Thursday, July 11, 2002

by Wayne Robins

A few thoughts from the world of publishing:

1. I'm NO Freak. That was the cover headline of Wednesday's NY Post, with a photo of an angry Michael Jackson. The Post, New York's only Australian-language tabloid, doesn't seem convinced, as writer Clemente Lisi began her story: "Wacko Jacko says he's no freako." One has to admit that Jackson's accusations that Sony chairman Tommy Mottola is "the devil" and a "racist" have accomplished a few things that one thought would not occur until the Next Millennium: That the Rev. Al Sharpton could register embarrassment; when Jackson made his impromptu allegations, Sharpton turned almost as white as The King of Pop. Jackson's been Off the Wall since he's been in New York ranting about Sony's refusal to sink another $10 million for another video from the unfortunately-titled "Invincible" album, so much so that another impossible accomplishment was to make Mottola, former manager of Hall & Oates and Dr. Buzzard's Savannah Band ("Tom-my Mot-tola lives on the road!" they sang) decades before he used both street and smarts in hustling his way to the pinnacle of Japanese-American capitalism, seem like not just an underdog, but a victim. The tabloid writer who compared Mottola to Mother Teresa, well, that may have been just a little stretch. But considering how long he stayed in his now-defunct marriage to Mariah Carey, well, let's pray for St. Tommy.

2. The Wall Street Journal's Nick Wingfield had a great scoop Thursday (I presume it was a scoop, since I didn't see it elsewhere) about how the major record labels are dumping inferior or bogus files onto song-swapping sites to make the downloading of their copyrighted material an unpleasant listening experience. These distorted files, known as "spoofs," are described by Wingfield as "digital decoys that contain annoying squawks, bursts of static or endless loops of a piece of the song." The industry's hyperactive lobbying group, the Recording Industry Association of America, defends the practice as both legal and "an appropriate part of their arsenal" in combatting file swapping.

This does raise the unfortunate question of what this does to the artist's reputation. For file swappers tend not to be too concerned with what label a particular artist is on, but who the artist is. You download a scratchy, squawking file of junk from an artist you like might create a negative impression of the artist. This marketing concept has great potential applications elsewhere in American commerce. I can see candy companies putting foul-tasting replicas of their best sellers to cut down on convenience store theft, or chefs randomly poisoning customers just in case the diners had skipping out on the check in mind.

(c) copyright 2002, Wayne Robins. All rights reserved. E-mail:

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