Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Cents in Downloaded Music

In the final week of 2006, Beyonce’s song “Irreplaceable” set a new record for a single digital track, selling 269,000 copies in one week. What exactly does that mean? Looking beyond the numbers, we see a clear shift in how downloadable music is perceived. It is now a viable metric in gauging the popularity of a single without the bias of the artist. Music is being judged and purchased strictly on its individual appeal and quality, which is refreshing after decades of being forced to buy whole albums containing three to four good songs and twice as many bad to mediocre tracks. Anonymous artists can compete with the big record labels and their stable of marketed artists through companies such as and, which provide distribution and licensing for these independent artists. Fortune 500 companies and Madison Avenue can shop at these web sites to find and license the music of these independent artists to feature in marketing campaigns just like mainstream artists’ music. It would make sense for an artist like Jim Jones who has the #1 downloaded rap single according to Billboard music, “We fly high”, but only sold approximately 267,000 units of his album, Hustler P.O.M.E., not even gold status according to industry standards. There are many artist like him that could generate a better return by promoting, selling, and licensing one single as opposed to putting that same effort and significantly more money into producing and subsequently promoting an entire album.

U.S. album sales continued to decline, about 588.2 million albums were sold in 2006 — a 4.9 percent decline from 2005. However, overall music sales increased by more than 19 percent in 2006, a number that includes all albums, singles, music videos and digital downloads. A closer look at the numbers shows where the growth in music really took place, the digital music landscape. Digital song sales grew 65% during 2006, reaching 582 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Digital album sales more than doubled from 2005, with 32.6 million albums sold, making up more than 5% of the 588.2 million total album sales. Digital song sales only trailed album sales by slightly more than 1%. If digital album sales are subtracted from total albums sales, then digital song sales are outselling albums. A discrepancy that can only be expected to grow as both cell phone/iPod users upgrade to the Apple iPhone, Microsoft's Zune gains traction, and cell phones capable of playing downloaded music become standard and more affordable.

Billboard magazine senior correspondent Brian Garrity said consumers are buying more single songs and fewer albums, and that makes it harder for the record industry to maintain profits. “At the end of the day, pop music is a singles driven business, so why would I want to buy a whole album?” Garrity said. Music has become a much more democratic process with the proliferation of iTunes, satellite radio, and ring tones. I wouldn’t be surprised if artists focused more on developing and selling singles as opposed to creating the traditional 12 to 14 track CD’s. The average consumer only listens to approximately 40% of the songs on their CD’s with the average music CD retailing for $14.99 (for the sake of this blog we will use an average of 13 tracks per CD) this breaks down to $1.15 per song. The average listener should spend $5.98 for the music they actually listen to, saving them $9.01 which is spent on unwanted or simply mediocre music. By contrast, individual songs are sold at $0.99 cents at the iTunes store and, $0.88 cents at, while Yahoo offers a subscription service for $12 a month to their music library of 12 million songs. Those are numbers that the record labels can’t compete with. In the current digital age, you’re better off buying six songs from iTunes or that you’d be 100% satisfied with rather than wasting $9.00 every time you want a new song. And that’s without considering the amount of physical space you’re saving.

This information isn’t new however what is, is the proliferation of small companies like rumblefish and inGrooves that allow artists to distribute their most popular singles and make a comfortable living as one hit wonders as opposed to the traditional album distribution model. These are both digital media publishers and technology companies, which execute distribution, marketing and licensing services (music to television, films, video games, and ringtones). Making a compelling shift in how music is both sold and distributed in today’s web 2.0 environment, leveling the playing field for lower profile artist to compete with their more popular peers.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Tax Beauty of an LLC

Every dollar earned in this country, the IRS wants a piece. It doesn’t care who pays it, as long as it gets paid. Problems only arise when the IRS doesn’t get its taxes. A good business attorney makes sure his client is paying the IRS all of the taxes required while finding ways to reduce that tax liability without breaking the law. For the sake of this blog we are dealing with a limited liability corporation (LLC), formed and based in Maryland for tax purposes. The LLC, we’ll call it the entity, is granted the limited liability benefits of a corporation without the double taxation detriment.

Double taxation is basically where a corporation is considered a taxable entity and thus has to file and pay a separate tax return from the owners, or shareholders. First, the corporation does all its accounting and gets its final operating profit before taxes. This is its taxable income and the number which the corporation has to pay taxes on. After calculating its net profits, the corporation can then pay the owners/shareholders a dividend, their percentage of the corporate profits, based on their respective shares of the corporation’s stock. If the corporation chooses not to pay a dividend, then the owners only pay taxes on their individually earned incomes, including any salary paid by the corporation. Thankfully, the owners’ salaries are subtracted before profits are calculated but this doesn’t save them from single taxation just double. However, if a dividend is paid it is added to the owner’s income for the year. In this manner, the owners pay taxes on that dividend, even though money comprising the dividend has already been included, and had paid taxes on it, in the corporation’s tax filings. An LLC does not have this problem.

