Talking To The Music Industry Again, The Aspen Live Conference

[this was written in the middle of December, and I’ve been piecing it together in my copious spare time ever since]


For the past 12 years, CAA has been hosting an infamous music industry conference in Aspen, Colorado. Mark Kates always used to tell me I should go, that tons of real business gets done there, but I was never really invited and as a general rule I don’t invite myself to parties. A couple months ago I was asked by CAA to speak on a panel to UCLA students alongside good peeps like Rob Light, Don Passman, Michael McDonald, and Diarmuid Quinn. I accepted and was honored to be “the interweb guy” on a panel of music industry veterans. It turns out the person who organized this panel, Jim Lewi, was the same former Aspen resident who started the Aspen Live Conference. He was kind enough to extend my first proper invite.

Still, the conference is the definition of boondoggle (in Aspen and starts at 4pm each day after the lifts close) and I wasn’t sure if I could justify the time away from work and family . But then the invite turned out to not just be an invite to attend, but to take one of the two speaking slots at the conference. This pushed the needle into the “justifiable” end of the spectrum, and sufficiently away from the “total boondoggle” side. I accepted.

Now it’s Saturday night and I’m on the plane on the way home from the conference. I’m thankful to have been invited: great conference, people, snowboarding, and opportunity. Really the best conference I’ve ever been to. Unfortunate because a) this is the conference’s last year and (not unrelated) b) it was overshadowed by the ghost of a more prosperous music business. Record label attendance was thin. Sony/BMG had a round of layoffs on Wednesday, the day I arrived, which I discussed on the bus from the airport with a woman who works at Interscope. The same woman didn’t make it to my presentation on Thursday because she was laid off via phone earlier in the day. Ouch.

Which is where I came in. I have a pretty optimistic view of the future of media. I (like David Byrne) think what’s happening in media today makes sense, is good for people who make music and people who love music (if not for people who built oligopolies on selling music on plastic discs for $18) and is good for culture in general. I wanted to give a presentation which explained where this optimism came from, the forces behind it, where I saw the opportunity is/isn’t, and encouraged the music industry to do the right thing with respect to building platforms for monetization and leveraging standards. It was pretty lofty goal in its own right, but worth a shot.

I think it turned out ok. People said they enjoyed it (to my face, at least). Even Bob Lefsetz paid me a compliment. I’ll let you decide for yourself by paraphrasing the presentation here:

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Hello there. My name is Ian Rogers. My current title is VP Video and Media Applications, and I was most recently the General Manager of Yahoo! Music. I came to Yahoo! through the acquisition of my startup Mediacode (with my friend/business partner Rob Lord, who is currently working on Songbird) four years ago. Prior to that I was part of record label Grand Royal, and worked at Nullsoft which sold to AOL in 1999. I started in “the (music) business” in 1995 when I left grad school to go on tour with Beastie Boys, which I did again in 1998 and just this past august my 17 year-old daughter opened for Beastie Boys at The Greek. I also have a one year-old daughter,

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

and ride a skateboard,

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

some times with this guy, John Silva, who couldn’t be here today but sends his love.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

I’d like to convince you of three things today:

  1. There is more opportunity in leveraging the scale of the Web than trying to create scarcity. We’ve all been engaged in many attempts at creating scarcity in digital music and none of them have worked. Meanwhile, others have been leveraging the scale of the Web with great success. We should learn from this pattern and apply our energy appropriately.
  2. We will do this together by creating a loosely-coupled value chain including users as value creators. The value chain is not owned by a single entity (LimeWire, Apple, or Universal). There are many participants in a healthy ecosystem. Furthermore, users are no longer just consumers, they’re active participants adding value and any successful solution will leverage this user-contributed value.
  3. We need to work together to create the Media Web. Here I’ll step off into nerd-ness for a minute, but I’ll try to tie it to a concrete example so you see what it is I’m getting at clearly.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

But first, lets take a look at the physics that are shaping today’s media space. I think we can agree the environmental forces in the digital media space are much different than the physical space. However, we’ve been trying to apply our physical world models to the digital space and then wondering why they don’t work. It’s like trying to live a normal life on the moon without adjusting to the changes in oxygen and gravity. Our collective success relies on our understanding and adapting to the new physics in the space, not denying them.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

We’re moving from a world of limited distribution channels and therefore abundant attention (CBS was not scared of losing any of us as customers 20 years ago, I came home from school every day and watched Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island because it was THE ONLY THING ON), to a world of unlimited distribution and therefore attention scarcity (when Zoe watches TV it’s TiVo and she doesn’t even watch TV after school, she gets on the computer, uses Facebook, does her homework with the help of Wikipedia, IMs with friends, etc).

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Umair Haque of wrote a great piece outlining the new media landscape some time ago entitled “The Blockbuster vs. The Snowball”. He contends (and I agree) that Media 1.0 is Blockbusters and Media 2.0 is Snowballs. In the Blockbuster world there’s a certain point where investing more in quality delivers diminishing returns and marketing serves the need. If you are making Pirates of the Carribean 12, do you spend $2M extra dollars on that actress or on getting Johnny Depp’s face on the cups at Burger King? Burger King, of course, you’re not trying to make the best movie in the world, you’re just trying to get people to go to theatre A instead of theatre B this week. But in the Snowball world the opposite is true. At a certain point you get diminishing returns spending more money on marketing, how do you even get to the audience when their attention is spread across an unlimited distribution channel but quality is hyper-efficient—if something is good, everyone sees it.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Every time I say “quality is hyper-efficient” someone asks me if I am saying that our kids aren’t going to watch and listen to crap anymore. Of course they are, but they are going to watch and listen to exactly the crap they want to watch and listen to. It’s not really quality we’re talking about here, it’s relevance. With unlimited choice people will consume what is most relevant to them (“Tier 1 to me”, as Jonathan Strauss puts it).

