26 Jan 2010 7:36 am   //   Filed under: Media, Technology

Face the music

OK, I admit it, I’m psyched about the Apple announcement tomorrow. And I don’t even work in print any more.

Spend any time with people who do and you can feel the excitement like static electricity. Newspapers, magazines and book publishers almost universally expect Apple to announce a new hand-held computer tomorrow that will breathe life into their ailing businesses.

  • Carr: “The tablet represents an opportunity to renew the romance between printed material and consumer.”
  • The Journal: “With the new tablet device that is debuting next week, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Steve Jobs is betting he can reshape businesses like textbooks, newspapers and television much the way his iPod revamped the music industry…”
  • The Times: “With the widely anticipated introduction of a tablet computer at an event here on Wednesday morning, Apple may be giving the media industry a kind of time machine — a chance to undo mistakes of the past.”

Consensus seems to be that the Apple gizmo will do for print what the iPod did for music! How’d that work out?

In 2000 (the year before the first iPod came out), U.S. recorded music sales totaled $14.3 billion. By 2008 music sales had fallen to $8.4 billion. (These are numbers from the RIAA web site. They include both digital downloads and physical sales.) You can spin this a few different ways (a decline in CD sales was inevitable; public interest in music remains high; concert ticket sales are still strong) but you’re still looking at a huge industry crippled by a 42% drop in sales.

It’s not just music. Apple’s efforts in video content (selling TV shows on the iTunes store, the half-hearted Apple TV set-top box) haven’t gone well for TV and movie companies. And it’s not just Apple. Amazon’s Kindle e-book sales have run into pushback from publishers over pricing and timing of new releases, and Google’s efforts to improve reading (Google Books, Google News) have been decried by media companies and rights holders.

Customers, however, love all of this stuff. Digital distribution means more choices at a drastically lower cost. And it’s great for Apple and other hardware makers, since they can sell people toys that make it delightful to consume and create digital media. The losers here are traditional media companies, who can no longer function as gatekeepers (and toll collectors) once the friction is sanded out of their business models.

Yet is everybody still on board? Seems like it. Apple can’t keep the ship from sinking, but it can make the ride to the bottom a lot of fun.