Greg Kot, music critic for the Chicago Tribune and others, wrote a book called Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. In a recent podcast interview, he enumerates the precise downfall of record labels and why iTunes isn't their savior.
In his interview on the fantastic podcast The Sound of Young America, Kot states that the music industry was actually one of the primary causes of piracy. The explosion of boy bands and bubblegum pop in the late 1990s was due to the labels' insistence on pouring a huge amount of money into just a few dumbed-down, impersonal, lowest-common-denominator acts, which meant in turn that commercial radio was almost completely garbage. There was little room for genuine weirdo geniuses like, say, Prince or David Bowie, and devoid of good music, the market was bound to react—hence Napster.
Kot goes through the standard points all dedicated pirates know—artists have never made money on record sales, the mp3 revolution encouraged the indie movement and a huge variety of new and exciting acts, the RIAA's insistence on trying to sue piracy out of existence led to the public having absolutely zero guilt about pirating music. But what's nice is Kot's recognition that iTunes, the much-applauded champion of legal music downloads, is still far inferior to pirate options.
I'll toss this out there: I think the dear departed OiNK, an invite-only torrent site that was forcefully shut down in late 2007, was the greatest music distribution service ever created. It was leagues ahead of iTunes: Faster downloads, better mandated sound quality, an incredibly vast library, vibrant forums full of knowledgeable music dorks, and, of course, totally without DRM. Even now that iTunes has abandoned DRM, it can't hold a candle to a service that hasn't even been operational in nearly two years. Record labels seem to have pinned their hopes to iTunes, but Kot stresses that iTunes is far from perfect, and the labels should be busting ass trying to come up with a viable business model that attracts, not polices, customers, and can at least hold pace with the illegal options.
Cue the "screw the RIAA" comments. [The Sound of Young America]