I knew going into it that Greg Kot’s Ripped covers a subset of what was already detailed in Steve Knopper’s Appetite for Self-Destruction. Perhaps Kot had something else to say about the period of time overlapping both books — the rise of the Internet in hastening the downfall of the major labels.
Ripped does indeed cover much more than just the effects of file sharing on the recorded music industry. Kot mentions how Youtube and Myspace boosted the careers of OK Go and Lily Allen. One chapter focuses on how protest songs against the Iraq War got squeezed out of radio but found audiences on the Net.
An overly long love letter to Radiohead covers the emerging marketing techniques used by major artists abandoning the label system, while another chapter briefly mentions artists who decide to remain in the system that fed their careers.
Kot takes a wide snapshot of the various ways creating and selling recorded music happens in the first decade of the 21st Century. But that’s all it is — a snapshot.
Ripped is a fast read, which is another way of saying that it doesn’t get very in-depth. Knopper does a better job surveying the building of iTunes in Appetite for Self-Destruction than Kot, who is a bit too generous with portraying Apple’s Steve Jobs as a maverick visionary.
Many times, Kot seems to hit a stride only to switch focus too abruptly. A short chapter on Dan Deacon does little to expand on a more comprehensive chapter on sample-based recording featuring Girl Talk. The chapter on protest music isn’t much more than a side note.
Kot also seems to leave out the label perspective of the narrative. Many artists and managers get in their proverbial two cents, but the labels and industry groups remain the straw men — not undeserved, but at least Knopper took the time to add context.
Ripped focuses on the Davids in this situation, but Appetite for Self-Destruction showed the story of the Goliath is actually far more interesting.
Readers of Hypebot or anyone who follows Derek Sivers is the exact choir to whom Kot is preaching. (Predictably enough, Hypebot is a big cheerleader of this book.) Ripped is a good introduction to the issues surrounding selling recorded music in the Internet age, but it isn’t much more than that.