Introduced last week it seems Apple has built a new class system presently favoring major label artists in its social network for music, Ping. Meanwhile if you're a music fan and want to contribute to the discussion, bad luck, you have no posting rights beyond comment as Apple's iTunes thought police do their best to keep control.
I admit this nanny-like need to stay in control seems to be becoming a theme of my AAPL discussions this week.
When it comes to music, as a former band manager and booking agent I'm always interested in championing musicians, and knowing how tough it is to get independent music "out there" I'm keen to explore new ways to promote cutting-edge artists to music-hungry fans.
Apple's attempt at a social network has already grown one million users, so you can imagine how disappointed I was to learn that when it comes to Ping, independent artists don't yet have the same rights to post news, information and video about themselves as major label acts.
The enigma code
The difficult situation for indie acts is revealed in a post from Frank Colin, who helps musicians out with social networking and other media matters.
Colin's been working with CD Baby and an artist called Jimmy Z, who has music available on iTunes. Colin has been trying to get a Jimmy Z profile into Ping -- and it is proving a challenge with Apple being "very careful" when it comes to creating Ping pages for indie acts.
He tells the story of contacting iTunes reps until he spoke with an 'iTunes Store Adviser' who called him an 'iTunes Store Content Partner'.
As ever when it comes to dealing with corporations, Apple's first move was to request Colin contact his label rep.
Of course, being independent he had no label rep.
The discussion continued. One thing leads to another until an iTunes rep offers up an email address indie acts attempting to get Ping profiles posted should use. ([email protected]).
That's fine, but after almost one week of negotiation, Colin has still been unable to get an indie artist profile posted on Ping. And that's really bad news.
You see, Apple has created a hierarchical system in which major labels sit at the top of the tree, with independents included as an afterthought, and end users like you and me (music fans) at the bottom of the pile with little in the way of posting rights.
Apple is well aware that it stocks content from independent artists. However, history shows us iTunes traditionally has favored a pro-corporate approach to its business, putting majors first.
We know it took extensive talks to get indie labels onto iTunes in the UK in 2004, partly because Apple offered majors significantly better deals than it did to independents.
By now I'm sure Apple is aware that indie acts make up around a third of music sales.
Given that at least some of Apple's iTunes managers knew in advance that Ping was coming, would it really have been too difficult to put a transparent system in place to ensure indie acts could easily get their profiles into Ping?
It doesn't need to be hard. Amazon, for example, offers access for all artists or artists reps to make profiles for a future initiative on that retailer's site. All they need to is go to Amazon Artist Central and follow some clear steps. Once done, Amazon contacts the artist to tell them what's going on, Colin notes.
Does it really matter? I think it does. The energy Apple hopes to exploit with Ping is people-powered. I think the world's biggest digital music retailer probably has some responsibility to ensure the widest possible musical debate across multiple genres.
After all, the future of music should be as a massive market of multiple niches, not as some bland corporate circus of top twenty chart hits.
Even a Ping lover can see the potential.
"Music has always been social. It starts both friendships and arguments, and is a huge piece of everyone's identity. When you think about it this way, Ping seems like something that should have happened years ago. It's already a "can't remember life before it" feature," writes former Apple insider, Matt Drance, on the aptly-named 'Apple Outsider' blog.
In future, we'll see Ping extend to coverage of more than music. There will be discussions on movies, TV shows and apps. There'll be Ping built-inside the iBook system so you can discuss books you are reading while you read them with others.
Apple's AirPlay system will one day extend to video, and you'll be able to discuss what you are watching on the big screen in your front room with your friend or relative in another state using Ping on the iPad you hold which is shooting the show to your television set.
Ping will continue to develop to encompass iChat and FaceTime.
Ultimately you won't just Ping others to despatch a short discussion on an artist, you'll Ping them to initiate a FaceTime chat. Group chats will be supported.
One day an artist will cause a sensation when they launch an album exclusively via iTunes by hosting a huge ten thousand person FaceTime chat session, with every fan joining in the conversation getting a free track.
All these possibilities could happen, but for Ping to truly come into its own, Apple needs to 'Think Different' and empower the communities it is attempting to create.
At present my feedback on how to accomplish this includes:
- Give independent acts equal parity with major label acts.
- Enable creation of artist profiles for music not sold on iTunes.
- Give Ping users the right to post comments and linked video.
- Enable discussions of artists not included in the iTunes catalogue.
- Enable creation and streaming of music playlists by Ping users for playback by other Ping users (though I anticipate this won't appear until early 2011).