Appetite for Self-DestructionBOOK

Appetite for Self-Destruction

By Steve Knopper

[Soft Skull Press]

From 8-tracks to Payola, the list of the record industry’s historic mistakes ranges from awful to amusing—but one wrongheaded misstep trumps them all. Appetite for Self-Destruction, written by Rolling Stone contributor Steve Knopper, chronicles in painstaking detail the series of short-sighted decisions labels made in response to the dawn of digital music. The book’s first half is rightly devoted to background, as Knopper explains how the CD, with its superior sound quality and higher price point, turned the record industry from a comfortably profitable endeavor to a millionaire-maker whose companies were snapped up by mega-corporations. That context proves crucial to the subsequent story of how online music-swapping sites turned the tables, suggesting the motivation behind labels’ full-scale rejection of all things internet was a mix of personal greed and pressure from corporate parents. An absorbing read thanks to an exhaustive scope of interviews with major players, Knopper’s account offers refreshingly balanced analysis. He decries the argument that piracy was justified, instead focusing on the opportunities lost when the industry chose to punish—rather than collaborate with—the architects of a new music commerce model. Still, as Knopper sees it, too many record execs seemed to feel entitled to the continuation of an obscene profit model despite its growing unsustainability. Did they deserve what they got? He stops short of saying so, but the implication is that the fans and artists who had been held hostage to that archaic system unquestionably did. –KD

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