What’s that, retailers? I can’t hear you…

A lot of people are writing me email asking what I think about this deal where Prince gave out free copies of his CD in some newspaper in England. So here goes. First of all I am a huge Prince fan. Lot of people don’t know that. But I am. The guy is a genius. All those years when he was TAFKAP and had SLAVE drawn on his face? I was right there with him 100%. I knew what he was doing. He put out a bunch of crap albums to live up to his obligation to his six-record deal (or whatever) and then as soon as he was free he pumped out Emancipation, a three-CD album that is friggin killer. If you haven’t heard it, go get it. It’s one of the great buried albums of all time. No radio station would play it because he went outside the system. So probably a half dozen songs that should have been Top 10 hits never made it there. Not that Prince cares, because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. I’ve wanted to meet him for years but he won’t take my calls and won’t meet me. He thinks I’m the devil and says I’m just as bad as the guys running the majors. He was saying this back in 2000 or so when everyone else in the artist community was going nutso over the Internet. Which shows you something: In addition to being a genius musician, Prince is a sharp little businessman too.

So this new thing. I think it’s smart. You may have noticed that the only ones howling about it are the retailers. They’re threatening not to stock any Prince albums as a form of pay-back. Here’s the thing. Would you really want to do business with people whose chief form of negotiation is blackmail? Point B: These idiots are all dying anyway, so who cares what threats they make? In a few years they won’t be stocking anyone’s music. Prince knows that. The fact is, in any market the retailers are pretty much the scum at the bottom of the barrel. Nobody likes dealing with them. They’ve got the mindset of sleazy used-car salesmen and no matter how big they get you can’t get that out of them. It’s in their DNA. Even the ones who seem polished and professional — you scratch the surface a little bit and there’s Fast Talking Freddie, the sales guy, lurking underneath.

Re: this music business retail hassle, something very much like this happened back almost 10 years ago in the computer business. You may or may not remember but back when the Internet was first taking off and people were realizing you could use Web sites to sell stuff, the big PC makers started thinking they should sell their computers over the Internet, direct to the consumer. Consumers were clamoring for this. But all the big computer distributors and retailers put a gun to their heads and said the first PC maker who dared to “sell direct” (as they called it) would be pulled off their shelves. In other words, Screw what’s best for the customer, we’re looking out for us. Then the distributors invented all these cockamamie schemes like “channel assembly” and built huge quasi-manufacturing plants so they could do final assembly of PCs while they were halfway through the distribution channel and they argued this would be just as efficient as Dell’s configuration center. Riiight. Adding three steps will be very, very efficient. Nobody in their right mind could believe this but the PC makers all went along with it. Result: While Compaq, HP and IBM sat there with their thumbs up their butts, frightened by their own channel into accepting one stupid idea after another, Dell steamrollered over all of them. IBM got hurt so badly it had to exit the PC business altogether. And eventually they all broke down and did what they should have done in the first place. Everybody’s selling off their Web sites now. Can you imagine someone who didn’t? It’s unthinkable.

This is also partly why we created our own retail stores. Cost a lot of money to do that and once again it was an example of Apple taking a big risk and seeing it pay off. We wanted to touch the customer directly, but we wanted to control the way that was done. We wanted a Lexus dealership, not Fast Eddie’s chop shop. Also we didn’t want to get blackmailed by the bastards who make up the typical retailer. I think we did the right thing.