Sorry, Bon Jovi, Steve Jobs Didn’t Found Napster [Editorial]

Sorry, Bon Jovi, Steve Jobs Didn’t Found Napster [Editorial]

As we noted earlier, the weekend’s silliest headline came courtesy of hair product Jon Bon Jovi, who ranted to the Sunday Times of London that “Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business.”

This statement is astoundingly ignorant. The iTunes Music Store is easily the most popular record store in the history of the world, having sold more than 10 billion songs in its eight years of existence. One can decry the very notion of digital distribution. It’s impossible to argue with business that big.

Moreover, when iTMS hit the scene in April 2003, it was a godsend to record labels. After all, Apple didn’t invent digital distribution of music. They invented legitimate digital distribution. Napster had hit the scene a full four years previous, making it possible for college students across the country (myself included, briefly) to readily share reasonably high-quality music files with one another over the Internet in simple fashion. As soon as Shawn Fanning flipped the switch in 1999, the music business needed to change itself or disappear.

For years, it chose to disappear, waging costly legal battles with Napster and its near-relatives Audiogalaxy, MP3.com, Gnutella, Kazaa, Morpheus, and LimeWire. Hilariously, the Recording Industry Association of America’s belief that they could sue file sharing out of existence did little but spur its growth and, more critically, its innovation. BitTorrent, the radically distributed and difficult-to-trace open file sharing protocol, hit in 2001, arguably a few years before it would have arrived had the record companies reached a deal to distribute music legally through Napster. Also, Metallica.

It was into this mix that Steve Jobs arrived. And with him, the record industry finally changed. A little. They finally signed on with a legitimate way to purchase music over the Internet, for just 99 cents a song. And it was revolutionary, driving unprecedented volumes and moving a lot of iPods in the process. But, like Bon Jovi, the record industry has a short memory, and immediately began demanding to sell songs for more money on iTunes, as well as demanding a higher percentage of revenue from each tune, even though, at 70:30, they were already doing better than a typical margin at a record store.

Anyway, they got what they wanted again, but still they rant and whine about devaluing music or killing the romance of the art form. Generally, they resent that the vast iTunes library has allowed indie bands to get more attention than they ever were when major labels controlled distribution. And those indie labels are doing great now (see what Merge Records has accomplished with Arcade Fire and Spoon), as are some of the independent record stores that thrive off of their albums.

Honestly, at the end of the day, the Web’s arrival in the early 1990s was a sign that all media would eventually be delivered differently than it previously had. It was obvious that early. But the entrenched media covered their eyes and their ears and hoped things could remain the same. And now that an inevitable reality of digital music, video, books, and periodicals have arrived, everyone wants to get mad at the one company that’s actually helped figure out how to make record labels some money in the last decade. Whether they like it or not.

In short, JonBon: “This Left Feels Right” killed music. Steve Jobs is the one who helped you profit from that murder.

The Sunday Times Magazine: LITD: Jon Bon Jovi, 48, rockstar (paywall)

Related
  • pfml07

    I gotta say that while I don’t agree with Bon Jovi about Steve Jobs, I have to admit that he does have a good point. The action of saving some cash, going to a record store and actually buying a physical cd copy of an album is all but gone these days. I personally prefer this method and very rarely buy from iTunes. That is just personal preference though

  • robertboloc

    producing packaged media in this times is huge waste of earth’s resources, for what? So you can buy a cd, go home , rip it to your computer and let it gather dust somewhere? Digital distribution should fully replace retail.

  • Martin Neo Higgins

    That is the biggest load of BS I have ever heard. Thats like saying lets all buy a Toyota Prius. Idiot

  • robertboloc

    you obviously have the IQ of a banana so it’s not woth trying to explain things to you, but don’t go around swearing me, when you don’t even know me. Learn to respect.

  • 0elvisp640

    The link leads to an edited version of the article which includes none of the contentious comments.

  • Alex

    I agree to an extent… the notion of an album, with all the cover art and liner work, is lost. Artists rarely make albums these days, they make collections of singles instead. It ties in with our shorter attention span… no one has the time or patience to sit down and listen to a whole album that tells a story.

    Apple tried to bring some of the album experience back with iTunes LP, but albums are becoming an outdated concept. In my opinion, albums became less important long before Napster and iTunes… it started with the radio.

