’t for lack of talent. You’re the best kept secret on the nets. The comment you left on this blog is how I found you! Just a random click. I am simultaneously elated and disgusted.

  5. Edman says:

    I don’t necessarily think JonBon is talking financially. I think he’s being a little more nostalgic/romantic, and I do understand the perspective. There’s also grave concern for creativity as a long-term prospect. The idea is that iTunes effectively killed the album format. Not entirely on its own, but by creating an environment where the single is all that matters, there is far less incentive to write and record “non-single” material – adventurous songs with longer runtimes, non-standard instrumentation or arrangements, daring production, etc. At least as far as rock, in general, is concerned, that removes the incentive that created some of the greatest songs in history. Songs ranging from “Stairway to Heaven,” through to “November Rain” exemplify work that was successful DESPITE completely throwing out the rule book for “popular songwriting” and embracing creativity. Even Bon Jovi has some adventurous work deep in their albums – “Dry County” (10 minutes) and much of the “These Days” album (1995) are non-conforming, non-commercial affairs. In the iTunes model, these songs suffocate under the weight of the sales of “singles” and eventually go the way of the dodo due to financial pressures applied by the business side of the equation. The album format allows for some creativity without regard for finance, and that’s where real creativity happens, not cookie-cutter singles.

    My $.02, as a musician.

    • Mad Chic says:

      I’d just like to reply like this who out of all of us has brought an album and listened to all the songs on it.
      I certainly haven’t so if you go out buy an album only listening to a couple of songs from it isn’t that a waste of money to the consumer isn’t it better to pick and choose which songs you listen to.
      This makes the experience of listening to music more satisfying rather than wasting money on an album and only listening to two songs from it.

      • Edman says:

        Oh my God, really? What a waste of SO MUCH GOOD MUSIC! Maybe a thought process like this applies to pop drivel like Justin Beiber or Lady Gaga or something, where there are 2-3 singles and then padding trash out to 10 tracks for a full record, but rock music of all varieties is MADE for the full album format. What a horrifying thought to have nothing to listen to but “hit singles.” I would lose sleep at night just thinking about it.

        I have roughly 18,500 songs on my iPod. Most are part of full albums. I have listened to EVERY SINGLE track at least once, and on most albums the best songs are not the singles. In fact, for many, the single is the weakest song on the album – the rest is interesting and creative! (mind you, I don’t like pop/top 40, house, hip hop, techno or the like)

  6. “since the time when straight men wore leather vests with no shirts underneath, and permed mullets were socially acceptable” Oh. My. God. How I missed your writing style!
    And I couldn’t agree more with everything you said. It get on my nerves everytime some musician complain about that. Like you said, the artists are on the winning side…
    But I have to agree with @Dave, this is idealistic.
    Don’t take too long to post again! We missed you!

  7. I think Dave is partially right about the screening process publishers use. I’ve been to many a bookstore and seen a lot of crap out there. A lot of it worthless in my opinion. I’m sure there was a lot of worse stuff that didn’t make it to print because of the screening, but I’m sure there was a decent amount of good stuff that didn’t make it through the screening process, as well, due to the screening being done by people. People have subjective tastes, not objective. If someone who doesn’t care for the genre got the manuscript, it would be rejected without a real chance at seeing print.

    With the internet, you have the potential of finding your audience just because those who like your genre will be actively looking for books in that genre and can use the power of the internet to find it, if you tag your stuff correctly. It also helps if you can get the e-book into the hands of several people to help spread the word, as Ms. Hocking did. Your chances of finding someone that is compatible with your genre increases with this method.

    This is just my opinion. Your mileage may vary. Great blog post, by the way. 🙂

  8. C.G. Powell says:

    I enjoyed your rant and look forward to self publishing my own book instead of looking for a publisher that will throw it in the circular file.

  9. Hrm, I pretty much agree with your view on the financials, but I think you might have misinterpreted the meaning of his statements.

    I’m not exactly a follower of his, so this is just a guess, but it sounds like a complaint I’ve heard from other artists of older era’s in music. From what I understand, it’s that in their day (it seems far rarer now) the process of creating an album was to approach it as a whole entity. To make it an analogy, it was like the album was a book and the tracks more like chapters within the book. A great example of that (and an album I love) is Pink Floyd’s, “The Wall”, which creates a storyline. The tracks out of context of the album as a whole might be a good listen, but the meaning as a whole is diminished. Pretty sure there were artists who specifically refused to put their albums on itunes for this reason, but I can’t recall the names off the top of my head.

    As for him talking about the jacket and such, that’s something I’ve heard/read from others on the listeners side, in that they miss the “surprise”, as it were. Or again about being forced to appreciate the music in it’s entirety, rather than skimming around previews. Not sure what I think of that, might just be evolution in this case. But, album artwork does seem to be progressively going into oblivion and/or have no relation to the music it’s linked to (or is just really, really bad). Which is something, as a would be artist, I can definitely appreciate as a negative thing.

  10. As usual, you know just what to say to get the debate going! The music industry missed the boat because ‘change’ is scary and instead of grabbing the tiger by the tail, they ran screaming for their mommies in the opposite direction. I do agree partially with Jon though – the world of digitial music has become the world of the Single not the Album. Which means that you hear something you like on the radio or TV and you download that. Sometimes you lose out on all those other awesome songs that you haven’t heard on that album, but weren’t adventurous enough to download anyway. I’m not sure how we solve that problem or if it’s just a casualty of the day, we’ll see I guess.

