Honey I've Got Rhymthms I Haven't Sued Yet: Ninja Tune's Matt Black on, among other things, doing business with iTunes
February 2, 2006 10:07 AM   Subscribe

"The iPod’s a great product. However our experience in dealing with them, as regards licensing music for iTunes, has been quite depressing." Coldcut member and indie label Ninja Tune co-founder Matt Black in a pixelsurgeon interview about the new album, the relative relaxation on sample licensing, and iTunes. For another independent perspective on iTunes see The 99c Question - addressing the pressures on iTunes from major labels to raise prices.
posted by nthdegx (21 comments total)
BTW, Ninja Tune sells on Bleep, which given how revenue sharing is handled there, might also add another dimension to Matt Black's position on the iTunes Music Store.
posted by Rothko at 10:14 AM on February 2, 2006

Ninja Tune sells on Bleep

Thanks! Didn't realize there was a place online I could buy Domino label tracks.
posted by Manhasset at 10:24 AM on February 2, 2006

I believe that what happened was that they basically tried to give the indies a worse deal than the majors, and then when we challenged them about this they denied doing it. And then we proved that that was what was actually going on, and then they said ‘okay, we’ll deal with you on equal terms’.
I'm curious as to what this difference actually amounted to, and who else gets the major's deal. This is the first I've heard of it.

Rothko, you talked about Bleep's revenue sharing deal. Do you have more information on that?
posted by RobotAdam at 10:25 AM on February 2, 2006

great post! thanks!
posted by garfield at 10:32 AM on February 2, 2006

RobotAdam, Bleep says it gives artists/labels half of what it charges consumers for a track. iTunes gives roughly a third to the label/distributor. It would seem to be in Black's financial interest to promote more profitable online music store alternatives, despite how "independent" the label might be. I like electronic music, by the way, so this is no criticism of the artist. But I suspect his view is driven more by the business model than by anything else.
posted by Rothko at 10:33 AM on February 2, 2006

Oh eh. I accidentally linked directly to the Flash-flavoured Coldcut site. If you want the choice, here's the front page, and the html version. Apologies.
posted by nthdegx at 10:35 AM on February 2, 2006

And from there I see Coldcut contributed Radio 1's most recent Essential Mix, which is online for your listening pleasure.
posted by nthdegx at 10:36 AM on February 2, 2006

The NYT just had a good piece on itunes, and classic singles' popularity. (of course, they pretty much ignore the fact that for much of recorded music's history, singles were always the most popular buying--and aired/promoted--option.)
posted by amberglow at 10:37 AM on February 2, 2006

However our experience in dealing with them, as regards licensing music for iTunes, has been quite depressing.

The iTunes aspect of the interview really does seem heavily influenced by Bleep, without the disclosure that would allow proper context.

What is the dollar value of iTunes availability vs Bleep availability? Didn't the indies get a worse deal because Apple realized that they had to cater to the major labels for the success of iTunes, whereas catering to indie labels mostly benefits indie labels.
posted by VulcanMike at 10:52 AM on February 2, 2006

How does that aspect of the interview seem heavily influenced by Bleep? You want to open your sales to as many avenues as possible, and turning away iTunes would be madness. It seems quite straightforward that forging that particular deal was stressful. I don't see how Bleep would change that answer at all.
posted by nthdegx at 11:05 AM on February 2, 2006

RobotAdam: more on the (European) indies vs. Apple stramash here (MediaGuardian, reg. req. unfortunately; alternative piece from The Register here), quoting one spokesman for the Association of Independent music calling the deal "commercial suicide". Meanwhile, Simon Wheeler, of UK Indie beggar's Banquet, said ""When Apple launched iTunes in America it said there was one deal for everyone but we soon found out that the majors were getting paid more, sometimes a lot more than us. We need to make sure that we get the correct terms in Europe."

It was eventually resolved, in part thanks to protests from indie kids.