  • Sam Ahn

    Another thing to consider about the record (and movie) industries is that they are or are losing the ability to resell the same product multiple times through a change in medium. The film industry is probably the biggets culprit and losers here. I can’t imagine how many people used to own an album (let’s say Pink Floyd’s DSOTM) on vinyl, then on 8-track, then on cassette, then on CD, maybe also the 24bit version of the CD, and now finally as a digital file. Now that you have the digital file, what’s the likelihood you’ll have to purchase that music again in another format or medium? Pretty low. You can now pretty much buy it, own it and have it “really” be yours.

    As for Mr. Bon Jovi…he’s pretty much an idiot based on these comments. He should be grateful that there is a means for people to actually buy his music now. As for the romance of the album…a great album comes along once in awhile and people will buy it…because it’s great. Most music these days are not compiled into single albums since most music is pretty bad these days. He’s just pissed he can’t sucker poor young kids into buy 12 songs at once when they’ll really only end up listening to 2-3 songs (being gracious here) on the whole album. And as for the romance of buying albums??? Well, now I can go into iTunes…listen to something new…look up photos of the band on google…Wikipedia their history and beginnings…and find out when they might be in my town while listening to everything on my PC via my Sennheiser HD 650s. The romance is still there…you just have more value for your money and time. Consumer wins…greedy industry suffers (cuz they’re just too stupid and immobile).

  • ridwan326

    When I read the article, I was like … “WTF Bon Jovi? Are you high?”. Then I realized actually he has lost his mind.

  • MarkJ

    And yet he allows Bon Jovi music on the iTunes store…

  • Martin Neo Higgins

    Indeed, the IQ of a banana, I have a right to an opinion, and my opinion is that your opinion was BS

  • Johnerlandsen8

    R.I.P. Music industry, Welcome to the art of music!

  • SnoqSam

    Gee, and I have always thought it was Bon Jovi’s actual music that “killed the music business”. IMHO His band and music is irrelevant today; only getting airtime and press when they are pushed on America by the mainstream/morning talk shows!!

  • Laurieshots

    Anybody that has ever worked with Jon Bon Jovi will tell you what a twat he is. This confirms it for the rest of us.

  • RyanKessler

    This article was very well written and I agree. There is a small part of me that does miss the excitement of buying a new record(tape or CD when I was a child) and bringing it home and listening to it beginning to end while reading the lyrics and looking at the art inside the book. That said, as an adult I have better things to do with my time then taking pleasure is the trivial past times I enjoyed as a child. Am I nostalgic about those times? Maybe a little. Do I lament there death? Not at all. I can find the same lyrics on the web and I can find even more information and artwork about the bands that I love on the band’s website. At the end of the day, the only reason to mourn the death of this process is nostalgia.This is like arguing that the 8 bit NES are better games then the ones we have today. Today the graphics are better, the stories are better, the music is better, the game play is better and the overall experience is better. Even with this argument I still really enjoy games like zelda, double dribble and tecmo bowl, but that’s because it reminds me of my childhood.

  • Arron

    I love albums and I refuse to support singles. I have a vast music collection in my iTunes, All full albums, no individual singles and none of it is purchased from the iTunes store. It’s from CDs I bought before I stopped buying CDs (I hate CDs and have since the first time I heard one skip.) and from the LOADS of music I have pirated. I have Zero ethical qualms with this because I do financially support any Artist I feel deserves so and as my budget allows. I buy vinyl. I buy vinyl for my love of the album. I know many artists thrive on singles but i live for the album. If you can’t produce a solid cohesive 30-50 minutes of music that I’ll listen to again and again then I simply don’t care. So yes, onward and upward with the digital music revolution and long live vinyl for the true artists and fans. p.s. the only time i break this rule to only pay for the record is for independant artists who do not have anything on vinyl. Then I buy a CD and rip it to my iTunes or I’ll buy their MP3s from their site.

  • NV

    Who’s more guilty, the guy who creates something bad or the guy who legitimizes that “something” by making it legal? Jon Bon Jovi was arguing that Jobs is to blame because he said, “Yes, this shittier way of listening to music (and until iTunes commits to lossless WAVs instead of mp3s, it IS shittier quality than a CD or vinyl) is acceptable!”

    A point many, many of you disagree with? Of course. But at least know the point. This article missed it.

  • Sebhelyesfarku

    My opinion is that you are a fuckin’ retard.

