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Prince only the latest rock star to confess Internet cluelessness

"The internet's completely over.... The internet's like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated."

That pronouncement comes from an odd interview with enigmatic singer-songwriter Prince posted this morning by the Daily Mirror, a British newspaper.

In the story by Mirror writer Peter Willis, Minneapolis's gift to music explains that he will release his next album, 20TEN, only as a CD and only to Mirror readers, who will get a copy tucked into the tabloid next Saturday.

Prince cites business reasons, complaining that Apple's iTunes and other online stores "won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it." But he also seems to have a broader objection to the whole concept of digital sales: "Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."

Try not to read that as: You dang Internet, get off my lawn!

Now, Prince has his own reasons for distrusting the music business in general. Over his decades in pop life, he's had more than one strange relationship with record labels--especially after 1999, when Internet distribution became a hot thing in the industry. Yet another controversy over his album-release strategy shouldn't exactly have people delirious with disbelief.

(So you know, I own a few Prince CDs myself.)

But the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince does have company in forgetting that ignoring the Internet will simply cede the online market to other distribution channels--as in, the unlicensed and illegal kind that don't yield them any return, but which many people will resort to when they're not given a legal alternative online.

The Beatles are the best-known members of this clueless club; the Fab Four's surviving members and their inept management seem determined to wait until everybody with a computer has already downloaded their entire catalogue from one file-sharing system or another before they will deign to make it available on iTunes, Amazon's MP3 store or any other online outlet.

But there are others. Metal bands AC/DC and Def Leppard remain absent from iTunes and Amazon (although the former group was available on Microsoft's long-since-shuttered MSN Music store, an ill-chosen exclusive deal that somehow didn't get the Australian rockers' management fired). The vast majority of Garth Brooks and Kid Rock's work remains missing from iTunes and Amazon. And there are many lesser-known groups--for instance, the Connells--with out-of-print albums that have been stranded offline.

What other bands are you waiting to see arrive in this century? When do you think all of these holdouts will grace the Web with their presence? And how long do you think it will take for Prince's latest to show up in the usual unauthorized channels online?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 6, 2010; 12:35 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Music  
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Comments

The author seems to suggest that selling music online begins and ends with iTunes. There are other options. He says The Beatles don't sell their music online. They are in fact selling their back catalog on a USB drive (appropriately shaped like an apple), which is available directly through their website.

But it's still tough to fathom Prince's comments. I thought he was a bit more up-to-date.

Posted by: StevenDolley | July 6, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I wonder what Prince is smoking? We are in the digital age. My computer doesn't control me, I control it. I can turn it off when I want to. And to my knowledge it's not filling my head with numbers, either, other than a few zeros and ones. ;-)

Posted by: henwin | July 6, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

"The Beatles are the best-known members of this clueless club."

Really? Is it that big of a deal that The Beatles aren't on iTunes? I can't believe people still make a big deal out of all of this. People who want the Beatles music have it, and those who don't have it, have no problem getting it.

I don't think making a "killing" off iTunes, or maximizing their exposure is on the surviving Beatles' list of priorities right now. They've done fine over the last 45+ years selling their records in stores.

The day the Beatles music is available on iTunes will be huge news for about 8 hours until everyone goes home and remembers they already have all the Beatles records they wanted 20 years ago.

It'd be nice, I give you that, but is it REALLY that big of a deal?

Posted by: unfrozencavemanlawyer | July 6, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

I wrote about Prince's comments at my blog:

Prince Says Internet "Completely Over," Advocates Return to Sheet Music

http://WealthyBohemian.com/?p=1447

Posted by: kevvied | July 6, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

The fact remains, Prince stands to make MUCH more money from his current arrangement with the news papers internationally than he would if he were trying to sell the albums in the traditional manner or via the internet. The real money for artists is in touring anyway. So he's getting two pay days several times over this summer. One from the papers signing the exclusive distribution deals, and second from the ticket sales and advances for the huge festivals he's playing. People who will download torrents of his album will have done it anyway, regardless of their availability on iTunes or Amazon...

Posted by: curveball7 | July 6, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

who is this old guy???

Posted by: Phillip258 | July 6, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

@unfrozencavemanlawyer:

SOMEONE on the Fab Formerly Four's management team must think that this is a big deal, or they wouldn't have spent a mint to remaster their entire opus AGAIN and have it available as a $400 boxed set. But yes, most of us who might be inclined to, and can afford, such a set likely already have all of the Beatles CDs we want. Those principally younger music consumers who do not have their own Beatles collection would be disinclined or unable to spring for such a pricey item, the music from which they could not carry around with them on their smartphones.

Does Apple (the recording company, not the computer company) want to keep preaching to the converted or to reach new recruits?

