Can ebooks learn from the music industry’s digital experience? Check out this piece from an old rocker

A piece in Wired magazine from ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne looks at how digitisation has changed (in someDavid Byrne respects) the structure of the music industry and the opportunities available to artists. Byrne’s analysis probably offers some interesting insights into what might happen in the book market as digitisation starts to reach the meaningful levels that the music industry is now seeing.

Byrne identifies six distribution models that are open to today’s musicians. At one end is what Byrne calls the “360”, or equity, deal where the artist basically hands their whole business over to a record company to finance and manage in exchange for a share of the proceeds. At the other end is the self-distribution model in which the artist basically does the whole thing from producing the music to selling and promoting it. Byrne goes on to talk about the trade-offs and financial shares of the various options.

You’ll see a lot of parallels in each of these models with the book industry and I was particularly interested in his discussion about Apple iTunes and his view that, despite its potential to break the record company monopolies and allow artists to reach their customers directly, it’s not necessarily any better for the artists. Apple is the biggest player by far in the legal digital downloads market and its model, in which it controls hardware, software and distribution, is one that ebook players are watching closely. Notably, Amazon’s Kindle has been developed with this model in mind and, like Apple, Amazon is pursuing an early strategy of discounting ebooks well below the retail prices of their p-book counterparts. Byrne provides an interesting insight into whose shares of the pie those discounts might come from in future.

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