An LLC does not pay taxes on its income. This is because an LLC is not considered a taxable entity by the IRS, rather, it is a “disregarded entity” and subject to pass-through taxation. Pass-through taxation means that any income generated by the LLC passes through the entity directly to the owner(s). The LLC serves solely as a conduit for the income generated by the owners while protecting them from liability. An important distinction to remember is that while an LLC is a form or conducting business, the IRS does not care what form you conduct your business in when it assesses your taxes. The IRS only cares if you made money and how much.

An example of this difference: John and Lucy form Tables LLC to sell tables. They own $10,000 worth of tables. If they are sued, the suit can only affect the holdings of the Tables LLC, the $10,000 worth of tables. Now, assume Tables LLC sells the tables for $25,000 – a tidy $15,000 profit. The IRS expects tax revenue from that $15,000. However, the IRS disregards the existence of Tables LLC when deciding who to tax. It only sees the LLC owners, John and Lucy. As far as the IRS is concerned, John and Lucy, not Tables LLC, made $15,000 and have to pay taxes on it – even if Tables LLC never actually writes a check to John and Lucy for that $15 grand. If Tables LLC was Tables, Inc. the IRS would expect Tables, Inc. to pay taxes on the $15,000 and John and Lucy would only pay taxes if they subsequently received a share of the income. Either way, someone, John, Lucy, or Tables, has to pay taxes on the $15,000.

Is your company in a similar situation? Someone has to pay taxes on the income, whether it’s you or your company. If you’re able to choose to have your company treated as a corporation, then your company has to pay taxes on the revenue, even if it doesn’t distribute it. If you’re taxed as an LLC, then your company doesn’t pay anything but you have all of the tax burden, regardless of if you pay yourself a salary or not. In fact, paying yourself a salary doesn’t do you any favors. You’re still exposed to the same tax consequences. This is why you need to start thinking of ways to reduce your tax exposure.

Here are a list of questions you need to think about. Some of them you probably already have answered but they just set the framework:

1) Is your company a LLC?

2) Am I the sole owner of this company?

3) What is the company filing as its income for this tax period?

4) What is a “disregarded entity” for tax purposes?

5) What is pass-through taxation?

6) Is your company subject to pass-through taxation?

7) Is there some legal reason that I am not subject to pass-through taxation for my company’s revenue?

8) How does pass-through taxation affect me and my company?

9) How does your state tax law differ from Federal tax law with regards to LLC’s and pass-through taxation?

10) What deductions and exceptions am I qualified for?

11) Does paying myself a salary expose me to double taxation?

12) Do I use a Schedule C, Form 1120 or a 1092 to file my taxes?

13) For Federal Purposes am I classified as a corporation?

14) Do I have to, or have I, file/d a File Form 8832

For more information please read these articles, particularly the sections regarding taxes:,,id=137016,00.html

For more on this please check out my book Millionaire in the Basement due out in 2007.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

How the NFL Blitzes in Business, Part 3

Continued from How the NFL Blitzes in Business, Part II

I suppose your next intelligent question is: “Sure it’ll be more expensive, but since the cable company is going to past the cost on to the subscriber, why don’t they just give in to the NFL Network?” Actually, the NFL Network is just the latest form of an old problem for cable companies. Cable operators have been wrestling with big TV sports money issues for years: Should they put sports channels on sports tiers–making only the interested portion of their subscribers pay extra fees for it, or should they foot the cost and make all subscribers pay? The problem is that sports are way more expensive–especially the NFL. In addition, under the terms that the NFL is offering the cost would not be borne only by those watching the games, but by the majority of cable subscribers.

One way to phrase the issue is: “Why do those sports subscribers, mostly men, have to pay for channels like E!, HGTV or the Food Network, which for the most part they’ll never see?” The answer isn’t that the cable companies won’t let you buy the channels you want to watch. They would but the content providers don't allow that. Large media companies, like Disney, force cable providers to accept predetermined packages to get the best channels. Allow me to demonstrate. ESPN is one of the more popular channels offered on cable television, it is also owned by the Disney corporation. Disney, recognizing their leverage, doesn’t allow the cable companies to just offer ESPN, instead the cable company must also force Disney’s other channels onto subscribers, channels like ABC Family, the Disney Channel, and for those who didn’t want ESPN in the first place, ESPN2. FOX uses similar channel packages, including the FOX Sports Network, FX, etc., as does TNT and Viacom.