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Never was this more clear to me than when I spoke to a room full of teenagers at the National Youth Leadership Forum on Technology. I asked the kids how many of them had seen the “Lazy Sunday” clip from Saturday Night Live. Nearly 100% raised their hands. I asked how many of them saw it on television as opposed to YouTube. None had. I pointed out that in essence negative marketing dollars were spent trying to get them to watch the clip—NBC actively tried to KEEP them from watching it and yet they still all saw it. Then I asked how many of them had seen the new Superman movie (which was out 2-3 weeks at the time). About 10-15% had seen it. I then asked them why they’d all seen something that had less than zero marketing dollars spent and on a relative basis none of them had seen something which had millions in marketing spent trying to get them to see it. After a short bit of silence one kid finally raised his hand and offered, “Because it’s funny?” YES! Because it’s good, and your friend said you had to watch it, and when you watched it you said the same thing to ten friends.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Our kids are going to watch exactly what they want to watch, not necessarily what’s marketed to them. I understand this is threatening to large media businesses which are accustomed to owning the means of distribution, but I am certain it’s very good for our kids and for culture writ large. We’re all in the same business now, the business of making things people really love. It’s the same for Yahoo! as for media companies. If we don’t make the best products there is always a startup who is ready to step up and serve people’s needs. Record labels are operating in an environment with the same physics.

[for more on this, see my original Media 2.0 Physics presentation from the first BarCamp LA early 2006 and my “Media 2.0 for High Schoolers” presentation from later the same year]

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Hopefully we all agree it’s good news that DRM is finally dead. Five years ago I started saying we were in the age of PURE CONSUMER CONFUSION (a phrase I lifted from Rob Lord) and it wouldn’t be gone until DRM was gone and digital media was interoperable. With proprietary DRM there are only two possible outcomes: PURE CONSUMER CONFUSION or Monopoly. We’ve been saddled with both in varying degrees. But now that MP3s are finally for sale we’re headed toward much less consumer confusion and a much better value proposition for sales. Please don’t look at this as the labels “giving up”. It’s much better seen as an acknowledgment of the physics of the space and an appreciation that attempting to create scarcity only wastes precious time and money.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

As I alluded to in my presentation from October, I’ve been complicit, but I’m done. I’m not spending my energy attempting to create scarcity any longer. Life’s too short. Instead we need to leverage the tremendous scale of the Web to create value in new ways.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Today users are creating tremendous value and for the most part we’re ignoring it. They’re writing blogs about your artists, putting bios on Wikipedia, documenting last night’s concert on Flickr and video sharing sites, showing what songs are most popular by their behavior on, building “box sets” on community sites, etc. How has the music industry leveraged this? What tools have you created to enable or encourage it?

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Nothing and none, and what we’ve done is forced a disconnect between content and context. As I mentioned in my October presentation, iTunes is a (mostly) context-free content experience and the Web is a (mostly) content-free context experience. Whoever puts the two together wins.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

The alternative is a shadow ecosystem which serves the same purpose for the user but offers zero involvement for the music business. Today I can get a great music discovery and consumption experience from Hype Machine, download the MP3s to my iPod, and the industry gets nothing. The opportunity is in giving Hype Machine the tools to make the (many, already existing) buy from Amazon/iTunes/eMusic buttons work well and letting the bloggers blog any music legally forever instead of a few tracks here and there which they take down after seven or fourteen days.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

So the opportunity lies in a functioning Media Web, but the irony is that the Media Web doesn’t exist. While there’s an image tag in HTML, there isn’t an audio or a video tag. This may seem nerdy or trivial but it’s really important. Let me explain what I mean:

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

If any of you were “online” in 1992, unless you were at a university you likely had an AOL or Compuserv account. If Jerry Yang and David Filo had wanted to create a directory of “being online” they’d have had to go knock on Steve Case’s door only to have him tell them, “no thanks, I’ll build it myself.” HTML and HTTP were very simple standards which came along and knocked this whole thing on its side.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Digital media today is still in the AOL and Compuserv era. While text and images are easy to add to Web pages, every time you add media you are dealing with a proprietary technology. This is something you’ve all experienced but probably never thought too much about. Think back two years ago, the Web worked fine on your PC, your Mac, even your cell phone to some degree, but as soon as you wanted to watch a video you were faced with the “which proprietary technology owns your ass?” question. Quicktime? Real? Windows Media Player? What happened was “The Web” stopped and proprietary technologies took over. Flash has made this feel a little less painful but now the entire online video industry is in the hands of one technology company (Adobe), being delivered the features they see fit on their timeline? That’s never a good thing. And who is challenging their monopoly with a technology called Silverlight? Microsoft? Doh. This is not exactly a recipe for openness.

