From today's NY Times Business section, a great article adapted from "The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World," by Randall Stross, a contributor to The New York Times.
Not only is it a great profile of Edison, but a crisp look at the formative era of the music industry. Think interoperability became an issue with the introduction of competing digital formats and DRM? Snip:
"Edison was adamant that Edison recordings would be played only on Edison phonographs. His competitors, Victor and Columbia, shared the same playback technique, etching a laterally cut groove that sent the needle moving horizontally as the record played. Their recordings could be played on one another's machines. Edison, however, adopted his own design, a groove that varied vertically, called at the time a "hill and dale" cut. An adapter permitted Victor records to be played on an Edison Disc Phonograph, but Edison forbade the sale of an attachment that permitted his records to be played on competitors' machines."
As well, the economics of the record biz were already in place in its earliest days:
"And it was those customers, the "lovers of good music," whom Edison in 1911 said would be "the only constant and continuous buyers of records." This was wishful thinking. What was plainly evident to everyone else was that the only constant in the music business was inconstancy, the fickle nature of popular fads. The half-life of a commercially successful song was brief. By the time Edison's factory shipped the first records three weeks after recording, the flighty public had already moved on.
"Even then, in the founding years of the recorded-music business, the economics of the industry was based upon hits, the few songs that enjoyed an unpredictably large success and subsidized the losses incurred by the other releases."
The excerpt is filled with choice historical nuggets. Could you name the first million-selling record? Read this piece if you're curious to know the answer to that platinum-grade piece of trivia. (May require registration.)