Why Edgar Bronfman's comments about where music industry fits in Digital Age could impact newspapers


II recent weeks, Warner Music CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. revealed his emerging views on where content fits amid the glut of platforms and alternative choices for consumers. His words have relevance to newspaper publishers looking for any sliver of clues on where differentiating value exists for news content.

In short:

  • Apple's iTunes – which is a significant player in the music industry that major labels deem too dominant at the moment – will come under huge competitive pressure from the glut of unlimited music services and mobile services.

  • New access models for musical content are emerging, notably unlimited paid subscription models.

  • These paid subscription models will generate more value for Warner Music and other labels than per-play or per-purchase models. Said Bronfman: “The number of potential subscribers dwarves the number of people purchasing music on iTunes.”

  • One of the key tools musical services will provide in this hyper-war for consumers will be content.

  • Music consumption is more important than sales for the moment because there is a pending shift in the access model to subscriptions.

  • There is now a shift in the power relationship between content publishers and portals such as iTunes and Amazon, as witnessed by the recent fracas between MacMillan and Amazon over pricing flexibility.

Comparisons between industries are tricky. Yet there are clues for newspaper publishers:

  • We're about to enter, as an industry, the vortex that is Apple. Be aware of lessons learned from music and book publishers.

  • A subscription model is clearly preferred than pay-per-view or per-content-piece. We shouldn't discourage any single sale, but prioritising our energies toward paid subscription models makes sense.

  • Newspapers are mostly on the sidelines of this flood of e-reader and mobile platforms chasing consumers. It's tough to think of ourselves this way, but we're more of a channel than a destination in these universes. How do we add value as one of many channels?

  • The flood of platforms and the need to connect with consumers should give content publishers more leverage over platform providers – eventually. I know it doesn't feel like that now with the Apple iPad sucking up the oxygen, but Bronfman seems to suggest the scene will look different in late 2010 than it does in early 2010.

I'll say it over and over: publishers can generate big money if they understand the intricacies of matching content with platform with audience. Edgar Bronfman's comments provide new clues – even for newspapers.

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