The Critical 'I'

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Saturday, April 12, 2003

Leave it to maverick Steve Jobs to heat up an asset sale. It was leaked Friday that Apple Computer Corp. is in talks to buy Vivendi Universal's music business, the largest company in the global recording industry business with 25% of the market, for around $6 billion. I bet Bill Gates is fuming that he can't conjure up this much excitement (MSNBC and Microsoft TV notwithstanding).

It's definitely an odd coupling, a computer hardware/software maker taking on the likes of Shania Twain, 50 Cent and U2. The stock market figured as much by taking Apple's stock price down to close out the week's trading. Even some of Apple's most strident acolytes are questioning the move.

I think it's got some potential. The manipulation of music, illegally or legally, is becoming such a central part of the average person's computer experience that it's not like throwing music into the equation is such an alien concept. Apple especially is investing in this content through the production of the iPod MP3 player.

Now that I think more of it, perhaps this bid of Apple's, if successful, will be the first application of the incentivization of music content. Think of it: Apple selling brand-new iPods preloaded with 20 hours of music from Universal recording artists' songs, and charging a (somewhat) higher premium for them.

Update: Damien Barrett's take on this brings up an important detail: If Apple does indeed pull off this purchase, that would give a computer hardware/software company a seat (a very powerful one, in fact) at the table of the Recording Industry Association of America. How would this impact the RIAA's copyprotection and anti-piracy efforts? What a bizarre scenario! Sleeping with the enemy, bigtime.