Bleep, as far as I'm aware, also offers DRM-free MP3 downloads, which counts for a lot among some bits of the market (more so for the people buying from them, arguably, than from someone who wants to download the latest Ashlee Simpson single). I don't think Black was that influenced by Bleep – of course Coldcut and Ninja Tunes wouldn't want to turn down Apple, but if he really wanted to "promote more profitable online music store enterprises", he'd have mentioned that they sell their stuff through Bleep as well.

And VulcanMike, I think the indies were offered a worse deal because Apple thought they could get away with it.
posted by Len at 11:20 AM on February 2, 2006

I would just like to say that Ninja Tune and Coldcut in particular have balls the size of asteroids. They rock. That is all.
posted by lalochezia at 11:27 AM on February 2, 2006

RobotAdam, Bleep says it gives artists/labels half of what it charges consumers for a track. iTunes gives roughly a third to the label/distributor.

The iTunes music store actually gives 65% of their revenues to the labels, but only 8-12% ends up going to the artist. That's what Downhill Battle says at least.
posted by boaz at 11:35 AM on February 2, 2006

Matt Black said something vaguely critical of Apple. Therefore, he is wrong.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:41 AM on February 2, 2006

The iTunes music store actually gives 65% of their revenues to the labels

That must be a typo. About 17-20% revenue from track sales usually goes to merchant services for singles purchases, at least. For track sales to account for 3.6% of Apple's $3.68B revenue, that is a lot of songs to move, to make that much from the 15-18% per-track revenue that's left (assuming that the numbers are true) — like hundreds of millions of tracks per quarter, literally.
posted by Rothko at 11:54 AM on February 2, 2006

Rothko, revenue is counted as the total payment Apple receives from the customer, before any costs are deducted, including the payment to the record label. It says nothing about how much Apple gets to keep.

3.6% of $3.68 billion is $132.5 million/quarter, or $10 million/week. I think they've already said they're shifting about 2 million songs/day, so the numbers work out.
posted by cillit bang at 12:06 PM on February 2, 2006

I love coldcut and the whole ninja tune catalog pretty much kicks ass. Also iTunes sucks their Apple sized balls on so many levels. 'nuff said
posted by los pijamas del gato at 12:49 PM on February 2, 2006

How does that aspect of the interview seem heavily influenced by Bleep?

Apologies if I came across as more negative than I was intending -- I have a lot of respect for Coldcut, actually, and was glad to read the interview.

Their description of the frustrating process of licensing is fair and I'm sure it was less than they expected. I was more unhappy with the general disparaging tone towards Apple and a lack of consideration for the greater forces at work.

As I mentioned above, Appled needed the majors, and the indies needed Apple. I don't have a timeline handy, but I wouldn't be surprised if the revenue distribution formula was maintained at least long enough that it properly got the majors in the door to successfully launch iTunes.

The costs related to non-digital music distribution are a barrier to entry for smaller players. Apple introduced a store that potentially cut that barrier out of the equation. If I were a major label, I wouldn't have jumped in -- and especially not have been the first to jump in -- without protections against smaller competitors who suddenly had a even playing field in this area. You could also look at it from Apple's perspective -- the majors will generate a large share of the revenue, both because of the volume of music and their tendency to generate albums that have individual tracks of value.
posted by VulcanMike at 1:27 PM on February 2, 2006

Bleep files don't come with the whole DRM crap that iTunes does either.
posted by Artw at 1:56 PM on February 2, 2006

Artw, agreed. ITunes is sweet if you don't know what you're doing, don't care about being able to use your media elsewhere, want low resolution video, or have bought into the superior design and function lie that apple fanboys espouse.

What's best is that when you point out all of the relevant flaws in an IPod to someone who has sunk money in to the white pieces of shite, they invariably tell you that you have device envy. Which i always find particularly humorous as im watching my divx/xvid on my archos.
posted by sourbrew at 4:05 PM on February 2, 2006

Rothko and Manhasset, thanks for the info on Bleep -- I'd been looking for a song by a group on Domino and was disappointed to find that they aren't on eMusic.

sourbrew, have you ever asked yourself whether you're spending a little too much time comparing portable media devices with the people around you?
posted by subgenius at 8:06 PM on February 2, 2006

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