Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Hollywood Doesn't Get It, Part 3,553

Doug Morris is still a very, very grumpy man about the digital arena.


We did not think it could get worse than NBC honcho Jeff Zucker (pictured here), who demanded a vig for every iPod sold because “Apple sold millions of dollars worth of hardware off the back of our content and made a lot of money.”

And then came former Disney pooh-bah Michael Eisner, who blamed the writers’ strike on Apple head Steve Jobs, because he was ruining the entertainment business with that darn iPod.

“[Movie and television studios] make deals with Steve Jobs, who takes them to the cleaners. They make all these kinds of things, and who’s making money? Apple! They should get a piece of Apple,” said Eisner. “If I was a union, I’d be striking up wherever he is.”


And now comes Morris, who heads up the Universal Music Group and who was interviewed by Seth Mnookin of Wired, trying again to skewer Jobs.

Of course, he ends up poking his own petard. From his private dining room (I kid you not) at the company HQ, the 68-year-old veteran music exec talked about plans to take aim at Apple’s popular music player and service, blamed college students for the music industry’s troubles and generally sounded like a woefully out-of-touch exec.

Says Morris in a refrain you would think he might have gotten over after all this time and all those stolen songs ago: “Is it correct that people share their music, fill up these devices with music they haven’t paid for? If you had Coca-Cola coming through the faucet in your kitchen, how much would you be willing to pay for Coca-Cola? There you go.”

We know, we know, there you go. Piracy is wrong! We agree! Of course, that begs a solution.

And Morris’s have not been so very consistent. On one hand, he’s pissed and, thus, has aggressively gone after companies like YouTube and MySpace for copyright infringement and has held up Microsoft by taking a piece of Zune sales. On the other, Universal has offered some unprotected songs on sites like Amazon and has been doing well in the ringtone business.

Still, Morris seems proud of coming off as an anti-geek, a stance that has apparently messed up the good thing the music business had going–mostly milking consumers and not delivering product in the way they wanted it.

“There’s no one in the record company that’s a technologist. That’s a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn’t. They just didn’t know what to do,” said Morris, without a trace of regret about the rank incompetence of dealing with the changes created by digital distribution. “It’s like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?”

Mnookin correctly suggests getting a vet. But I would go a step further: Get a new dog.

Instead, he is kicking a few others, such as Jobs, mostly for out-negotiating the labels to get them to sell on iTunes. “We were just grateful that someone was selling online,” said Morris. “The problem is, he became a gatekeeper. We make a lot of money from him, and suddenly you’re wearing golden handcuffs. We would hate to give up that income.”

Which is why he and others are trying to blow up the whole thing, by attempting to do damage to iTunes by pulling songs off the service (evil to consumers who love the iPod, but it could work) and offering alternatives like a competing subscription music service that seems destined for failure too.


Worst of all, Morris incorrectly compares the music industry to the Shmoo of the cartoon Li’l Abner, as if the creature was a loser. In fact, the Shmoo is beloved and helpful to all, as well as delicious and entertaining, characteristics the music industry could take a clue from.

“Shmoos haint make believe,” said Li’l Abner. “The hull (whole) earth is one.”

Morris should wish he were a Schmoo.

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of Pets.com would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”