Jackass of the Week: Rob Glaser

I’m never quite sure what to make of Rob Glaser, CEO of Real Networks. As his company’s digital media technologies fall further behind Apple’s and Microsoft’s (at least in terms of popularity), he frequently pipes up in the press with ridiculous statements about Apple and its products — statements so patently false that I’m always left with the impression that he’s either a moron or a liar. (My money is on liar.)

I’m willing to cut him some slack because it’s his job as CEO to be an advocate for his company and its shareholders. I certainly don’t expect him to stand up and admit that Apple has them licked. But that’s no justification for just making shit up.

Which brings us to this interview with Glaser in The Guardian, by Kate Bulkley. A few choice snippets:

TG: One could look at Real and say you are becoming the Sun Microsystems of players, i.e. you don’t have the critical mass to make sure you get the right content and the right number of users.

RG: I think that is mathematically not true. I don’t think it is going to be a winner-takes-all game. I think we’ll have good share and Microsoft will have good share, and there may be one or two others. I think particularly as we move into a time where consumers want content to work on multiple platforms, the strong early position we have built on the mobile media market will help us on the PC as well.

I wonder who might be included in those “one or two others”? Hmm…

Glaser has a habit of positioning Microsoft as Real’s only worthy rival. But one thing that these journalists and interviewers never seem to mention is that Glaser spent 10 years at Microsoft, working his way up to a position as “vice president for multimedia systems”, according to this 1997 profile in Wired. Not to mention that Real signed a bunch of vaguely-defined “partnerships” with Microsoft this past October.

TG: Apple has 65% of music downloads in Europe according to Jupiter Research. How can you compete?

Rob: We assume that this failure of other companies besides Apple to create really compelling portable devices is not a long-term phenomenon. [But] before that happens it would be jumping the gun to push a portable subscription service in Europe.

Translation: “We’re fucked, because there aren’t any cool gadgets that play our DRM-protected audio formats.”

TG: Because you can’t compete with Apple’s iTunes?

RG: We can compete but isn’t it better to wait until you have a slam dunk solution in the portable context?

Just keep waiting. The longer Real waits, the more iPods Apple sells, and, uh, somehow that’ll make it easier to succeed at some unspecified point in the future.

TG: So you will be facing a situation where you are way behind Apple?

RG: Compare our strategy to Napster’s where they got into Europe in some markets before Apple but I don’t think with a service that was compelling. Apple is using the iPod as a pull for track sales and for Mac sales, and since the track purchase business is not a primary business for us our attitude is, let’s focus on our core business and build up from there.

And Real’s core business is what? “Waiting”?

TG: But Apple’s model is to make money on the sale of devices, using music to drive that — and it is working.

RB: Apple has gotten away with this approach to a greater degree than we thought they would. The music industry has made a mistake, not by agreeing to Apple’s fixed-price level (79p per track), which is what gets all the attention, but by allowing Apple to create devices that are not interoperable.

And the music industry could have stopped this how? No, really: how? By, what? Not allowing their music to be sold through the ITMS in FairPlay-protected format? That would have slowed iPod sales how? iPod sales are driving people to use the ITMS, not the other way around — and Glaser himself admits this just two paragraphs earlier.

The music industry has had no role in the success of the iPod.

And, they (that is, the music industry) already sell music in a popular interoperable format: the compact disc. This is not rocket science.

(Glaser, continued): If you want interoperable music today, there is a very easy solution: it’s called stealing.

Looks like someone still reads the “iPod Talking Points” memos from Redmond.

(Glaser, continued): The average number of songs sold for the iPod is 25, and there are many more songs on iPods than 25. About half the music on iPods is music obtained illegitimately either from an illegal peer-to-peer networks or from ripping friends’ CDs, which is illegal. But it’s the only way to get non-copy protected, portable, interoperable music.

And these so-called “friends” are probably shoplifting their CDs, right?1

As for peer-to-peer networks being the “only way” to get non-copy-protected music, that’s just patently false. There are plenty of online music stores that are completely interoperable with all portable players — because they don’t inflict their customers with DRM. E.g. emusic.com, where the downloads are in plain-jane MP3 format. These stores may not have music from most mainstream recording acts, but that’s because the major record labels refuse to sell downloadable music in non-copy-protected formats.

I’m intrigued by Glaser’s strategy of accusing millions of prospective customers of being dishonest thieves. I’ll bet it’ll work out just as well as Real’s “let’s wait another couple of years” portable player strategy.

  1. And contrary to entertainment industry propaganda, it is not illegal in the U.S. to make a copy of CD for a friend. It’s up for debate whether you can rip music from a CD and legally share those ripped song files with friends, but you can share a copy of the CD and allow them to rip the songs themselves. See this post from Ed Felten for more information. ↩︎

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