  • BMWTwisty

    He’s just a a pompous pretty-boy prat

  • Stephen Agnew

    Actually, Napster was the best thing to happen to music. Napster allowed people to discover new artists and many of those people, after discovering the new artist, bought their CDs. I can’t tell you how many CDs I bought because of Napster. What killed the music industry is:

    1) It’s lazy, terrible musicians whose music sucked
    2) The music industry declaring war on their customers, suing them for downloading music, not realizing that downloading the music made them more interested in buying new music
    3) The music industry failing to change with the times, holding onto old forms of music, CDs, and not embracing an emerging market: digital music.

    Screw you Lars…because of you, I refuse to buy a lot of CDs.

  • Ralph142

    ah, the romance of finding one song to like having bought 12.

  • Gulino

    More than anything, I am surprised at how big of a deal one crazy rockstar’s comment has become. Who knows why he is bitter, but this is probably getting more attention than it deserves.

  • Ben Pingel

    I agree with you, I would often have a stack of CDs sitting around that had only been used once, ripped onto my computer. I’d wipe the dust off the cases and take them to a resell shop. At least I’d get a few bucks back.

  • Meh

    Who’s Bon Jovi, and who really cares? Meh

  • Meh

    Spoken like a true sissy boy, dick head.

  • Stuart Otterson

    I’m not entirely sure how that works since radio has been around an awfully long time. How did it start with the radio?

  • dennisfisher

    Spot on article.

    John Bongiovi has taken a complex phenomena and reduced it to a simpleton’s slur on one of the great visionaries of recent history.

    When Apple created the iTunes Store, the recording industry was being undone by peer to peer file sharing, which generated zero revenue for artists. Had the system whose demise he laments had some vision of it’s own, rather than turning their bestial lawyers loose on customers they depended upon for their fantastic wealth, they might still have some influence on the marketplace.

    Bongiovi got used to the cash flow of the old industry model, and whines because the money doesn’t grow on trees anymore for derivative old warhorses like his band.

    The band Bon Jovi produced a couple of shallow anthemic variations on the Journey, Foreigner model, threw in a little derivative Springstee n populism, marketed the bejeebers out of Bongiovi’s photogenic pout, and rode this mediocrity to riches.

    Jobs and Apple isn’t the problem, it’s Bon Jovi and the record company’s one trick pony approach to creativity and marketing. They are the Jersey Shore of rock, all grooming and self absorption.

    I miss the experience of looking forward to a new album and holding the artwork in my hands as well. I don’t miss buying an album and discoverin g that eight out of ten of the songs suck and being broke as a result. The ability to preview songs and pay for only the stuff that sings to me is worth the change in the system by itself.

    Progress.

  • Clydeskid

    What the ability to download music digitally did was stop bands like Bon Jovi from releasing one good song per album and then coast to a stop with the others. We can pick and choose so artists either bring the sounds or go home. We don’t have to pay for their fluff or the inane lyrics about their love life.

  • Jeff Schader

    “they are or are losing the ability to resell the same product multiple times through a change in medium.”

    Actually that’s not true. Proof: iTunes started offering unprotected versions of the m4p format for .30 cents more in the form of an m4a. People then spent more money on the same song in a different format.

    I predict that iTunes will eventually offer lossless formats in the future for another upcharge. So in the end they are reselling the same product to you, multiple times through a change in format.

  • NV

    Great way of putting it!

  • Carla

    It really saddens me that you are all such pricks. I guess a mogul businessman is more precious and needs more defense than a musician who has made a lot of people happy for the past 30 years. I don’t care if there are many of you who refuse to acknowledge him as a musician, that doesn’t change the fact that there are many who love and appreciate what he has done.

    Nowhere in his “rant” (which it isn’t) did he say that music isn’t making money. He’s saying music in album form isn’t being listened to.

    But since the guy has been written off by ‘experts’ like you since the day he arrived on the scene, it doesn’t matter what he says 30 years later, 100,000,000s of sales later, millions of Youtube views later, and dozens of millions of tour tickets sold later. He’s still in the same place where your narrowminded, afraid-to-be-seen-as-wussy minds first encountered him and left him there out of context. Him criticizing a business ‘visionary’ is a perfect setup for another round of Bon Jovi trashing, belittling, and patronizing of his fans.

  • Carla

    Just because you seem to only like a ‘single’ doesn’t mean that everyone’s experience of buying 12 songs is the same. I’ve never liked a single more than an odd album track that few would bother to buy anymore.

  • maddog_uk_69

    Congratulations on missing the point just as completely as those that you label as “pricks”.

    Please explain how his being a musician (regardless of how loved and appreciated he may be) excuses him for making egregiously inaccurate and ignorant statements about one person being responsible for the “death” of an entire industry?