We need the same force that created The Web to create The Media Web. What was that force? Open standards solving universal user needs and enabling a level publishing platform. While this may seem outside of your job description, let me first give you a sense of the kind of standards I’m talking about, and then a specific example that will likely hit pretty close to home.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Practically speaking, the standards we need are relatively straight-forward:

  1. We need media to be a first-class object in HTML. I vote for media microformats, starting with hAudio.
  2. We need ways to describe collections of media objects (playlists). We have this. It’s called XSPF. It was created by a loose consortium of like-minded folks in the same way I’m suggesting the rest of these standards are created. A simple, effective, informal process that generates well-documented standards and working software.
  3. We need a way for creative people to build contexts for media. The replacement for the album cover or DVD case. I’ll talk more in-depth about this in a moment. David Gratton and Project Opus are doing some interesting MPEG-21-derived work here which I’m holding out hope for.
  4. We need standards for sharing user data. How can I easily import my iTunes collection into Yahoo! or Rhapsody? How can I take my data and build an experience on Pandora? We need simple ways of describing and giving these preferences portability.
  5. We need to define services such as search, resolution of media between services (how can a third-party recommendation system allow for your choice of retailer?), and purchase or provisioning (how can you decide if you want to plug in Yahoo!, Rhapsody, Napster or Lala on the fly to an application created by a third party?).

This list is up for debate but I feel someone needs to throw an opening salvo at some specifics around what we need to build to create The Media Web, this is mine.

Now I know, this is a music industry conference, not a technology conference, and this standards nonsense is all a little heady, something for the computer scientist set, right? I don’t think so. Closing the gap between the Media Web geeks and those of you that make, distribute, and market media is key to our success as an industry as far as I’m concerned. My goal is to give you some insight within which to evaluate new opportunities. To give a concrete example, I’d like to talk about the digital packaging opportunity.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

As music fans I’m sure we can all agree that the loss of the album cover is sad. I’ve sat with artists as they’ve labored over their album art, it’s a part of the creative process that’s unfortunately been reduced to a 200 pixel square. Gone is the Billion Dollar Babies fold out with the big fake money or the faux leather Deja Vu. Capitol Records used to have an entire floor dedicated to making gorgeous box sets and cardboard cutouts of Chingy. Album art was part of the creative process and the business.

The creative package will return. I promise you. It will look more like a Web site than a gatefold, but it will return. Many people are working on their solutions to this problem. But there is a big question about what shape this will take. The lessons above will all come in to play. We as an industry have a choice if we’re going to flounder around with proprietary solutions or if we’re going to get together to support an HTML-like solution and create massive opportunity for the industry.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

In the case the packaging effort is proprietary, labels create packages, labels control how and when you get them. Big companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Yahoo! adopt the package formats (at potentially considerable expense). It works. They’re neat. Users think they’re ok. They help sales but not by an order of magnitude. They do little to change how people discover or recommend music. Key selling point to labels is the “control” they get over the ecosystem. They’re suckers for the control pitch. They even believe it.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

In a standards-based approach, labels and artists create packages, but users can create packages, too. Big companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Yahoo! adopt the packages, but at less cost because the community chips in on the development tools and open source efforts can be leveraged by the entire industry to get more for less cost. A vastly different discovery and recommendation ecosystem emerges where consumers can find products on Yahoo!, buy on Amazon, consume on Yahoo! (or elsewhere) and see user-created packages right next to packages created by labels and artists. Users can re-package for new sales opportunities. More creators means more value with less investment. And the artist/label hasn’t necessarily lost any control over how they present their package, they have only lost a fictitious opportunity to create scarcity (while it sounded good, it never really existed).

Here’s an example David Gratton from Project Opus quickly put together of his forthcoming standards-based Jamm techonology:

Discover music on Yahoo!:

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Purchase music on Amazon (or elsewhere):

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Manage your music on Yahoo! (or elsewhere):

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Discover user-created packages right next to the ones created by your favorite artists:

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Clearly I’m biased, and you know which approach I hope we choose as an industry. In reality we’ll probably end up with both. The industry will hedge its bets and choose neither, and the whole thing will take a lot longer than it should have, again.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Now I know what you’re thinking, OK, Ian, I kinda get it. I think you might even be right. You should go fix that shit! Heh. I’m here to tell you it’s your problem, too. It’s your industry. Many of these choices are yours. You are in these meetings when these technology companies come by preying on your vulnerability and longing for the good ol’ days when you had control, and wouldn’t you rather trust the venture-backed guys who are your age and have $10M in the bank instead of some intangible “standard”? No. Tell your boss he’s wrong, that you’ve seen this movie before. Understand the physics, trust your instincts, and swim with the current instead of against it. We have fifteen years of example behind us. Do you want to be in on the ground floor of the next Liquid Audio or the next MP3? Rob and I had the same choice 8 years ago and we chose MP3 using the same sorts of evaluations.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

So where does Yahoo! fit into all of this? What do you think of when you think of Yahoo! and Music? Yahoo! Music is the #1 Music site on the Internet. Comscore tells us that it’s one of the few sites on the Internet which has had more than 22M monthly visitors for the past two and a half years (an incredible feat). But what is it exactly? What’s the strategy?

