The Man Who Broke the Music Business
April 21, 2015 3:54 AM   Subscribe

At work, [Bennie Lydell] Glover manufactured CDs for mass consumption. At home, he had spent more than two thousand dollars on burners and other hardware to produce them individually. His livelihood depended on continued demand for the product. But Glover had to wonder: if the MP3 could reproduce Tupac at one-eleventh the bandwidth, and if Tupac could then be distributed, free, on the Internet, what the hell was the point of a compact disk? SLNYer.
posted by chavenet (29 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Very interesting article. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Vindaloo at 4:23 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


In 1989, when Glover was fifteen, he went to Sears and bought his first computer: a twenty-three-hundred-dollar PC clone with a one-color monitor.

$2300 for a computer in 1989?
That sounds high, even for '89, but a 15yo even on laybye?

Glover also purchased a CD burner, one of the first produced for home consumers. It cost around six hundred dollars.

Well, that seems legit. I got a first generation burner in '98 and it cost $600. I aimed to digitise my vinyl.
I never did, because MP3s broke around the same time.

Thanks, AudioGalaxy!
posted by Mezentian at 4:31 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


The adverts in this edition of PC Magazine from 1989 has PCs mostly costing about $2300.
posted by dng at 4:42 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Granted (they seem a little high, even with currency issues) but buying a $2K computer for a 15yo?

Also, so many magazine ads. Like... rivers of gold.
posted by Mezentian at 4:46 AM on April 21, 2015


Random question as I read the article: coördinated.
What's with that?
There are some odd writing choices (d.j's for one) but what's the umulet doing there?)
posted by Mezentian at 4:48 AM on April 21, 2015


That's a distinctive affectation of the New Yorker's style guide. I think it used to be more common, but is now charmingly (or pretentiously, depending on your point of view) archaic. They're the only notable publication, as far as I know, that does it.

Technically, it's not an umlaut, but a diaeresis.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:52 AM on April 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


Mod note: A couple of comments deleted. Diaeresis clarification asked and answered, let's not derail the whole thread, please.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:22 AM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Mod note: Is it too late to send Glover a fruit basket or something for valuable services rendered?
posted by delfin at 5:32 AM on April 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Mod note: $2300 for a computer in 1989? That sounds high, even for '89

Sounds about right for 16 MHz 80286, 1 MB RAM PC. See e.g. the Compaq Deskpro 286e (US$2699-3599) and Wang 286 (US$2095-2995) machines here. Some higher-end entries from the same page:

Macintosh SE/30, 16 MHz 68030 processor, 4 MB RAM, 80 MB hard drive: US$6500.
IBM PS/2 Model P70, 20 MHz 80386, 60 MB hard drive: US$7695
Compaq Deskpro 386/33, 33 MHz 80386DX: US$10499-17999
Macintosh IIci, 25 MHz 68030, 4 MB RAM, 80 MB hard drive: US$8700
posted by effbot at 5:34 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Mod note: Oh man this article really takes a certain generation of nerd on a trip down memory lane. Compress Da' Audio! I downloaded their stuff from IRC fserves when I was 12, and now here they are, being written about in the fucking New Yorker. I'm gonna have to dig up my chat logs and see if I ever talked to these guys on EFnet.
posted by dis_integration at 5:44 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mod note: I remember my parents buying a Kaypro 8086-based clone with a CGA monitor for $2557 in 1986.
posted by Hatashran at 5:53 AM on April 21, 2015


Mod note: Mezentian: "but buying a $2K computer for a 15yo?"

I know it sounds steep, but you gotta think how parents of that time did. Computers were obviously becoming the "next big thing", and if a kid showed an interest, parents did what they could to feed something that looked like a promising career path.

Even back home in Guatemala, my dad made the investment and got my 15yo self a $1000 computer back in '92 or '93. This was more than 8,000 Guatemalan quetzales! We were not rich (he was what we'd call here a human rights lawyer, and up to his death he drove the same old Nissan pickup that was built the same year I was born), but I guess my parents felt that it was worth it to make the investment on my education.

