The $64 billion question

This morning’s Observer column

So the 64-billion-dollar question is: how did it happen? The obvious hypothesis – that the senior executives of all the record companies were idiots – has always seemed implausible to me. Or it did until I read the recent interview in Wired magazine with Doug Morris, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group. Morris’s ascent to the top of Universal in the 1990s coincided with the rise of CDs – the biggest boom the music business has ever known. The colossal profits blinded Morris & Co to the threat/potential of the net.

Pressed by the interviewer, Morris went into rant mode, insisting that there wasn’t a thing he or anyone else could have done differently. ‘There’s no one in the record company that’s a technologist,’ he said. ‘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?’