    Did Steve Jobs invent Pirate Bay?
    Did Steve Jobs invent Napster?
    Did Steve Jobs invent home taping?

    The music industry gets hysterical about these things whenever their hegemony is threatened, and JBJ is playing the part of an over-paid lackey in this.

    The irony is that the very aspect he is apparently nostalgic for, that of buying albums and “not knowing what the record sounded like”, is one of the things that really has helped to speed the music industry’s decline. Far too many times an album would be shoved out with a couple of reasonable tracks on and 8 tracks of mediocre filler, and I’ve lost count of how many times I bought a record based on the strength of a single only to find the rest of the album was utter crap. Now I have the chance to audition the whole album and only buy the stuff that’s actually worth anything. No doubt this disrupts the record labels’ business model of packaging shallow rubbish with small amounts of good stuff, but it’s great for the consumer.

    The other nail in the record labels’ coffin was people got wise to the fact that they no longer needed an intermediary between them and the artist.

    The landscape has shifted. The genie is out of the bottle. Adapt or die etc. etc…

    Bon Jovi made a tidy sum out of the old regime. If he can’t live with the way things are now in the real world he should probably step out of the spotlight and keep such ill-informed claptrap to himself.

  • bilalhouri

    You’re missing the point. What Jon meant was that decades ago, we used to enjoy going to the corner music shop, and get our hands dirty for old LPs and CDs, just to find that amazing album that we knew nothing about. The “experience” of going to the music store is dead. I have more than 2,000 physical CDs back home, I heard each and every one of them, I’ve been a CD collector for more than 18 years, and you don’t get that with today’s digital music,
    Steve Jobs has done a great job for the music business, but both Steve Jobs and file sharing had killed the passion for buying music albums.

  • Dean Neal

    I love the new digital distribution model, iTunes LP could give these artists a unique and interactive way to deliver full screen, interactive content that take it beyond the ‘album sleeve’.

    What others have said about album filler is spot on. If an album has quality – I purchase the entire record.

    When Muse, Radiohead release albums etc I buy the entire album no problem.

    Could anyone imagine buying a Pink Floyd Record and just grabbing individual tracks?

    Even with the upcoming Foo Fighters album, I have pre-ordered it via iTunes.

    Another great outcome has been seeing more artists hit the road and gig more again. Now THAT is a positive thing.

    Sorry Jon, stop being a sourpuss.

  • Lanarock

    ypu JERKS should be half the man JON BON JOVI is !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Cyber-Wizard

    I believe what Carla is referring to is that everyone is assuming that Jon Bon Jovi is blaming Jobs for destroying the music industry by digitally distributing music. While no one is disputing that there were many means of digitally distributing music prior to the arrival of the iTunes store, it’s Jobs legitimization of the process that has changed how people listen to music.

    Carla states clearly.
    “Nowhere in his “rant” (which it isn’t) did he say that music isn’t making money. He’s saying music in album form isn’t being listened to.”

    By legitimizing the concept of delivering music by song, rather than by album as it has been done in the past, iTunes has changed how people listen to music. Those artists that create albums in the “Album Oriented Rock” genre as well as other styles in which the music is supposed to be listened to in the order that was intended, might well feel out of sorts. I care not a whit for Bon Jovi’s sentiments any more than I feel Jobs has been maligned, but it appears that everyone is so used to artists moaning about the loss of money that the meat of the statement is being ignored. Carla’s apparent bias due to appreciation of Bon Jovi’s music aside, she does seem to have correctly interpreted his quote.

  • disgusted

    I think its nuts that Jon has the nerve to rant and rave when his “fanclub” was selling overpriced iPods engraved with the band logo on their website. He needs to put that white mic stand away for good. Money hungry prick that he is

  • Ictus75

    Bon Jovi should be half the man he used to be.

    Sorry, his “argument” just doesn’t hold. If anything, Steve Jobs has saved the music biz by getting a lot of people to actually pay for digital music, and by setting up one place (itunes) where people can easily find most of what they want.

  • RS

    Really? I have hated (and still love) vinyl since the first time I heard one skip (and skip….and skip….and skip…).

  • Exxiille

    BAMM Take that sucka. NOW THATS A GOOD POINT

About the author

Pete Mortensen

Pete Mortensen is a design strategist for consulting firm Jump Associates and the co-author of Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, a book and blog that are significantly more interesting than you might initially think. Pete's particular Apple avocations are both around design--interface and industrial. Follow him on Twitter!

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