Today’s deal by Bertelsmann to sell its big BMG music publishing unit to Vivendi seems, at first glance, like a victory for the little guys.
After all, music giants such as Sony, Warner, and EMI all wanted to buy BMG — and the combination would have created an enormous monolith in a business already controlled by enormous monoliths. Impala, a representative group for small labels and music publishers, argued that the sale of BMG to any of its competitors, especially Sony, would strengthen a collective dominance and damage competition in the record industry. The European Union listened to Impala’s complaint, and ruled that only half a dozen companies were small enough — including Vivendi — to make a bid for BMG.
So, is this really progress? After all, it’s still leaves us with a world where big companies control music publishing rights — at a time when all other forces in the music biz seem to be headed in the opposite direction. We’re no closer to Napster — Nirvana.
How will this end? Will the big music publishers continue to rule? Or are their days numbered?