How not to be a Shmoo: watch Doug Morris, do the opposite

2 Dec

Seth Mnookin, the journalist who wrote a book a couple years ago about why the Red Sox are going to continue winning the world series, has written an article in Wired magazine profiling Doug Morris, the chair and CEO of Universal Music Group.

Doug Morris seems to be one of those very rich men who is refusing to adapt to the changing world (and the internet in particular), and is therefore seeing his business ruined. (For other examples, see the Hollywood Studio heads).

“There was a cartoon character years ago called the Shmoo,” he says in a raspy tenor. “It was in Li’l Abner. The Shmoo was a nice animal, a nice fella, but if you were hungry, you cut off a piece of him and put onions on it, and if you wanted to play football you just made him like a football. You could do anything to him. That’s what was happening to the music business. Everyone was treating the music business like it was a Shmoo.

The “Shmoo plea” sounded more convincing when Morgan Freeman said it in Lucky Number Slevin, Doug (can I call you Doug?), but here’s the thing: if you don’t want to be the schmoo, don’t act like one. If you don’t want to be the schmoo then you have to make some effort to evolve. Learn something. Develop your viewpoints. Don’t say that everyone who owns an .mp3-player is a thief. When asked about the near-demise of the record industry due to free digital downloads (remember Napster?) don’t say this:

“There’s no one in the record company that’s a technologist,” Morris explains. “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. It’s like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?”
Personally, I would hire a vet. But to Morris, even that wasn’t an option. “We didn’t know who to hire,” he says, becoming more agitated. “I wouldn’t be able to recognize a good technology person — anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me.

My God, Doug, how did you ever learn anything? I mean here’s a situation where you know there is something that you don’t know about, you know that you may have to learn about it, you know that there are experts on it, these “technologists,” and yet you refuse to try and learn? This is why there are experts at things Doug, so that you don’t have to know everything. Are you really not smart enough to tell apart someone who knows what they’re talking about from someone who doesn’t? I’m scared to ask how involved in politics you are…

“People never really understand what’s happening to the artists. All the sharing of the music, right? 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,” he says. “That’s what happened to the record business.”

Interesting question, Doug, here’s another one: if you had tap water coming through the faucet in your kitchen, how much would you be willing to pay for bottled water? See, as far as I know, people still buy bottled water. Here’s another question Doug: If you had Coca-Cola coming through the faucet in your kitchen, but Universal Music made a better quality Coca-Cola, how much do you think people would be willing to pay for it?
Is it correct that people share their music and “fill up” their devices with music they haven’t paid for? Is it correct that the sky is blue, contains clouds, and sometimes rains? Music is free, Doug. Thanks to the internet, all music can be gotten for free. That’s a fact that DRM will never change. You’re asking the wrong questions, Doug, especially if you don’t want to be a schmoo. What you should be asking is how can you get consumers to pay for something that they could get for free?

“Our strategy is to have the people who create great music be paid properly,” he says. “We need to protect the music. I know that.”

I didn’t realize the music was in danger, Doug. I am glad to hear you talk about “great” music though, it’s the first time I’ve heard anything from you about quality. You see, Doug, this has to ultimately be about humanity. There’s no two ways about it. If musicians are artists, and the rest of us humans are appreciating their art, then the artists need to have their lifestyles supported. This, traditionally, was the role of a record label, but now that music is free you’re going to have to find other ways of doing this.
If you piss off the consumers, Doug, the people who are appreciating the art, the people who are paying for the art (which they don’t have to do, remember), the people who are paying you, Doug, aren’t they less likely to want to do that? Why should we pay a Schmoo?

Back in his dining room, Morris is incredulous. He’s once again talking about how his job should simply be finding and breaking new acts. The problem, he says, is that “there’s sympathy for the consumer, and the record industry is the Shmoo.”

There’s sympathy for the consumer… really Doug? I wonder if that’s because they’re right. It certainly seems like you’re right about the record industry.


2 Responses to “How not to be a Shmoo: watch Doug Morris, do the opposite”

  1. kirawen December 3, 2007 at 2:39 pm #


    • junorhane December 6, 2007 at 1:59 am #

      Thanks! I had fun with it. If only I thought I’d be able to say these things to him in person.

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