Sir Paul has to come up with that alimony for Heather Mills somehow.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | July 6, 2010 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Prince, born a little over 5 decades ago, is losing touch with the 21st century music buying crowd. Recently a friend noted how her 22 year old daughter refused to date a guy who "drives around with a ton of CDs in his car and doesn't even have a digital music player."

Guess, that's like having an 8-track player in the car.

Posted by: 12345leavemealone | July 7, 2010 6:12 AM | Report abuse

I dunno. The Beatles seem to have done pretty well with Beatles Rockband. Maybe online distribution is just insignificant to them.

Posted by: tboyer33 | July 7, 2010 7:35 AM | Report abuse

Even though I'm not that big of a Beatles fan, I can understand their lack of interest in iTunes.

Seriously, not the whole world does the Steve Jobs goose step. Some of us think iTunes is just crap.

Maybe they had a insight into Steve Jobs wanting to control the content of what we see and listen to, and felt that it was McCarthyism all over again.

You Steve Jobs robots complain all you want, some of us think Apple and everything associated with the company is just a sequel of how Microsoft treated us in the 90 and early 2000's.

No thanks, I seen this picture before. I know what the ending is. Your just to slow to recognize it.

Posted by: LiberalBasher | July 7, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Rob: The comment about AC/DC is particularly true. What is really frustrating to me is the cover bands on iTunes that make you think you are getting the real thing. I inadvertently purchased a cover by a group called AC/Db. I don't think it is ethical for iTunes to permit cover bands to so closely infringe on copyright in a manner that would confuse consumers. Not wishing to open myself up to viruses from file sharing, I eventually found the entire AC/DC (as well as Beatles and Def Leppard) catalogue at my local library.

Posted by: Peter_Zenger | July 7, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Prince isn't hurting for record sales, he has his following and trust me he's not hurting for cash. His concerts continually sell out and thats where the money is for recording artist anyway. The Beatles aren't hurting for record sales either. Whether its vinyl or cds.

Major players like Prince and The Beatles don't have to use the internet or participate in its distribution stream to survive. They're house hold names, and from your article I now know that 20TEN is coming out. Worst comes to worst, I'll go to Best Buy and purchase it. No biggie. But for the new artists coming out, the ones still trying to establish themselves, they cannot afford to take the kind of approach Prince and The Beatles are taking.

Posted by: clark202 | July 7, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

It's all 'bout the money and exposure to get more money. Everybody wants to max their profits.... itunes, Prince (xxx), the consumers,etc. The funny part is, all those gadgets and programs are built to make the consumer buy a particular product. You cann't put tunes on an ipod without itunes or you have to buy a program that will convert your items to the ipod format and allow you to upload it to itunes etc. See what I mean... So, Prince even if you don't allow itunes to distribute your music... we the consumer, must buy a product to convert those items to the ipod, etc. format and be able to upload on to those systems. the conclusion is $$$$$$$$ and more $$$$

Posted by: donj230 | July 7, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

That darn internet is corrupting the minds of the young people, oh my goodness, how old does that sound? This little and tiny purple man has become a shriveled up raisin, wrinkled and old. There is no fool, like an old fool. How embarrassing.

Posted by: paukune | July 7, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

For decades, most of the power in the music business rested with record labels and distributors, because they possessed the means of getting music to consumers. Remember when Walmart refused to stock the Scorpions album "Love at First Sting" with the original cover? Most of the profits from record sales went to the labels, and performers who didn't have a string of million-sellers relied on concert income to support themselves.

When iTunes and Napster and the other sites began selling downloadable music, I had a Utopian fantasy that this would enable performers to bypass labels entirely and sell directly to consumers. (Movie critic Pauline Kael once proposed that filmmakers abandon the studio system and form co-ops to promote and distribute their works.) But it's likely that the online music vendors would eventually simply displace the labels and distributors as the middlemen. Have their been cases where, say, iTunes has refused to sell a performer's works because of objections to content or artwork?

Posted by: Carstonio | July 7, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

The internet also has problems on the demand side, so it is no wonder suppliers are not all thrilled with it as a distribution medium. To maintain the integrity of music as entertainment, middle men should focus on resolving the concerns of the musicians and of the audience, not try to drown us out by lauding the known advantages of the medium. Technology chauvanism has no place here.

Posted by: thothh | July 7, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

"The Beatles are the best-known members of this clueless club; the Fab Four's surviving members and their inept management seem determined to wait until everybody with a computer has already downloaded their entire catalogue from one file-sharing system or another before they will deign to make it available on iTunes, Amazon's MP3 store or any other online outlet. "

thebeatles don't own their music , and havent for several decades.

Posted by: newagent99 | July 7, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

so i read the one about how a woman wouldn't date a guy who wasn't digital.

hey - bite me.