There are pluses and minuses to this system. One important plus is that cable providers can negotiate lower overall rates for these channel packages, then bundle the programming together so that people are able to get the most popular channels at a reduced cost. The NFL Network doesn’t have any other channels to offer that could be included to help defray some of the costs included with providing their channel to the masses. This means that cable providers have to absorb the full cost of the NFL Network’s programming. Unfortunately, the price for the eight live games is just too great for the cable providers and their concern is that this is only the beginning. If they passed the cost of these eight games on to the subscribers, it would only encourage the NFL and the NFL Network to continue offering games but an additional fee basis. Look at the success of boxing and with their pay-per-view model, which eventually destroyed the popularity of their sport. Now, Brian Roberts, chairman of Comcast Corp., is so perplexed by the situation he wants to organize an industry summit to hash out differences. Roberts is also worried other sports leagues/groups will take a similar tack. For example, the U.S. Olympic Committee is considering its own 24-hour network. Even then, Olympics sports would conceivably be priced more reasonably than the NFL. The ability to generate additional pay for premier events is the kind of leverage all sports leagues would like to have–especially when it comes to getting paid from cable operators.

The NFL Network is currently available in about 40 million of the 111 million homes with TVs, not bad for a three year old network. In comparison, ESPN, which airs Monday night games, is available in 92 million. It would seem that the cable companies should offer the NFL Network as a stand-alone option, not part of an expensive, take-it-or-leave-it package. However the cable operators feel they have largely lost their football audience due to the NFL's decision to give exclusive viewing rights of its NFL Sunday Ticket to DirecTV, which allows the company to air up to 14 out-of-market regular season games every Sunday. As such, they don't feel overly inclined to add the NFL network to their basic programming at a premium price.

With the NFL having grand ambitions with its own network, could NFL Sunday Ticket become a bargaining chip with its service providers? That's clearly conjecture at this point, but opening up Sunday Ticket, once the DirecTV contract expires in 2010, to all providers in exchange for having the NFL Network widely available across all providers on a basic tier could be advantageous to both cable operators and the NFL.

Before the broadcast of the first game, the NFL was trying to urge cable networks to pick up the channel. The big issue, however, is cost and tier placement. The NFL wants the network available to the widest available audience, while charging cable companies a hefty price per household. Cable operators, meanwhile, want to offer the channel on one of their premium tiers. So far no resolution has been reached.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

How the NFL Blitzes in Business, Part 2

Continued from How the NFL Blitzes in Business, Part I

Ultimately, the team owners came up with a compromise. The players would receive at least 60% of every team's revenue, which resulted in a bigger pool for the salary cap. But this caused a problem for the lower-revenue teams, like the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars, who might see 70% of their revenue going into player salaries while the New England Patriots and Washington Redskins would be spending only that 60%. So to try and make up the difference, the owners agreed that the 15 highest-revenue teams would pay equally into a pot totaling $30 million to be redistributed to the 17 poorest clubs.

It only adds up to a couple of million for each small-revenue franchise but other concessions were made. At the same time, the owners agreed that the 15 larger teams would also give up their profits from the league's new media ventures and share that money with the smaller-market teams as long as those small-market clubs dedicated at least 65% of their revenue to player salaries.

Unfortunately, some of the small-market teams still feel left out in the new contract, unsure how a trickle of money from the richer clubs is going to help them catch up. The potential solution is to aggressively generate revenue from any new media ventures and to squeeze more revenue out of the existing media properties. Hence, the bolstering of the NFL Network by adding those eight Thursday and Saturday night games.

Those games that are being shown semi-exclusively by the NFL Network can be directed at a wide variety of media as exclusive content that FOX, CBS, NBC, and ESPN can’t duplicate. The NFL Network will help feed content to the Internet, cell phones, iPods and whatever else has yet to be invented. These various new media connections, when filled and under the NFL's control, have the potential of becoming viable revenue streams for all NFL team owners.

"There's going to be peaks and valleys and some acceleration and deceleration [in new media]," said David Katz, the head of sports and studios at Yahoo!, which currently streams NFL games on the Internet overseas. "The NFL has proven to be the best at exploitation and management of their assets. I have no doubt they will continue to be good at what they do." It's a delicate balance. The NFL needs its revenue quickly to try and fill some of the gulf between big- and small-market owners, but moves cautiously in the ever changing new media markets.

No one really knows how much revenue could be generated because no one has a grasp on exactly what forms and opportunities the new media will present and partially because the league is only starting to cut deals in this new media world (adding games to the NFL Network, signing contracts for podcasts, cell phone telecasts, and just last month, the owners voted to operate the league's Web site,, themselves – previously CBS SportsLine held the contract).

"We hope that [new media] will be a real contributor and hopefully it will ameliorate some of that" big-market/small-market tension, Jeff Pash, the NFL's executive vice president, said recently after testifying before a congressional antitrust hearing. "And also by bringing it in house we can keep that revenue as a league asset and share it equally among the 32 teams as opposed to having yet another revenue source that exacerbates revenue disparities between teams."

Or as Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said, "If [the media money] is coming from a league-owned asset, then it will be easier to cut it up and give it to the smaller market teams rather than to just take it from the higher-revenue teams." Those previously mentioned eight games will be used to generate that media money. One question down!!!

Concluded in How the NFL Blitzes in Business, Part III