Interview: Steve Knopper of Rolling Stone and Appetite for Self-Destruction (Part 1)
Kyle Bylin, Associate Editor — (Read Part 2)
Today I spoke with Steve Knopper, who is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and author of Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age. In this interview Steve shares his insight into the similarities between the Newspaper and Recording industry, the danger of treating music like a product, and the rise of file-sharing.
The subhead of your book Appetite for Self-Destruction reads, “The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age.”
Why is making the distinction between the record and music industry so important and what’s at risk when the two are jumbled together?
Steve Knopper: I'd say the distinction is fairly straightforward. The record industry refers to the recording industry, i.e., the four major labels, most of the big indies and the Recording Industry Association of America. The music industry is the broader business, including concert promoters, artist managers and agents, radio stations and even perhaps magazines like Rolling Stone.
With the current struggles in the news and newspaper business and it’s looming “crisis…”
Are there any correlations between the Newspaper Industry and the Record Industry’s ail that can be drawn out and if so, what might they be able to learn from each other?
Steve Knopper: Yes, I'd say the parallels are striking. The newspaper industry has dealt with the same Internet issues as the record industry — high-tech opportunity disguised as threat. Napster/MP3s/piracy on one side, Craigslist and free content on the other. The only difference is that nothing illegal happened to the newspaper industry. Both industries failed to change their businesses along with the potential for new, efficient distribution systems and a much greater mass interest in their product. They focused instead on "woe is me, I can't compete with free." Personally I think executives in both businesses focused on their multimillion-dollar contracts based on the old models, and had no real interest in changing anything, despite some of their employees' best efforts to adapt.
In his release Convergence Culture, MIT Professor Henry Jenkins states, “The public will not rethink their relationship to media content overnight, and the media industries will not relinquish their stranglehold over culture without a fight.”
During this process of “renegotiating” their role in people’s lives, what aspect of their relationship with music fans can’t the Recording Industry afford to get wrong this time around?
Steve Knopper: Frankly I'm not sure the record industry has *ever* had a relationship with fans. Their end users simply aren't music consumers — their customers are actually retailers, from Tower to iTunes. Whereas radio intimately knows who its customers are, down to the finest points of demographic data, major labels have traditionally made content and programming decisions based on "feel." That worked for a long time, but it isn't working now. So to your question, I think it behooves labels more than ever to use the high-tech resources available to them, from MySpace and YouTube hits to the complex BigChampagne file-sharing data, to figure out who their customers are and how to market to them directly.
As of late, the music industry has been increasingly focused on understanding music fans that have a prolonged relationship and active engagement with their artist rather than devoting their attention to those whom passively consumed content through radio and MTV and happened to buy the album.
How might the aspect of Fan Relationship Management play into the recovery of the Recording Industry in the digital age and what other pieces do you think are still missing from the bigger picture?
Steve Knopper: Heh, I had to Google "fan relationship management." I mean, labels have been traditionally bad at this. They sign talent they think will sell, then bribe the crap out of everybody (radio, retail, MTV, press) to make them stars. Managers and concert promoters and even Ticketmaster have much more data at their command in the form of fan email lists and ticket-sales data, and they mostly use it effectively. If the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger goes through, the heads of both companies have pledged to get really, really good at this. I believe them, but there are other issues of concern with that merger, like antitrust, that may come into play.