The greatest impact of technology amongst all the entertainment segments has been on Music, especially its distribution. Napster last year made music available to millions around the world for free. Even today, it is possible (with some effort) to get MP3 files for free on the Net. Use of three of the best-known file-sharing services, Grokster, Kazaa and MusicCity, jumped 20% between September and October, when users exchanged 1.81 billion files, according to market research firm Webnoize.
Get a CD-writer and one can churn out customised CDs for a negligible cost. So, in some ways, one could argue that what technology and the Internet do is to make it possible for music lovers to find and listen to more of their favourites. The problem of course is how to collect money for bits and bytes that are easily shared by people through the Internet.
This is what the music companies are wrestling with. There is a belief that the future of music, like software (and perhaps other things digital), lies in subscriptions. All the top music recording companies are launching Internet music services soon. Write Nick Wingfield and Anna Mathews in the Wall Street Journal (November 29, 2001):
MusicNet, backed by EMI Group PLC of Britain, Germany’s Bertelsmann AG, AOL Time Warner Inc. and software maker RealNetworks Inc., won’t let customers purchase songs in the traditional sense. Instead, consumers will have two choices. They can “stream” a portion of their monthly allotment of music, allowing them to listen to songs over slow Internet connections. They also will be able to download and store songs on their computers, but only listen to them for a limited time.
Instead of owning the music permanently, a user will acquire a “license” to listen to designated songs for 30 days. Consumers might pay $10 or so a month, for example, for rights to listen to more than 150 songs, according to industry executives familiar with MusicNet’s plans. To keep listening to a song after the 30-day period, a user that again clicks on that selection will have that song counted against the current month’s allotment.
Possibly the biggest drawback is that music from both services will be stuck on customers’ PCs. Initially, the special software used by the ventures won’t let consumers record songs onto compact discs or digital music players. Making such personalized, portable tune selections is a predominant pastime for digital music fans.
Will this work? It is hard to say, but the odds may be stacked against these services given that the world has already tasted the joys of free music!