The Pain of Being a Music Fan

I’ve loved Ben Kweller for years. One of my favorite shows was seeing him open for Gomez in Toronto five years ago. His new album, Go Fly a Kite, has been a release I’ve eagerly anticipated. After trying to get the album, I’m left wondering how the music industry can expect to compete with piracy when this is how they treat a paying customer.

First attempt: Rdio.com. I’ve been a paid subscriber of this service for a few months. I like the idea of music as a service. I like paying for music. Additionally, this option is more convenient than piracy.

Problem: the album can’t be streamed. OK, fine. I understand that streaming music services may not be a good source of income for artists/labels.

Second attempt: iTunes. It’s not my favorite option, but the one-click option is convenient.

Problem: the album isn’t available for purchase from iTunes. The rest of his catalog is there, but not the new album. OK, whatever.

Third attempt: Amazon. The album can be purchased via Amazon MP3. The process isn’t as convenient as iTunes, but it will have to do.

Problem: after clicking the purchase button I’m told that I need the Amazon MP3 Download app. I already have it installed, but OK. After installing it I am presented with a link to download the album. Clicking the link informs me that due to rights restrictions, the album can’t be downloaded in Canada. The annoyance of the artificially imposed region restriction is compounded by Amazon’s terrible user experience of burying the notification behind so many steps.

Fourth attempt: BenKweller.com. I searched for where else I could buy the album and ended up on the artist’s site. The price was reasonable and while the process wasn’t as convenient, I was happy to directly support an artist that I love.

Problem: I filled out the form, entered my credit card info, finalized the purchase, and the transaction was confirmed via email. However, I was unable to find where on the site I actually downloaded the album from. After spending too long searching I decided to use the contact form on the site to seek guidance. After submitting my request I was presented with: “An error occurred.” A day later I still have no idea where to download the album from.

In a world where a torrent is a few clicks away, this can’t be a sustainable strategy. I’m certain that in the long run we’ll look back on these days and laugh about how hard it was to get music legally. Because of the way they treat their customers, I’m also certain that the existing players will not be around then.

Focus

I believe that focus is one of the most important traits for a company to posses. The ability to identify what actually matters and allocate resources accordingly is a non-trivial task. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that entrepreneurs, by definition, have the ability to see potential in nearly everything.

I recently read Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs and I came across this great quote about focusing from Jobs:

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he said. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”

The quote from Jobs reminded me of what Apple’s Tim Cook said in 2010:

“This is the most focused company I know of, am aware of, or have any knowledge of,” Cook said. “We say no to good ideas every day” so that the company can keep its focus on a small number of areas. Cook took note of the tables conference attendees were sitting at, and pointed out that most of Apple’s product line could fit on those tables.

Because there are so many good ideas, and so much opportunity, the challenge in focusing isn’t about separating what’s valuable from what’s not. The task is an optimization problem, it’s about identifying what’s most valuable and doubling down on that.

Cannibalize Yourself – iPod, iPhone, iPad

From a company-wide town hall meeting in 2007 after introducing the iPhone:

Someone from the audience asked whether Apple was concerned about cannibalization of business from the iPod with the introduction of the iPhone, and Steve answered that if there’s going to be cannibalization of Apple, they want it to be by Apple.

Apple’s iPod business in context (via Dan Frommer’s Splatf):

Incredible.

Release Day

Yesterday we released a completely revised iPhone app. I’ve been involved in dozens of releases but this one was special due to an unanticipated side effect of a larger team. There was a buzz throughout the company from the collective sense of pride. We were proud of what we had built and it showed.

For those who haven’t released a web product the experience is fun but stressful. Pre-launch activities are an exercise in plate spinning. Parsing and prioritizing feedback for final product iterations. Planning marketing messaging and preparing necessary materials. Lining up press. Coordinating supportive efforts from partners. It’s difficult to align the timing on everything.

Launch day is tough on the nerves. The immediacy of Twitter and other social sites means that feedback is real-time and unfiltered. Waiting for coverage is an exercise in patience. Stat services make it easy to track performance. When it comes to the success of the product, most of these immediate measures are meaningless. Still, it’s hard not to get caught up in it all.

I’ve learned that the end of release day is just the start of it — the real work comes after the product’s live. Because of this, I like to go for a run at the end of the day to clear my head and to try to have a good sleep.

Like everything we do we have an iterative approach to product launches. Our process today is significantly different from what it was in the past. We’ve learned and iterated along the way. Yesterday’s release went well but we’ll improve the process.

(For those who are interested: users are enjoying the app; the reviews were positive: Techcrunch, Mashable, Macworld, etc.; stats were up; I slept OK last night)