Frank Zappa Proposed iTunes 25 Years Ago
A PROPOSAL FOR A SYSTEM TO REPLACE
ORDINARY RECORD MERCHANDISING
- copyright 1983 by Frank Zappa -
Ordinary phonograph record merchandising as it exists today is a stupid process which concerns itself essentially with pieces of plastic, wrapped in pieces of cardboard.
These objects, in quantity, are heavy and expensive to ship. The manufacturing process is complicated and crude. Quality control for the stamping of the discs is an exercise in futility. The system is subject to pilferage (as, in some instances, pressing 'over-runs' have been initiated, with the quantity pressed above the amount of the legitimate order removed from the premises and sold on the black market).
Dissatisfied customers routinely return records because they are warped and will not play.
Large numbers of people are employed in the field of 'record promotion' . . . these salaries are, for the most part, a waste of money.
New digital technology may eventually solve the warpage problem and provide the consumer with better quality sound in the form of Compact Discs [C.D.'s]. They are smaller, contain more music, and would, presumably cost less to ship . . . but, they are much more expensive to buy and manufacture. To reproduce them, the consumer needs to purchase a digital device to replace his old hi-fi equipment (in the $700 price range).
The bulk of the promotional effort at every record company today is expended on "NEW MATERIAL" . . . the latest and the greatest of whatever the cocaine-tweezed A&R Brass has decided to inflict on everybody. More often than not, these 'aesthetic decisions' result in mountains of useless vinyl/cardboard artifacts which cannot be sold at any price, and are therefore returned for disposal and recycling. These mistakes are expensive.
Put aside momentarily the current method of operation and think what is being wasted in terms of GREAT CATALOG ITEMS, squeezed out of the market place because of limited rack space in retail outlets, and the insatiable desire of quota-conscious company reps to fill every available niche with THIS WEEK'S NEW RELEASES.
Every major record company has vaults full of (and perpetual rights to) great recording by major artists in many categories which might still provide enjoyment to music consumers if they were made available in the right way. MUSIC CONSUMERS LIKE TO CONSUME MUSIC . . . NOT PIECES OF VINYL WRAPPED IN PIECES OF CARDBOARD.
It is our proposal to take advantage of the POSITIVE ASPECTS of a NEGATIVE TREND afflicting the record industry today: HOME TAPING via cassette of material released on vinyl.
First of all, we must realize that the taping of albums is not motivated by 'stinginess' alone . . . if a consumer makes a home tape from a disc, that copy will probably sound better than a commercially manufactured high-speed dupe cassette, legitimately released by the company.
People today enjoy music more than ever before, and, they like to take it with them wherever they go. THEY CAN HEAR THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOOD AUDIO AND BAD AUDIO . . . THEY CARE ABOUT THAT DIFFERENCE, AND THEY ARE WILLING TO GO TO SOME TROUBLE AND EXPENSE TO HAVE HIGH QUALITY 'PORTABLE AUDIO' TO USE AS 'WALLPAPER FOR THEIR LIFESTYLE'.
We propose to acquire the rights to digitally duplicate and store THE BEST of every record company's difficult-to-move Quality Catalog Items [Q.C.I.], store them in a central processing location, and have them accessible by phone or cable TV, directly patchable into the user's home taping appliances, with the option of direct digital-to-digital transfer to F-1 (SONY consumer level digital tape encoder), Beta Hi-Fi, or ordinary analog cassette (requiring the installation of a rentable D-A converter in the phone itself . . . the main chip is about $12).
All accounting for royalty payments, billing to the customer, etc. would be automatic, built into the initial software for the system.
The consumer has the option of subscribing to one or more Interest Categories, charged at a monthly rate, without regard for the quantity of music he or she decides to tape.
Providing material in such quantity at a reduced cost could actually diminish the desire to duplicate and store it, since it would be available any time day or night.
Monthly listings could be provided by catalog, reducing the on-line storage requirements of the computer. The entire service would be accessed by phone, even if the local reception is via TV cable.
The advantage of the TV cable is: on those channels where nothing ever seems to happen (there's about 70 of them in L.A.), a visualization of the original cover art, including song lyrics, technical data, etc., could be displayed while the transmission is in progress, giving the project an electronic whiff of the original point-of-purchase merchandising built into the album when it was 'an album', since there are many consumers who like to fondle & fetish the packaging while the music is being played. In this situation, Fondlement & Fetishism Potential [F.F.P.] is supplied, without the cost of shipping tons of cardboard around.
We require a LARGE quantity of money and the services of a team of mega-hackers to write the software for this system. Most of the hardware devices are, even as you read this, available as off-the-shelf items, just waiting to be plugged into each other so they can put an end to "THE RECORD BUSINESS" as we now know it.