It was a Friday morning in September 2010. I walked into the large space of the legendary Columbia Studio A in Nashville, Tennessee, and had a whole day of conversations, group discussions and great music. I walk with 50 leaders from the music industry. I have just been appointed as the new host of Leadership Music, a program that involves industry executives and artists from Nashville, New York, and Los Angeles in a year-long dialogue, panel discussions, and seminars to learn from each other and build stronger music The community does not provide industry changes, disruptions and opportunities.
But that day was not happy. No other days next year. This group of talented, successful and resourceful artists and executives—from those who manage Taylor Swift Records to the owner of one of the largest country radio stations in the United States—is going through a sad second phase. Ten years after Napster disrupted their party and allowed fans to freely share music on the Internet, people were angry.
They were very angry. In the years after Napster, total music sales in the United States dropped sharply. (They eventually Dropped From 21.5 billion US dollars to only 6.9 billion US dollars, adjusted for inflation). When people are angry, they fall into the narrative of victims and blame. Technology companies are evil; fans are thieves and pirates. Everyone is fighting each other-record companies and publishers and broadcasters, songwriters and performers, venues and Ticketmasters, promoters and agents.
With technology subverting the entire business model-creating new winners and losers, the music industry is in trouble. Nowadays, renting music instead of buying music has become the norm. Spotify and Apple Music, YouTube and Tik Tok are the big winners.
Four years ago, when Write about Technological change and higher education, Joshua Kim asked: “Will the higher education industry find itself in a situation similar to the record music industry?” In 2021, more than 20 years after Napster, the answer is yes. The question now is, can we, who work in more than 4,000 private and public institutions, choose different paths?
Let me quickly describe the picture of the music industry in 1998. Hundreds of record companies under 5 large conglomerates collaborate with thousands of artists each year, publishing thousands of albums. Record companies have invested years of energy and resources to train these artists, produce their albums and market, promote and distribute their songs. Hundreds of millions of people bought these albums in the form of CDs-20 songs on digital discs. Whether you want all 20 songs or not, you must buy all of them. Maybe you like two, but you bought 20. This is part of a great music bundle.
In addition, record companies basically “own” artists and their intellectual property rights that cannot sign contracts with multiple record companies. They control the distribution. They identified the songs that the radio station played on the radio. All in all, they bundle songs together, control intellectual property and determine how people access music—where they buy music and on which devices they listen to it.
Now let us think about today’s higher education, we have bundled 120 credits. You must buy the whole thing, or you won’t get anything. No degree. No credentials. Faculty and staff are like artists who are tagged and signed. Just like record companies train artists, universities train teachers through doctoral degrees. Program. Then, faculty and staff go to work at colleges and universities that own their intellectual property, including their findings and the courses they design and teach.
Finally, universities determine the way consumers or learners acquire knowledge. Their method is usually: you have to come to us, come to our campus, pay for our parking, pay for living in our dormitory, and pay for the amenities we provide. All of these are bundled together, strictly controlled, and distributed mainly through their own institutional infrastructure.
To be sure, universities are different from record companies. But the overall point is hard to dispute: they also rely on an economic model that exercises control over talent and forces consumers to make fairly narrow choices. You must purchase the entire CD.
But we live in a single world. Although we may argue whether this is good for music, musicians or culture, this is our reality. What is the single world in higher education like? What happens when higher education becomes unbundled? What happens when new participants enter the market to provide new types of credentials: micro-certificates, badges, competency-based degrees? What happens if educators who are not accredited by higher education institutions independently provide compelling content? When education becomes as important as sharing between learners and content delivery from teacher to learner? Peer-to-peer can be as destructive to higher education as it is to the music industry. All these changes are already in progress.
Today, the music industry is booming, and it is expected that the total revenue in the next ten years will be more than ever before. People spend more per capita on monthly subscriptions, merchandise, concert tickets, etc. than before. The rapid proliferation of digital content—movies, television, advertisements, games—has caused a surge in demand for licensed music.
However, although the total music revenue from all sources may now be higher than Napster’s previous level, and experts predict that revenue will double in the next ten years, the participants are different. The models are different. The platform is more important than the label. Artists now build their careers as independent entrepreneurs, surrounded by a set of legal, marketing and business services to help them manage their own businesses. The live music exploded. Attendance at concerts before the pandemic hit a record high. The music festival attracts millions of people every year. The shift to digital has created a necessity for strong face-to-face participation.
What can we learn from higher education? Like music, people will spend more on education in the future than ever before. It will be everywhere. Like the music industry, universities also need a “rental model” of education. Maybe you will become a member and have access to all content for the rest of your life, as long as you pay the membership fee. This may be like Open Loop University, an idea put forward by Stanford University professor Sarah Stein Greenberg, where people go in and out and get the learning assets they need when they need it. Coursera has already moved in this direction.
Just like music, perhaps higher education will find that the platform is more important than the campus. We need to design and build a platform that matches our values and advances our goals-rather than working after eight balls to adapt to a business model we didn’t design, and this is where the music industry has discovered the past few decades.
Like musicians, perhaps teachers will become more and more like independent artists with their own intellectual property rights. How do those of us who work at different universities inspire them to cooperate with us? Record companies and artists negotiate a “360 deal”: to share revenues between a variety of products and services, including digital sales, streaming revenue, merchandise, brand sponsorship, and touring performances. What will our 360-degree transaction with faculty and staff be?
How do we manage and empower all emerging independent educators, beyond our traditional teachers, they can provide something? Can we build a team of instructional designers, cooperate with experts in every imaginable field, and expand the scale of education beyond what the tenured faculty can provide?
If the music festival demonstrates the value and demand for strong face-to-face participation, what can we learn from it? Perhaps most of the learning in the future will be digital, but people will be eager to have the opportunity to bring this learning into a space where they can collaborate, make things, conduct experiments, and engage in intense, transformative social encounters. Perhaps universities become more places for short-term participation rather than full-time residences. Perhaps most of the learners in the future will be part of the low-living project, where they study, design, modify, improve, prepare, prepare, prepare, and then gather several times a year for a powerful face-to-face experience. Think about how we can use our space more efficiently and how many students we can serve.
The four-year degree will not disappear, just like the album will not disappear. But the way people access these carefully planned and thematically organized content has changed forever. A few artists can still bundle their content and monopolize its distribution methods. Taylor Swift. Jay-Z. Adele. Only a few top universities will continue to engage in the album business.
Most people will adapt to the other reality of singles-independent academic entrepreneurs. A world where learning is everywhere-everywhere, all the time, continuous, across all imaginable platforms. People can obtain certificates in more ways, as well as more suppliers who provide these certificates, usually based on the ability acquired rather than the credit units purchased. Face-to-face will become a more special and intense experience, rather than a routine. Universities may become platforms, just like residential campuses.
When the interruption strikes, the organization faces the liquidation and reassessment of its value. Compared with new competitors, what are their unique values? What are their differentiated assets? What do learners and consumers really value and need?
Technology and the pandemic have disrupted universities. As Ryan Craig said in his book, we are going through a great spin-off. 2015 bookIf we bury our heads in the sand, we will look a lot like the angry and lost faces in the Columbia Studio A room in 2010-looking for people to blame, instead of celebrating our key role in mass education. The next wave of learners.