Column from June 12th, 2000 issue
Back in good health this week and back with the regular column!
Something that the half the world seems to have not noticed, but definitely interests me, is that the European Commission is set to subject the $20 billion combination of Warner Music and the EMI Group to a full four month investigation on competition grounds. The investigation is being brought after a group of European music writers registered concern that the combined group would dominate the music publishing market in some countries. Current calculations suggest that a combined Warner-EMI could control 50% of all music publishing in Sweden and an even higher 7-% in Finland (to name just two countries).
The group of writers is encouraging the commission to consider only approving the deal if some divestiture takes place. The labels could present concessions in a number of days that might head off the full enquiry, but there's no sign of them yet.... If that wasn't enough to scare them, the EU authorities also want to have a good look at the AOL-Time Warner merger for both its general ramifications and its implications for the music market. They're concerned at how old and new media empires are being combined.
So why should the everyday music punter care? Well, all the major labels' future strategies are based on copious amounts of control. Control to skim off even more money and control that will probably give the average listener even less choice. The music industry isn't about music anymore, it's about stock values and how to make people think you really might make some "big money" for them at some point. Your don't do that by signing a few dodgy bands, you do it by leaving blood on the boardroom carpet and by exploiting everyone and everything you get the chance to.
Will the chaps in gray, drip-dry suits in Brussels protect us? Hmmn, good question..., I doubt it because "big money" usually does what ever the heck it wants. They're already beaten the Euro authorities over extortionate pricing practices (our American readers would shudder at the prices of CDs in Brick and Mortar stores over here) and won, so why should it be different this time. Anyone who wants the freedom to listen to as wide a sphere of music as possible, will be the ones to lose out, not some music business bozos with dreams of building a media empire and Citizen Kane would have been proud of. Did anyone say "Rosebud"?