dv_fett “I have altered the deal. Pray I do not alter it further.” —Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back

Remember how all but one of the “big six” print publishers were so quick to hop into bed with Apple and its agency pricing scheme, out of fear that Amazon would sooner or later unilaterally dictate pricing terms to those publishers from its position of marketing strength, that they actually slashed their own e-book revenue to do it?

Publishing executives must surely be starting to feel that twinge of regret that comes from waking up with a stranger by now. Apple just unilaterally dictated some terms to the record labels from its position of marketing strength, telling them that it was going to increase the length of music previews in its iTunes store from 30 to 90 seconds for songs longer than 2 and 1/2 minutes and if they didn’t like it they knew where the door was.

“All you have to do is continue making your content available on the iTunes Store, which will confirm your acceptance to the following terms,” Apple’s notification letter says cheerfully. As MG Siegler says on TechCrunch:

But since this change is opt-out rather than opt-in, any label who really doesn’t like this change will be forced to pull their music from iTunes if they don’t wish to participate. Considering that iTunes is largest music retailer in the world, will any dare do that? Probably not.

The only silver lining for book publishers is that Apple’s much smaller e-book market share means they would suffer a lot less by pulling their e-books from Apple’s store, if Apple decided to make unilateral changes there as well, than record labels would by pulling their music.

According to CNet, the big labels have actually signed on with this plan already, so the letter is pointed at smaller, more hesitant indie labels. But even so, some in the music industry are predictably squawking. At one point, there was even a movement to make Apple pay the labels for the use of even 30 seconds of their music as a preview.

As Mike Masnick points out on Techdirt, longer previews will probably lead to greater sales for the labels, and in focusing on trying to get license fees for preview uses songwriters may be shooting themselves in the foot. Still, you have to wonder whether this bit of top-down decision-making is going to make the publishers a little more wary of the bargain they made with Jobs.


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