We’re in the process of redefining what Yahoo! Music is, and making it the Music destination in Yahoo!’s successful image. Yahoo! is the best starting point on the Internet. The Internet is a massive place, more complex with every passing day. At the same time, consumer expectations for finding what they’re looking for in a small number of clicks (relevance as referred to above) are increasing. From a simplistic perspective Yahoo! today is what Yahoo! was the day Jerry and David started it, a set of tools which makes navigating the Internet easier. Yahoo! Music and Yahoo! Media in general will continue to do exactly this, be the best starting point and help you experience an increasingly complex Media Web.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Just like Yahoo!, Yahoo! Music is not a retailer or a content creator. We’re the best Music starting point on the Web, helping you discover, consume, manage, and share your music. There are people who make music and people who love music, and we’re looking to make an efficient connection between the two, creating an ecosystem which includes both artists and users as value-creators. We’ll be not only giving you content, but also great contexts for that content. We’ll be supporting standards and fostering a true Media Web. In other words, following exactly the three things I’m trying to convince you of today. Join us.

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Talk from Aspen Live 2007

Thanks for listening.

And thank you, dear reader, for reading. If you’ve something in response, please leave a comment. Nothing you say could possibly be any more incredible to me than having Townes Van Zandt’s widow argue with legendary photographer Glen E. Friedman in the comments last time around.

I have a couple of post-scripts to this…

Rob Lord has engaged Chris Messina’s Citizen Agency to help forward The Media Web. Organized leadership is exactly what this movement needs. I plan to put my (and Yahoo!’s) support behind them as well.

They have started a site,, to chronicle the emergence of the Open Media Web, and have kicked it off with an interview with the inimitable, genius, and all around amazing Lucas Gonze.

If you are at a media company, I suggest you get involved with the Open Media Web projects. We will be working to pull together a number of companies to align around *real products* which utilize these emerging standards. Through instantiating these standards they will become real and create opportunities. The rising tide can and will lift all boats.


Finally, I thought I’d post the video I shot from my Sanyo Xacti of our day on the snow cat. Jim Lewi and Jason Flom hooked it up, and the posse included Chris and Barbara Jones, Barbie Baylis, Don Strasburg, Matt Drouin, Francoise DeGrandpre, and Michael McDonald. I’d never been on the cat before, and it was an amazing day. I was a little anxious because at 9am PST Zoe would be back at home finding out if she was accepted to MIT or not. It was a very big deal to her and therefore to me. I managed to get everyone on the trip invested in the outcome, and though we fought all day with the cell service we finally managed to get in touch with her and sho’ nuff, she got in. Thanks to y’all for sharing that moment with me, and for not making fun of me for gettin’ all teary.

Enjoy the video, and buy the music in the video:
CRS – Us Placers
Hockey Night – Greet The Dawn
Deerhoof – Believe E.S.P.

Click here if the video doesn’t play for some reason.

Happy New Year,

Trackbacks & Pings

  1. Mark Forman:2.0 » Blog Archive » I Have Seen the Future… on 06 Jan 2008 at 7:36 pm

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  24. Yahoo! y el futuro de la industria musical » El Blog de Enrique Dans on 09 Jan 2008 at 9:20 pm

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  25. Yo I Thought We Were In The Music Business at FISTFULAYEN on 11 Jan 2008 at 12:31 am

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  26. » Blog Archive » Kelley Stoltz, Vampire Weekend, Xiu Xiu, Times New Viking, Yahoo Music’s Ian Rogers On Yngwie Malmsteen, 001 Collective on 11 Jan 2008 at 1:07 pm

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    […] Yahoo! 的影音暨多媒體事業 (VP Video and Media Applications) 副總 Ian Rogers 前一陣子在一個音樂產業的研討會上面發表了一場演講,他將演講的投影片以及文字記錄在他的 Blog 上面。看完之後,我報以熱烈掌聲,非常精闢的演說,如果大家有時間,這篇演講是很值得一看的。 […]

  28. » Blog Archive » Kelley Stoltz, Vampire Weekend, Xiu Xiu, TNV on 14 Jan 2008 at 6:25 pm

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  29. Scarcity vs scale « electronic museum on 15 Jan 2008 at 10:38 am

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  30. Steve Jobs comments - the goods for a music service « Means of Production on 15 Jan 2008 at 1:29 pm

    […] Ian Rogers and I are on the same page – you have to provide an environment where scale rules and where context provides the impetus for sales.  Meaning – if you provide meaningful and rich context around content and a low barrier to accessing that content, then sales will take place. […]

  31. » Blog Archive » Creating amazing music blog experiences on 16 Jan 2008 at 1:58 am

    […] The last 30 days have been a revelation. After spending the past year working on web music applications in Yahoo!’s Media Innovation Group, I’m starting to believe that this digital music thing is finally coming together. I can almost taste how it’s going to work. […]

  32. ed peto » Blog Archive » So You Want To Sell Music In China? [Guest Post] on 17 Jan 2008 at 11:44 am

    […] combined with recommendation engines to guide the user along in unfamiliar territory. Ian Rogers recently lamented the death of the album cover but in China a more profound barrier exists that stunts the […]

  33. The Content Factory - Media 2.0 = Snowballs on 19 Jan 2008 at 4:01 pm

    […] to Yahoo’s VP of Video and Media Applications, the revolution has already happened. Ian Rodgers reckons the only option left for the music and video business is in ‘leveraging the scale of […]