Long story short, I then went on to get a CS degree, which in time turned out to be a crucial asset when we needed to get out of the country due to persecution and ended up settling in Canada. While these days I am doing my best to get out of the tech industry (this recently-discussed article resonates greatly with me), making the sacrifice to get that PC while continuing to drive his same old beater is one of the many reasons why I will always be super fucking grateful to my old man, may he rest in peace. Te amo papa.
posted by papafrita at 6:10 AM on April 21, 2015 [60 favorites]


Mod note: The article did disappoint a bit, though, by not really challenging the claim that Glover's piracy was "crippling the music business". They do that a little, through Glover's "controlled experiment" showing that the leaked album (Kanye's "Graduation") sold more than the unleaked 50 cent (not that this is anything resembling an actual experiment that proves anything). Although Glover himself seemed to think his leaks were having an appreciable negative impact on album sales, it's not clear that they have an impact one way or another on them, and there is some reason to believe piracy might help sales. Just think about Glover's bootleg marketplace: black barbershops in the south, likely frequented by folks who couldn't afford to pay $19.95 for every new album, and so without the alternative of bootlegs, just wouldn't buy very many in the first place. That kind of piracy just fills a gap in the market that the record industry ignores, and doesn't at all eliminate the desire to buy the actual album from the actual store from time to time, just for the prestige of it. The ethics of piracy aside, given the lack of any evidence of the harm it brings to the copyright holders, it's hard to see how Glover deserved even three months in prison for this.
posted by dis_integration at 6:22 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Mod note:
Granted (they seem a little high, even with currency issues) but buying a $2K computer for a 15yo?


Very next sentence in the article: "His mother co-signed as the guarantor on the layaway plan."
posted by thecjm at 6:23 AM on April 21, 2015


Mod note: The article did disappoint a bit, though, by not really challenging the claim that Glover's piracy was "crippling the music business".

It is a shame, really. Back in the day we had whole stores full of music and movies and there were even hints that someday one might be able to purchase both online! But nooooooo, Glover had to be greedy and whammo, the airwaves went silent one bleak day in '97, never to return.

(Vaguely more seriously, greed certainly played its role. The interplay between keep-me-out-of-pound-me-prison anonymity and we-have-to-be-the-most-notorious-group chest-beating is always interesting with regard to pirates.)
posted by delfin at 6:33 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Mod note: The "Napster as nuclear bomb" narrative that you always hear from the media is something I'd really like to read an intelligent dismantling of. I feel like the internet's distruption of the traditional top-down marketing channel telling people what was "hot" had a lot more to do with the disintegration of the typical music model, but we've gradually agreed to blame Napster since you can sort of point to it.

(and yes that is a veiled beg for interesting article links)
posted by selfnoise at 6:44 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mod note: As for computer price points, seems to me my first Apple IIc was around a grand, and my first PC around '94 (a Packard Bell with monitor and LaserJet 4L) came out to around $2300. It was a few years beyond that when Compaq and Acer et al. started price point wars and filled their desktop cases with used cash register parts trying to drag the MSRP below $1000.

The actual "breakage" of the music industry was the CD format itself -- the act of distribution of masters-level audio to the public. Technological advances pretty much guarantee that once you let a prize like that out of the bag, someone is going to find ways to replicate it in time. It just so happened that Glover and Kali's group was in the middle of a separate revolution -- the World Wide Web, AOL, exponential growth of everyday households connected to the Internet -- that changed distribution from hand-to-hand floppy disks to rapid digital access.

Napster was a symptom of that, not a cause. It was a friendly UI that let any average Joe swap music, not just those savvy enough to dig around in the Internet's seedy underbelly.
posted by delfin at 6:47 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mod note: papafrita: "Computers were obviously becoming the "next big thing", and if a kid showed an interest, parents did what they could to feed something that looked like a promising career path."

My parents sent me and my brother to computer classes when I was 10 in 1981, mostly BASIC on a ZX81, and then went halfsies with my richer US-living uncle on a C64 for us (when all we'd asked for was a ZX81). My brother ended up becoming a lawyer, and I became an architect, but I ended up starting a web development consultancy and 2 internet startups, so for me at least their investment paid off.
posted by signal at 6:49 AM on April 21, 2015


Mod note: Given the apparent content of the article, does it count as ironic that I can't read it due to the paywall?
posted by The Bellman at 7:24 AM on April 21, 2015


Mod note: Given the apparent content of the article, does it count as ironic that I can't read it due to the paywall?

