the Redwood in their eyes

Brian approvingly quotes Evariste’s sneering disdain for Microsoft’s Zune campaign:

This is sooo pathetic. Can you bear it? It’s unbearable. The contempt oozing from every pore of Microsoft for their customers, that not only would the marketing team think of this, but that Gates would approve the idea. “Sure, go ahead and put a fake profile of me on Zune Social, and have me pretend I like whatever…horrible bands you think the kids are into these days.” Authenticity? Not in Microsoft’s DNA, I guess. How can anyone participate in such dishonest fakery and feel good about themselves? For crying out loud.

The supreme irony of Apple/Jobs diehards lambasting Microsoft/Gates for contempt of their userbase aside, what is the obsession with the Zune that I’m seeing here and elsewhere among the iPod faithful? The truth is, the first iteration of the Zune sucked, but the new ones don’t look all that bad. And the changes are driven by user feature requests. Let’s not weep for the early adopters; they are few and have willingly chosen their path, and the software upgrades aren’t bad either.

It’s not like the Zune is going to displace the iPod anytime soon. However, there does seem to be a sense of desperation in the air. With the opening of the DRM gates, especially Amazon’s new MP3 store and some of the big labels and networks openly renouncing iTunes (NBC, Universal), the ground game is shifting. This is a good thing; the shift is towards more user choice and less content restrictions, rather than the vertical silo of the iTunes-iPod ecosystem. And that’s probably what has Apple, and the more fervent devotees who have bought into the One True Path, so freaked out about.

No one is going to pry anyone’s iPod from anyone else’s fingers, ok? calm down about the Zune.

It’s worth mentioning that in the NYT article about Microsoft’s music ambitions, Gates again emphasizes the idea of music subscription rather than per-track pricing. The truth is that $15/month is a pretty good pricepoint, especially if that means unlimited DRM-free downloads. Such a scheme would indeed make it very affordable for someone to try out new music on whim rather than be locked into the labels’ preferred paradigm of songs as items you purchase. Given that Netflix costs about the same, and cable TV costs four times as much, $15/month is a bargain. Couple that with the emphasis on social sharing of favorites and there’s potential for true viral marketing of music. Think of the way Facebook applications spread; you are tapped into the sphere of what your friends like and want to share with you rather than what the executives on Madison Avenue want to foist upon you this month. I can see where the Zune is trying to go and there really is the potential for a “revolution” here.

The idea that users freely access and share music is of course anathema to the music industry. But Apple deserves credit for building a system that assuaged the industry’s concerns while simultaneously legitimizing the idea that digital music was a viable business. That was step one; now it’s time to break free. Pay attention to Zune. There’s something there worth looking at.