  34. DRM, music and music player apps « Media - what is it good for! on 21 Jan 2008 at 12:49 pm

    […] music sales and to new business models in the music industry  (Ian Rogers says it very eloquently here).  The king is dead!  Long live the […]

  35. Yahoo! Music Blog » Damn, Valleywag, calling us out on 23 Jan 2008 at 9:28 pm

    […] admit I’ve been giving more love to my personal blog […]

  36. Bench Marks » Blog Archive » Link Roundup on 30 Jan 2008 at 11:10 am

    […] Rogers of Yahoo! Music has posted his presentation to the music industry, highlighting the shifting physics of the information world. “The Phyics of Media have […]

  37. Hey! We made up awards too!! Introducing: The Quiet Revolutionaries at a quiet revolution on 30 Jan 2008 at 10:45 pm

    […] International – Ian Rogers Before the holidays I stumbled upon Ian Rogers blog. I had heard and read numerous mentions of a talk he had given earlier in the year which you can find on his blog at Convenience Wins, Hubris Loses and Content vs. Context, a Presentation for Some Music Industry Friends. Most recently he posted anther talk he gave, Talking To The Music Industry Again, The Aspen Live Conference. […]

  38. Out of context « Swindleeeee!!!!! on 03 Feb 2008 at 11:14 pm

    […] subject. The first (to which this post is dedicated) is from Ian Rogers of Yahoo!, recapping his presentation at the Aspen Live conference in December: Today users are creating tremendous value and for the […]

  39. StraussBlog » The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Music 2.0 on 11 Feb 2008 at 7:20 am

    […] a presentation titled “Losers Wish for Scarcity, Winners Leverage Scale,” Ian says “[w]e’re moving from a world of limited distribution channels and […]

  40. Bench Marks » Blog Archive » Why Web 2.0 is failing in Biology on 14 Feb 2008 at 12:43 pm

    […] quote comes from a talk given by Ian Rogers of Yahoo! Music at a Music Industry meeting, but it’s very relevant for our business as […]

  41. Is EMI actually going to do something interesting? « Media - what is it good for! on 02 Apr 2008 at 9:52 am

    […] Merrill, the CIO of Google.  Hopefully this will lead to something interesting! As I (and others) said before new business models are required to revive the music industry and to date the […]

  42. Mark, my words » Yahoo! Music / Rhapsody Integration - baby steps on 02 Jul 2008 at 10:28 am

    […] made our users jump through over the years. We don’t even shove a toolbar down your throat! We’ve been talking about friction free web music for a while now, and it’s finally starting to […]

  43. The Bytesize Music Blog » Blog Archive » Topspin on 07 Jul 2008 at 9:39 am

    […] I haven’t seen their service in action yet but Topspin is described over at Billboard as a “turnkey suite of technologies and services that provides all the content management and customer relationship tools artists need to distribute and market music directly to fans.” At this point I would usually reach for the snooze button, I’ve seen too many uninspiring offerings billed exactly as this. But this particular venture is well funded and has Ian Rogers as its CEO (if you’re not familar, Ian Rogers is the ex-Yahoo Music GM and was a bit of a hero for me because of this blog post.) […]

  44. Get Ready for DRM-FREE 2008: Amazon, Napster, Sony, Yahoo Music | Bob Caswell on 17 Jul 2008 at 12:10 am

    […] Music’s VP of Product Development Ian Rogers has been hinting at big news revolving around dramatic changes in Yahoo’s music model. He said, “We’re in […]

  45. Links - 25th September 2008 « Curiously Persistent on 25 Sep 2008 at 7:03 am

    […] Fantastic presentation on the music industry embracing the Web (Fistfulayen) […]

  46. Finance 101: Defending Corporate Harakiri | on 23 Feb 2009 at 4:43 pm

    […] indexed and freely available.  I would tweak the graph slightly (see below) to account for Ian Rogers’ attention scarcity theory so the gap becomes defined by both piracy and people moving to the next piece of content on the […]

  47. Outdustry — So You Want To Sell Music In China? [Guest Post] on 26 Feb 2009 at 12:47 am

    […] combined with recommendation engines to guide the user along in unfamiliar territory. Ian Rogers recently lamented the death of the album cover but in China a more profound barrier exists that stunts the […]

  48. Apple Does Digital Packaging at FISTFULAYEN on 30 Jul 2009 at 11:05 pm

    […] Two Octobers ago I pleaded with the industry to embrace standards before some company interested in platform lock-in …. […]

  49. Music industry change | AlastairC on 13 Sep 2009 at 8:00 am

    […] I wonder who will be the first to create this type of site? It could be the current labels, there are moves in that direction. It seems unlikely though, they are too entrenched in scarcity thinking. […]


  1. Noel wrote:


    That is a fantastic presentation and you are spot on, we absolutely need to embrace the Media Web and all of its potential.

    As an aside, on the Geddy slide I believe you may have wanted to say “spinning our wheels” instead of “spinning our years”

    Happy New Year!

  2. Huge wrote:

    I agree, this is spot on and long overdue. it’s the best summary of the fundamental change brought on by New Media that I’ve seen.

    But this is pitched at Big Music and I’m interested in independent music. Your statement about the decreasing return for marketing expenditure does NOT ring true to most indies …

    How do you forsee the environment/physics of New Media helping indies to overcome the attention scarcity problem and bring their quality(s) to the fore??