WTF cares ? you apparently do. You apparently think appeasing a female is the reason to alter one's own course?

lol - good luck with that - when they pull the knife out of you for all your concessions to the digital age.

I happen to think that this internet tool has been left in the hands of idiots for too long.

and I speak with authority - I invented it.

I'm an "old f*cker", yeah, an old engineer who basically gave you this tool to stream music and porn with.

have fun with this, boys and girlz.

careful that it doesn't flip you inside out thinking you're a God or something.

Posted by: pgibson1 | July 7, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

How ironic that Prince thinks the internet is a has been, like himself. Go away Prince.

Posted by: davidwg46 | July 7, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

When was the last time that Prince was relevant anyway? This is a bit like an Amish (no offense) saying that the auto industry is dead.

Posted by: wildfyre99 | July 7, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for your wisdom, LiberalBasher.

I just love the irony of the phrase "Your just to slow..."


Posted by: RKindy | July 7, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Take Prince's comments with a grain of salt...after all, he won a webby awards for his former Internet site! So prince knows the value of the Internet in modern record sales, in fact, some of the things he did through his site were harbingers of the way things are done now.

I believe Prince is using this "cluelessness" as a negotiating tactic with the online music brokers. Why can't he get an advance from iTunes or Amazon for exclusive rights to his next alblum. It's his product and they want the exculsive rights to sell it, so they should negotiate.

Maybe he, the surviving Beatles, AC/DC and all other major acts not yet available through iTunes or Amazon should pool their impressive resources and start their own thing...if you go back in time, that's what the Beatles were trying to do with Apple Corp way back when.

Posted by: KZolly | July 7, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

I think The Beatles could be a rare case where what they do and decide supersedes the conventional wisdom. If, as in John Lennon's words, they were bigger than Jesus, then they're surely bigger than the Internet. Or is the Internet bigger than Jesus?

Posted by: AdHack | July 7, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Nothing will stop anyone from simply borrowing a friend's CD and ripping it to iTunes. Better yet, check out a CD from your public library (remember those), and rip it. Just clean the disc first.

By the way, Mr. Rogers Nelson, it's record companies that grant advances, not iTunes. Maybe nobody wants to work with a temperamental jerk.

Posted by: tomandresen | July 7, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

"But it's still tough to fathom Prince's comments. I thought he was a bit more up-to-date."

Maybe he's more up-to-date than you are. Just taking the issue on its face if Apple won't pay an advance for music for iTunes that says that Apple has no faith that it will make money. So why should Prince have faith in iTunes?

How many artists do you know that produce valuable IP that will give it up without an advance? Oh wait: you don't know any.

His only leverage is in the advance. Otherwise he has to accept Apples' numbers and what Apple says that he earns in royalties. There's nothing to stop either Apple or a "disgruntled" employee at Apple from selling it on the side or off the record and pocketing the revenue. Only desperate people take such unbalanced terms, and hope that the revenue makes the risk worthwhile.

Posted by: dubya1938 | July 7, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

"as in, the unlicensed and illegal kind that don't yield them any return, but which many people will resort to when they're not given a legal alternative online. "

That will always happen. If he's *that* worried about piracy then he can't release his music at all.

Posted by: dubya1938 | July 7, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

...seriously what Prince is going through is no different than what every artist is going through. With regards to piracy, I found IronMan2 online, in its entirety, the day it was released. Every artist out there now has to contend with piracy and the Internet...and Internet piracy.

His point is well-made in that the Internet is passe in terms of a distribution-medium for well-known artists producing popular material. It's just too easy to find a stolen version of it and iTunes does NOTHING to change this.

And the sheer fact that iTunes has a major market share in terms of music distribution doesn't mean that it is the future of music-distribution. No more than the fact that MTV was the hallmark of music videos meant that it would continue to be so. It's "over" in terms of the crest, the wave. It is, it may continue to be for a while but the odds are that we've seen the best of iTunes in terms of social penetration.

Posted by: dubya1938 | July 7, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

"The author seems to suggest that selling music online begins and ends with iTunes."

...I'd like to say in passing that few things are more irritating than statements like this. The author HAS WRITTEN something.

Say that "in your opinion he seems to be saying" something other than what he actually wrote. Please. Admit that your perspective is hypothetical, first and foremost.

Posted by: dubya1938 | July 7, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

wow, prince is pretty convoluted as to what is going on in the real world. he just comes off sounding old and senial.

Posted by: BMACattack | July 7, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

So when u call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
U know the one - Dr Everything'll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
---

Hm. Seems as if someone has put in a call to Dr.Everything'll Be Alright.

Again.

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Posted by: Linda78 | July 9, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

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