There is no question the idea of turning music into a service rather than a commodity has achieved critical mass, getting prominent placement in America’s “newspaper of record,” the NY Times, in the last week alone. Of course EVERYONE is talking about the future of music now that the RIAA is extort money out of 12-year-old girls who live in subsidized housing.
Just yesterday in the Times, Steve Lohr looked at the very design of the Internet as forcing as drastic change in the way we view intellectual property, concluding and Internet tax may be the answer.
Today, Don Tapscott looks further ahead to a wireless digital jukebox:
- Instead of clinging to late-20th-century distribution technologies, like the digital disk and the downloaded file, the music business should move into the 21st century with a revamped business model using innovative technology, several industry experts say. They want the music industry to do unto the file-swapping services what the services did unto the music companies – eclipse them with better technology and superior customer convenience.
Their vision might be called “everywhere Internet audio.” Music fans, instead of downloading files on KaZaA – whether they were using computers, home stereos, radios or handheld devices – would have access to all music the record companies hold in their vaults. Listeners could request that any song be immediately streamed to them via the Internet.
….Consumers could still ask for song titles or artists, as they do now on KaZaA. But they could also, for example, request rock ‘n’ roll tunes that appeared for more than three weeks in Billboard’s Top 10 during the 1960’s. Or ask for early 1990’s guitarists that sound like Eric Clapton, or new artists similar in style to Alanis Morissette.
….If it worked, it would be as if we each had our own private satellite radio channels – customizable collections of tunes for hundreds of millions of audiences of one. It is a compelling business model, and the current music companies, as the owners of the content, could be at the fore of designing the system.
….it now appears that Wi-Fi hotspots – wireless Internet access hubs – may eventually provide blanket coverage in urban areas and become the dominant means of connection.
….How this would work is already causing hot debate. Mr. Griffin and many others in the pholist.org [yeay pho!] discussion advocate an Internet fee that would create a revenue pool to be distributed according to song popularity. Current recording industry sales in the United States work out to about $2.50 a month per person.
….At regular intervals, the industry could sample what music is being streamed to users, to determine the distribution of money to the responsible parties. By using sampling, as opposed to detailed census techniques, listeners would not have to worry about invasions of their privacy.
This idea would turn the recording industry’s business model upside down. Institutions are genetically averse to massive change. But the payoff could be huge.
….Market forces alone would not produce such a system. It would take enormous industry cooperation, which could only occur with government approval, lest it be deemed a violation of antitrust laws.
The need for cooperation and leadership is clear. Children should not wind up in court because they are fanatical about their favorite pop stars. If the music industry devised an affordable, equitable, and convenient alternative to file sharing, the fans would come, money in hand.
Sounds pretty great doesn’t it? And perhaps utopian, but it is not. It is doable and a winner all the way around (other than the middle men, and most retail, which would wither away), but the time is RIGHT now, or else another, dystopian, future will be upon us.
We turn again to today’s Times:
- hundreds of software developers are racing to create new systems, or modify existing ones, to let people continue to swap music – hidden from the prying eyes of the Recording Industry Association of America, or from any other investigators.
“With the R.I.A.A. trying to scare users around the world, the developer community is pumping up to create networks which are safer and more anonymous,” said Pablo Soto, a developer in Madrid who designed the software for two file-sharing systems, Blubster and Piolet.
….Blubster, which has an estimated quarter-million users, already uses technology to make eavesdropping more difficult, Mr. Soto said. Its next version will encrypt files so they can be decoded only by their intended user.
Other systems are sending files on more circuitous Internet routes instead of, or in addition to, using encryption. And some developers hope to replace the current systems, which connect millions of users, with private file-sharing networks – speakeasies that may be too small for the industry to find.
….a program called Waste is attracting the interest of music traders who want to create “darknets,” as private file-sharing communities are known.
Waste was written by Justin Frankel, who works for the Nullsoft unit of America Online. It was posted on Nullsoft’s site one day last May and removed the next , although not fast enough to keep copies from circulating on the Web.
The farther file sharers are driven underground, the harder it will be to bring them back to the surface to participate in a reasonable legitimate service if and when it does appear.
Retail will be forced to turn to niche and collector specialization, and there will be a market for used CDs and vinyl as long as people want music they can put their hands on at a bargain price. Your typical generic chain music retail store will go the way of the buggy (but remember, SOMEONE is making buggies for the Amish – now that’s a niche market).
Note the irony of Tower’s fate – who did they turn to for quick cash?
- Tower Records, on the verge of bankruptcy and searching in vain for a buyer, recently turned to its mortal enemy for a possible lifeline.
But software companies such as Sharman Networks, which owns Kazaa, and Lime Wire, which allow users to trade copyrighted songs for free, turned them down.
“They went to all the [companies that facilitate file-sharing], but we didn’t take it too seriously,” said Greg Bildson, Lime Wire’s chief technology officer. “It’s just not too compelling of a model for the future.”
Lime Wire’s stock and trade is digital files, downloaded with the tap of a key. Tower, of Sacramento, Calif., is an old-fashioned record store chain that dates to 1960. Recently, however, Tower has invested more money in its Internet presence and tried to shore up revenues with online sales.
So far, it hasn’t worked. In 2001, Tower lost $90.3 million and closed 14 stores. It sold its stores in Japan and Ireland. In June, the company defaulted on its debt and put itself up for sale. The deadline set by creditors to sell the company is Sept. 30, though it could be extended. [NY Post]
No power left in Tower.