    And how can the big players reduce the opportunity cost of A & R in this environment, which would give them incentive to expand their horizons … ???


  3. iancr wrote:

    Heh. Maybe I meant reelin in the years? Thanks for the correction. I’ll fix0r if I have time.

  4. Mark Forman wrote:

    Ian brilliant piece. Kind of almost like that Jerry Maguire moment for me, except Cameron Crowe not having camera pointed at me and I had no bad pizza to blame it on. :) Not sure I agree that Yahoo is the messiah but can understand you plugging the “home” team. Lots of stuff there for me to think about. been subscribed for a couple of months and this post really made it most worthwhile. Keep up the effort my man.

  5. Tirrell Payton wrote:

    Bob Lefetz sent me here. Since the last reorg, I have been in the dark regarding what you are working on these days. I’m glad to know your vision and focus is still there.

    -Tirrell Payton

  6. Jeff wrote:

    Fascinating stuff. I was just talking the other day with friends about the loss of artwork and liner notes (even blogged on the subject). The intersection of art, music and technology is pretty captivating stuff if you love music…or if you’re a giant nerd (or both). :)

    Props for pimping both Yngwie Malmsteen AND Geddy Lee in your presentation. That was outstanding.

  7. David Gratton wrote:

    Hey Ian,

    Thanks for posting this and for being a voice of reason in an industry of insanity. As always we really appreciate the support you have given our JAMM project. (BTW – its not MPEG 4, but MPEG 21. I know you knew that, but I don’t want any to think JAMM is a codec solution.)

  8. stacy c. wrote:

    Brilliant and bravo! Super good talk/speech thingy from Aspen. Even still there so much resistance at labels – I saw it in London this summer (and they were more progressive than most)! Anyway, as long as there are kids in garages, jamming out to Led Zep, there will be a healthy music business… just not in the format that everyone had gotten so (lazily) used to. Very nice to read and reminds me that there are other fighters still out there. Hope you and family are well. Happy new year!
    stacy c.

  9. iancr wrote:

    Huge, that’s a longer conversation, and I don’t want to speak for your business, but I think it’s a great time to be an indie. The overall share of the pie for indies increases every year, and you have bands that would have been completely lost twenty years ago (see my “best of 2007” list for a few examples :) ) who are getting buzz based on the quality of their work and the fact that the music actually touches people.

    Again it’s a much longer topic than I have time for at the moment (need to pack, eat, watch The Wire with my wife, and catch an 8:30 cab to Vegas), but I don’t think big companies can be very good at A&R. I think smaller, focused companies delivering to a core audience will consistently do much better from a margin perspective, if they have an eye for the quality. They’ll expend less and get more. For a little more on this, see my BarCamp presentation from almost two years ago, I was just starting to get an inkling of what I believe here.

    Thanks for the comment.

    And David, thanks for the MPEG-21 catch. Fixed!


  10. Joe Gross wrote:


  11. Vergel E wrote:

    Great post, and so pointed at the crossroads we’re at as an industry today. Thank you for posting and sharing the presentation.

  12. David Kershenbaum wrote:

    Excellent perspective. I have found in all of the arts that if someone is willing to take a risk and share something emotional and real about themselves or their experiences, there will be many people who have felt the same way or have been in the same situation before and they bond with that artist. They are moved. They are affected. The good news for me is that anyone with internet access can record a track in their bedroom and have it online in minutes after completion. The bad news is that anyone with internet access can record a track in their bedroom and have it online in minutes after completion. Artist development was the process at the label that yielded “Stings” Bob Dylans” etc. I had the privledge of running an A&R department at A&M Records….known for growing their artists. Today that has function is long gone and although artists can be more creative ie.e not having to fit into a corporate mold, they also have the responsibility of developing themselves if they want to stand out from the crowd.I believe a major boost to our industry would be gained by merely making better records. . Quality always sells and people will find it if it’s great.

  13. fullman wrote:

    Excellent job Ian! I can’t wait to see what ripples this causes in the industry, if any. Hopefully there won’t be a group of lobbyists to send some back, but the RIAA is unfortunately in a reactionary position to survive by any means necessary.

    Keep fighting the good fight, you’re one of the few people I know who are honestly on the consumers’ and artists’ side, and I thank you for it! :)

  14. Bryan wrote:

    I love how you come with the high school physics to explain CS and economic concepts to the non-techie, wanna-be nerds like myself. These are elegant concepts that tie up a whole lot of trends. Also, your slides are funny as hell. I am most definitely stealing some of these concepts and phrases…. all in the name of advocating good music, of course!

    BTW, it’s bryan, formerly of MusicPlusTV and MDA co-worker fame. I’m now in the Bay, and i recently got a job at a live video platform startup, . See you soon at another boondoggle conference near you!

  15. Ian Andrew Bell wrote:


    A great read and generally spot-on. We’ve been working on a tool to help the industry monetize the rising tide, but have found them quite unwilling to accept help even in the hedging category. They are fortunate that companies like AMG have stepped in to essentially sort their shit out.

    Keep an eye on in the next week or so to see what we’re up to..


  16. Sachin Rekhi wrote:

    I agree, the time is ripe for open standards.

