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for April 30, 2003


Finding The Right Wrench
by Sean Carolan

It isn't saying anything new to note how powerfully the Internet can change the way ordinary people get their hands on music. It already has. Unfortunately for anyone who wants to make a living from their music, it's changed in all the wrong ways, and blame for this can be laid squarely at the feet of the music industry, who never understood that people, in general, have a way of getting what they want.
 
In a city on a hot day, every soul on the street knows there's cool, fresh water in the fire hydrants. Picture the music industry as a city fire department with a "no sprinkler heads on the fire hydrants" policy. You can see where this is heading, can't you?
 
Sure, people can buy air conditioners, or traipse off to the public pool six blocks away, but there's an immediate desire, an immediate solution, and a motivated population. Ignorance of that population only gets them more motivated. Enforcement of the "no sprinkler heads" law just nets the fire department bad press, leading to some guy with a back hoe knocking the fire hydrant off its base, exposing an unquenchable fountain to the cheers of an appreciative crowd.
 
Illegal? Sure. But it's the fire department that's got to fix the fire hydrant, one way or the other, and they may finally be getting the message that turning it off completely does no one any good. All this because they wouldn't cough up a stupid hydrant wrench.
 
The back hoe just arrived in the form of a federal court's decision that file sharing networks are legal. Of course, the appeals are already being filed, but this may be one tough nut to crack for the music industry.
 
Now how does the music industry, for once, step back from its Al-Sahaf-like defense of its business practices and actually get back to the position of providing a service to its customers that they are willing to pay for? Listening to its customers would be good for a start, but we can't expect miracles there.
 
Apple might have finally found the wrench that doesn't break the fire hydrant.
 
Their new service, the iTunes Music Store lets you, finally, buy a song for a dollar (actually, 99 cents.) There are some restrictions, but as restrictions go, they sound surprisingly unlike other restrictions I've seen the recording industry negotiate.
 
(For instance, on the Altrok MuddyChannel stream at Live365, I can't play two songs by the same artist in a row, nor can I identify a song in advance of its being played, nor can I even list the songs I have in the stream on my website, nor can I link directly to the player window. Thanks for the promotional muscle, guys. But I digress...)
 
In the Apple service, the restrictions are more in line with stopping people from doing things that are pretty shady to begin with. For instance, you can't burn a playlist more than ten times; pretty unlikely for a normal music user. Of course, you can re-rip one of the discs you burn, but that's kind of their point - they're not there to make it easy to make piles of copies of the music they sell.
 
I'm not entirely happy with their choice of AAC for compression, since that means I have to work a bit to make it compatible with my collection, but it's a lot closer to the dream service I've described before in these pages - where you pay for convenience and selection, on a service that is hands-down far more usable than any of the free services.
 
After all, there's a market for bottled water, for those of us who are tired of drinking from the firehose...
 

©2003 Sean Carolan

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.

 







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