  11. Matt says:

    I like your thought process in this post – but I have to disagree. Mr. Jovi’s concern is far from financially based. Albums – I mean vinyl here, not CDs – are ‘warm’ objects. We form an emotional attachment to them beyond the music, and packaging is part of that. Also, we, as consumers, may not recognize it, but the musicians and producers put effort and consideration into the song order, and for the most part, assemble albums to be listened all the way through, not as singles. I have to side with Jovi. Nobody had better touch my Van Halen on vinyl. It is cherished; the mp3s, not so much.

    As for book publishing, and this I can speak to with some authority, having spent years at a New York house, the ‘middle men’ you refer to are often editors who not only take chances on unknown authors, but really work to improve the writing of books the believe in. I have yet to read an ebook that does not suffer from lack of an editorial steward. Editors are invaluable.

    Thanks for your ear-time

  12. Good Blog topic. I concur mostly, it seems like small acts like ourselves have a hard time getting distribution in “free” social media like podcasting because Itunes tends to favor larger podcasts- that, without arrogance, we can easily take the pepsi challenge with. A few years back, I was thrilled with the idea of producing thoughtful funny content in the bleak wasteland that was podcasting- most of which were truly terrible. Now the same old barriers of old media are starting to get reinforced by the middlemen wanting a piece of something not monitized. Its a hell of a lot of work and out of pocket money just to keep floating and chipping at the walls. We love the blog and twitter feed and would love a shout out to or follow us at @offtopicalpod

  13. The music industry was a dinosaur that refused to see the writing on the wall. Rather than EMBRACE the digital revolution and EMBRACE their customers they FOUGHT and SUED their customers to no end. The perfect example was the lawsuit they fought against the grandmother. I mean c’mon. Terrible.

    The publishing companies seem to have learned from this. The kindle and other ebooks are a perfect example. While I believe ebooks are still expensive I love my Kindle. And as much as people hate Fox, their Daily news on the iPad, which you receive constant updates is exactly what the industry needs.

    Apple just gave the customers what they wanted and showed that people were willing to pay for a product they wanted. I have no remorse over the music industry and it pleases me to see the publishing companies are being more flexible.

    Bon Jovi should just SHUT UP! Why do people with so much money need to open their stupid mouths for other than what they are paid to do. Bon Jovi is paid to SING and wave his hair around, that is it!
    Sheen is a LOSER. He is not winning and his Tiger Blood has run out.

  14. MG Petrino says:

    Very thoughtful essay. For people of a certain age, say 56, like me, handling record albums was a very visceral thing, like thumbing through 50 cent paperbacks. They were large enough, so you could actually see and enjoy the cover art. Heck, you could even use them to lean on to do drawings. You never lost your liner notes because they were printed on the back.

    Going to a record store was like going to the candy store for comic books, when comics were 12 cents apiece. It was a social experience. Now just about anything can be bought online, so people do not even need to leave the house. They can be ethereally social by using electronic devices of all stripes. A physical presence is not required.

    I think BJ is finally looking mortality in the face. His world is gone, and is not coming back. Like many of us, he has to go through the 5 stages of grief for his past, and the youth it represented, when the road was long and all things were possible.


  15. tkguthat says:

    As a Libra, I see both sides. Bon Jovi has a point, I think, when he says we’ve lost something. In it’s day, the album format did allow for/aided experimentation and creativity. And as some of the posters mentioned, “your local” music store did provided a space for in-person communication. The loss of these places is sad. Truly, the global internet conversation is great. However, there is nothing like sitting in a cafe in Paris (or anywhere else) crowded with fellow human beings. It’s magical and cannot be replicated over the internet.

    To shift gears, I’m not sure how essential the big publishing houses are to the creation of quality literature – especially in regards to their “sorting function.” Shakespeare didn’t get sorted by a publisher. He just clawed his way to the top of the London theater scene (infinitely smaller, but structurally very similar to the world of ebooks I would argue. One critic blasted Will for his self-promotion). Poe was published in magazines, but given his acerbic nature, I’m pretty sure he didn’t take much editorial guidance from anyone (but I could be wrong). Indeed, for most of human history, great works have been created without the modern publishing industry. And the best will, given time, rise to the top. Historically speaking, great works have been kept, held on to, passed down while the poor/mediocre ones have faded away. So, I think we’ll be fine – it just may take longer for the best to rise to the top of, what is admittedly, a much larger body of works.

  16. eric Hews says:

    Funny and well-put. Seems our mullet-boy just hasn’t moved along with the times. While I, too, occasionally miss holding an album [geez, dated terminology, eh?], I still get into the music I love without it.

  17. Nice blog post. I agree regarding your main point; the revolution in both music and book publishing is worst for middlemen (producers, agents etc.) who used to earn 15-50% of revenues and now find it a colder world. But as a guy who grew up in the 70s buying music, I do miss those albums — especially the big double albums with booklets and posters and such. I do not miss skipping records and vinyl scratches.

  18. Laure Eve says:

    I started to write a comment about this and it turned into a fricking essay.

    Rather than dull the ears off you, i’ve shoved it all into a blog post.

    *self-promotional blush*

    Awesome blog, by the way.

  19. steve poling says:

    I think you are onto something here.

    And I think your kind of thinking is going to save civilization. The book publishing business can almost be replaced by kindle/nook/generic ebook publishing. However, I think there is more value added by traditional publishing houses than is added by record company execs.

    There are two main things where traditional publishers create value for the reader and author: Marketing and Distribution. Kindle Direct solves distribution, but how can someone like me with a $0.99 story on Kindle (The Aristotelian), get people to notice? And how can the reader find gold in all those self-published ebooks without wading through a lot of dross? Or those other traditional roles of copy-editing? Or strategerizing?

    I think all of the above can be crowd-sourced. And they ought to be. This is how you and a crowd of like-minded people will save civilization.

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