    Winamp was my favorite media tool that supported extensions so well. In a world that has moved away from desktop software to web services, a much needed revamp of this extensibility is needed. Just as social networks are beginning to open up their data for third parties to innovate, I think music data needs to be freed. Imagine the recommendation system one could create if develoeprs had open access to Rhapsody, Yahoo, and iTunes data. Imagine the better user experiences people can create for existing services (a la YottaMusic for Rhapsody). Imagine the digital lockers people could make if purchasing DRM-free tracks from retailers was available through a simple API…

    In the short term its often difficult to convince the keepers of this data the benefits of opening it up, but as people are learning in social networking, they should begin to realize that what helps consumers ultimately is good for there business.


  17. defmonk wrote:

    Love it.

    A couple of things occurred to me.

    Proprietary media is a leper colony, around which we’ve built a high fence. Ugh, nobody’s rushing in. The only technologists that want any part of it are the insane and the accolytes. So, we get tremendous innovation around, say, maps not music. Maps?

    I am mystified that the geniuses that created html ignored the natural progression of things (text => image => audio => audiovisual => immersive) and left the MediaWeb high and dry. Maybe they knew…

    You want the collective genius on a problem? Like you say, create an open standard. Funny how all the best minds these days are working in non-proprietary enviroments. (An aside: I’m always fascinated by industries, like visual or fashion design, that rely more on authenticity, innovation and speed-to-market than proprietary rights — are we there yet?).

    IMHO, content owners need to seduce the big, juicy core of innovative technologists (the ones between the raving lunatics and the drooling fanatics). The MediaWeb is half of it, but the other half is the Content Dial Tone.

    See, you’ll get your MediaWeb because it is an irresistable idea and seamlessly logical. But, can you imagine if all content is hung out there on APIs with embedded business terms? YouTube go home. The collective genius pulling down content streams to power the MediaWeb? Ouch. Go ahead, content owners, turn the dials on the stream rates to filter out the dreck. Still works.

  18. Checkjj wrote:

    Great presentation.

    I always say a vision without a path is not a true vision. Yahoo should look at Media Call of Roamware ( where it leverages the mobile phone call and ringtime ecosystem to virally propagate content discovery and generate follow-on transactions.

  19. Hawthorn wrote:

    Everything about that presentation is brilliant and spot-on until you get to Yahoo!. It’s not the future, it’s the coelacanth. I know you’re trying hard to stay relevant and wouldn’t diss the employer who sent you. But apply your own physics lesson. Y! wants to be “the place” and to have ownership of users’ web context. It will lose. However, please stay at your job and ignore this lesson until Zoe finishes MIT and can support you. :)

  20. Rocktheknobs wrote:

    Ian, you’re on to something. I like it… I like it a lot. But I was a bit disillusioned by your blatent Yahoo marketing push.

  21. SS wrote:


  22. Matthew Chamberlin wrote:

    I love the central premise that “Losers wish for scarcity, winners leverage scale.” This is a clear eyed and inspired presentation.

    I actually referenced it and linked back to it in our latest podcast episode available in iTunes. (Search for Clearcast Digital Media) Hope you appreciate the link love.

    I think your take on the state of the union, as it were, is indispensable reading. Congrats to you, Ian.

  23. api wrote:

    A great article until the Yahoo! Music plug :)

    I just gave Yahoo! Music a little test run.

    Some constructive criticism from the viewpoint of an European mac user who enjoys obscure sub-genres of music:

    1. An exact band name search didn’t bring me directly to the artist’s “front” page, there was a completely unnecessary intermediate page listing the artist’s songs, videos etc.

    2. When I am searching for music, I am not really interested in a submenu that offers “omg!”,”the9″ or “Star Wars”. On some screens almost half of the UI was cluttered with ads.

    3. Similar artist link didn’t really work that well.. it took me from a reggae artist to Beastie Boys to Oasis. There’s something wrong with the algorithm.

    4. Launchcast isn’t supported on the Mac OS. Yet more unusable clutter and distracting elements on the UI. An integral part of the entire site (personalized ratings) is no longer relevant to me.

    5. Artist database isn’t very comprehensive compared to something like

  24. Paul wrote:

    Ian. Nice post. You say: “We need standards for sharing user data. How can I easily import my iTunes collection into Yahoo! or Rhapsody? ”
    The Attention Profile Markup Language ( is a good representation of a users taste data and will do this job well.

  25. akw wrote:

    Thank you. Perfect articulation of what everybody sort of feels but is afraid to think, let alone say.

    I feel like sharing a personal example of why DRMs are bad for the artist.

    I’m a writer, and a few months ago I signed a contract with a site that promised to “protect” me by making it impossible to download the .pdf of my play without purchasing it. I confess I fell right into the trap of wanting to ensure the security of what you just taught me is a “DRM.”

    Well, that’s how I happily signed away the right to freely show people my work. Of course, no one should produce the play without paying me royalties. But read it? Why not? If the work is good, won’t letting people read it lead to the more lucrative production royalty, analogous to the album sale or licensing agreement in the music world? “I will not invest in attempts at digital scarcity . . .”

  26. Steven D wrote:

    Great post Ian.
    I was at the UCLA Music panel you referred to in your post. I was wandering around campus and I saw that flyer of who would be at the panel, and I immediately decided I had to be there.