Perhaps you could get someone inside the plant to stick the article in a rubber glove and smuggle it out to you while avoiding a wanding by hiding it behind a giant belt buckle and an unflappable demeanour. I mean, I really don't know.
posted by Wolof at 7:53 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mod note: The ethics of piracy aside, given the lack of any evidence of the harm it brings to the copyright holders, it's hard to see how Glover deserved even three months in prison for this.

Glover was a manager at a company who essentially bribed his own employees to physically steal secret documents so he could release competing products netting him tens of thousands of dollars a year. There are some interesting legal wrinkles on the conspiracy side with his participation with RNS, but he's going to be guilty of a bunch of crimes, including bribery and theft of physical property, in basically any recognizable legal system -- even one where copyright was totally abolished.

Then, yeah, it might turn out he didn't cause much harm, or even caused a net positive -- because the company he was taking secret documents from should have been leaking them anyway, for example. (Maybe, according to some studies after the fact.) That should definitely be taken into account during sentencing. But "it turned out, despite my intent, that economists think I didn't cause much harm" is never going to be a complete defense to a crime.
posted by jhc at 8:31 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Mod note: Random question as I read the article: coördinated.

It's A Thing. Without even having clicked through, I knew it was from the New Yorker as soon as I read your comment.
posted by pullayup at 11:59 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mod note: I guess it's a moot point now but I was part of a small scene group in the late 90s as a teenager. The part that bites my ass though is that there is almost no record of it except some sophomore term paper that mentioned the groups name.

Better than being busted I guess
posted by wcfields at 12:51 PM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mod note: "Computers were obviously becoming the "next big thing", and if a kid showed an interest, parents did what they could to feed something that looked like a promising career path."

Yep, my parents spent months reading reviews in pc world and figuring out what the minimum decent specs were, then got me a ~$1400 computer in the late 90s. It was one of the first decent priced laptops. With a couple upgrades, it lasted over ten years as my moms web browsing/email machine after i was done with it. I used the hell out of it too... and now i'm a sysadmin. Heh.

That amount doesn't sound weird at all for the late 80s/early 90s. I remember my dad's boss buying a machine that was like, $5800 at circuit city or some similar shop only a couple years after that(486 dx2, and like 64mb of ram). It might have even been more. Check out this 96 best buy ad. The cheapest machine in there is $1800~ That sounds about right. It wasn't for another couple years that even emachines existed, and those were well regarded as being corner cutting garbage and awfully made. Even $1000 machines were questionable in the late 90s, for the most part. In the early 90s they didn't even really exist.

As a side note, i went and checked out this weeks sunday best buy ad... and it doesn't even list desktops AT ALL! Tablets, laptops, then the "desktop" section is just a couple monitors and a couple booksize/SFF systems(HP stream, etc). How times have changed.
posted by emptythought at 1:21 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mod note: what's the umulet doing there?

It's a talisman, protecting the wearer against accidental vowel elision.
posted by QuietDesperation at 1:48 PM on April 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Mod note: Oh man this article really takes a certain generation of nerd on a trip down memory lane.

OBLIGATORY
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:21 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mod note:
emptythought: “Even $1000 machines were questionable in the late 90s, for the most part. In the early 90s they didn't even really exist. ”
The computer you want is $3,000. It has basically always been $3,000.


With regard to the article, it's a very interesting story. For as careful as Glover was on the job, he didn't seem to take many precautions at home. Witt completely glosses over what lead the feds to Glover in the first place. I suppose they eliminated anyplace else being the source.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:31 PM on April 21, 2015


Mod note: It could simply be that the police had caught one of the people he were bribing, and they in turn named him.
posted by ymgve at 5:15 PM on April 21, 2015


Mod note: Is it just me, or is three months in prison a disproportionally lax sentence when compared with the life-ruining fines that poor, hapless individuals have been given in RIAA lawsuits?
posted by umbú at 7:19 AM on April 22, 2015


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