    It was very interesting to see the interplay between all you various guys in the industry, yet I don’t think it was a coincidence that you were sitting near the center of the table, because as your wonderful presentation just showed, you really are at the center of the changing music industry.

    And in light of being one step ahead of the rest of the old industry heavyweights, kudos to you for being the first panelist to step down from the stage and engage the audience members in-person. Soon enough, every other panel member saw that they should do so as well. I’m glad to see that you are in the position of leading, and with tools like this presentation, you will get the rest of the music business to follow you.

  27. gee-raj wrote:

    Ian, as a Bay Area Yahoo! it was great to read such an insightful and thought provoking post on the future of music and the web and the need to HTML-ify the media web with open standards. Great to see some thought leadership inside Yahoo! Best of luck in changing this dinosaur of an industry.

  28. akw wrote:

    wait. yahoo music player & jukebox won’t work on a mac? what?! this blows my mind given the sentiments above. someone please explain.

    purely confused consumer

  29. Dave Dederer wrote:


    Thanks for posting this. Excellent.

    I’ve seen this from all sides. As an artist with The Presidents of the USA. As a label owner and publisher with The Presidents (I have always helped manage our business). And now as a Music 2.0 exec with Seattle startup Melodeo (see

    A former MSFT exec and I were talking yesterday about the issues you address in this post. He had assumed that I and other artists overhwelmingly have supported and continued to be in favor or DRM.

    Au contraire, mon frere, I told him. In my experience artists have pretty much gotten this from the start, with a few notable and highly visible exceptions (e.g., Metallica circa Napster 1.0).

    Artists are the ultimate music fans (in geekspeak we can think of them as “users”). They get the fan/user perspective and have known all along that the only way out is through. You can’t fight the rock.



  30. Juan Figuerola-Ferre wrote:

    Great work to write this post, first on thinking behind it, but also on publishing it. Je! hard job that was.

    I do not see Yahoo as the best partner for this, sorry. Attention raised by end users prior to listening to music is not quite the same as any other site specialized trully on music, where one can expect that all users are eager to digest the music they are looking for.

    Yet, Yahoo is a good starting point for those who are interested in “something”, but not necessarily big fans of music. I have used Yahoo music, and many more. As big music fan, I never returned to Yahoo music.

    The crowdsourcing you mention, will first come from the people who trully love music, are able to analyze it, and present it to fellow colleagues who need some recommendations, in blogs, or social network/profile formats.

    Love your blog!

    Pd: don’t like this player that pops up all the time! Awefully intrusive. Made in Yahoo, is it not?

  31. Gary Storm wrote:

    Wow! What a long read, but well worth it.
    I must admit to having never been to Yahoo! Music, though I will go there for sure now, as my wife’s album is released next month. Very interested to try out your mp3 player for her new website. Well done to Zoe btw!
    Also, check out for a new music model, and maybe something you were describing in your presentation. Artists get crowd-funded by fans to produce an album with top producers etc.
    Thanks Ian for this great insight.

  32. maths wrote:

    Excellent presentation, Ian. The Open Media Web is long overdue, and let me add the death of artist information to that of the album cover. Metadata with even basic artist information, not to mention the liner notes that old school music buyers were accustomed to see is often missing from the mp3, wma, ogg, mpc, ape etc files that fly around on the free music networks.
    At this point, I’m not sure if Yahoo deserves to call itself the “Partner of Choice”. Yahoo has been actively feeding off and directly benefiting from music piracy and been found guilty in China – so Yahoo’s moral authority as a facilitator in music has been eroded in my books. And blaming the Chinese operators running it might be easy way out but the last time I checked, it was still called Yahoo, so that also needs to be fixed!

  33. Rob Long wrote:


    Thanks. As a striking writer, watching my Old Media business crumble away — kind of like the music business a few years ago — I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe what’s happening.

    Thanks for doing it for me..

  34. Clark Patrick wrote:


    I’m a music photographer based in mpls and try very hard to understand the landscape of the music industry – I completely believe that the entire business has been trying to fight a wave when all they’ve needed to do is stand up on their surfboards ride it in the complete opposite direction. I’m 26 years old and I have been saying what you are saying for the last five years. My generation only pays for things we actually want to consume – we are smarter then marketing – we pay for things that make us happy, period.

  35. Ben Tremblay wrote:

    *Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Toure at 3AM … balm for a wounded soul*

    I’ll find you CSS for pull-quotes; form and content, ehh whot? You don’t deserve less.

    Tashi Delek


  36. Evan Wilder wrote:

    Keep pushing and fighting, Ian! And thanks for sharing your presentation.

    Oh no, I saw “Chronicles of Narnia (Lazy Sunday)” on TV … does this mean I am out of touch with the kids? For those who want to watch it on the web, here you go:

  37. dfb wrote:

    Rock on! Thanks for sharing.

  38. ryan wrote:

    If interested in the above you should come take a look at the just launched imeem media platform.
    Any and all feedback greatly apreciatted.

  39. Brian Retchless wrote:


    You get it. You really get it. Thank God, I was worried there was no one else out there who did.

    My only concern is your scope may be too narrow (selling and leveraging music as opposed to media as a whole — I just don’t feel like users discriminate between the two much anymore). Maybe you’ll see my applying for one of those jobs at your new gig.

    Keep thinking big. I’ll keep reading.

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