Wednesday, August 20, 2008

snapshot 8/20/08

More than a song
The Internet and microchip-powered consumer electronics have created a new set of opportunities to capitalize on the public's demand for music. At the same time, however, file-sharing networks, blogs and other sources of free music have thrown into question the value of music online. So instead of embracing the new opportunities together, labels, artists and entrepreneurs have often scrapped over the licensing fees and royalties that online businesses must pay for the music they distribute.

The Orchard Gets Physical; Launches TVT Distribution
The Orchard is now moving into physical distribution, a move that closely follows its acquisition of the distressed TVT Records. The Orchard, best known for its digital distribution and online marketing campaigns, has tapped Michael Bull to helm the expansion.
The newly-minted TVT Distribution will initially service a select group of independent label partners, according to the company. Describing the diversification, Orchard chief executive Greg Scholl pointed to the acquisition of a "respected physical distribution operation," one that will give label clients the ability to execute more coordinated distribution strategies.

Disc Makers Launches Elite Artist Services
Disc Makers has launched Elite Artist Services, a new division geared towards major artists who want to go independent. Elite Artist Services will make it easy for artists with expiring deals to leave their labels and sell CDs and downloads directly. Elite offers major artists virtually all of the manufacturing, distribution, download, marketing and ecommerce infrastructure services required to release their projects.

Elite offers today’s major artist a complete team and infrastructure to make going independent a turnkey process. The company offers a comprehensive suite of services that used to be offered by the record label, including graphic design, mastering, disc manufacturing and packaging, download sales through the artist’s web site and major sites like iTunes, Rhapsody and, CD distribution through Sony RED, custom merch production, product warehousing, ecommerce processing, web site development, digital and print marketing, and more.

Songbird Releases Beta of Web-Integrated Media Player
Songbird is looking to provide users an alternative to the closed, DRM-laden music stores offered by Apple and a number of other companies. The software behaves like a mix between iTunes (it now features nearly identical icons) and Mozilla’s Firefox (it uses the same engine as the web browser). The software also supports plugins for portable devices like the iPod, and even slightly modified Firefox extensions. The result may be a bit confusing at first, but the interface is familiar enough that it only takes a few moments to adjust to combination.

Songbird allows web developers to integrate a very professional music store on their sites by tapping into the application’s API. After browsing to a supported site, Songbird will display a list of available songs at the bottom of the application in a manner that is strongly reminiscent of iTunes. While we’ve seen other interfaces that look equally professional, replicating the iTunes UI which users are already familiar with is likely to help boost sales.

Mozilla preparing to push Firefox 3 update on all Firefox 2 users
Ready or not, here it comes. And it is Firefox 3.0.1. Mozilla has been issuing automatic updates for Firefox for ages. If you're running Firefox 3, you were probably prompted to install version 3.0.1 a few weeks ago. But if you've been running an older version of Firefox, you might still be at version Now Mozilla plans to push out an update to all Firefox 2 users that will prompt them to update to version 3.0.1.

Apple to pimp MobileMe via an “iTunes Unlimited”?
Rumors that Apple could unveil a subscription-based iTunes are nothing new, the Financial Times reported it back in March, but two tips today to two separate sites are reigniting it. Both MacDailyNews and TUAW, two Apple-focused blogs, received word that an announcement would be made in September with a launch of the service in October alongside iTunes 7.8. The main details of both rumors align, which seems to indicate either the news is true or the tip is from the same incorrect source. I’m gonna go with the latter but you can decide for yourself.

Unfortunately, this is my last snapshot for a while as higher priorities have eaten up the time I allotted for this work. Hopefully, that will change and I will bring the snapshot back.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

snapshot 8/19/08

Netflix Outage Shows Why Disks Deserve to Die
Come on, internet. Just bring us proper movie streaming already. If any more proof were needed that physical media needs to go, and soon, we bring you exhibit A: The Netflix Outage.

The Blurring Borders Of Music And Advertising: P&G Starts A Record Label With Def Jam
The latest example of this is pointed out by reader lavi d, who points us to a clip from NPR's All Things Considered about how Procter & Gamble has teamed up with Def Jam records to create a new record label: Tag Records, which is connected to the P&G product Tag Body Spray.

Rather than bringing on a big name star to "endorse" its product, Tag Records has signed a relative unknown, and is basically promoting both this new musician, Q, and the body spray at the same time. The music doesn't necessarily directly promote the body spray, but the promotions go hand in hand, and there is no real border between the content and the advertising. If the content itself is good content, it doesn't much matter. And, it appears that other brands are following suit. The radio clip notes that the energy drink Red Bull is apparently building its own studio to do the same thing. To some extent, it's no surprise that Def Jam would recognize this as a direction to go in: we pointed out in the past how a bunch of hip hop music execs were way ahead of the curve in recognizing new business models where the music itself is part of the promotion for something else.

Monday, August 18, 2008

snapshot 8/18/08

Report: Fees may sink Pandora soon
Tim Westergren, the founder of popular Web radio start-up Pandora, has said in an interview with The Washington Post that his company may be close to a shutdown. "We're approaching a pull-the-plug kind of decision," Westergren said in the article, published Saturday. "This is like a last stand for webcasting."

The problem, he explained, is last year's royalty hike for Web radio, which makes it extremely expensive for an independent start-up to stay afloat in the business. The royalty increase will eat up 70 percent of Pandora's $25 million in revenue, Westergren said.

GNR's 'Democracy' To Be Retail Exclusive?
But some concrete signs are finally emerging that the album's release could be imminent. That's because, according to sources, negotiations are underway for "Chinese Democracy" to come out as an exclusive at one of the big boxes -- either Wal-Mart or Best Buy.

Wal-Mart to sell new AC/DC album exclusively
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said rock band AC/DC will sell its new album exclusively at namesake and Sam's Club locations in the U.S. The move - which makes the veteran rockers the latest artist to sell a new album only through Wal-Mart - highlights the company's growing music-industry clout.

The AC/DC deal, however, comes at a time when the retail giant - the largest seller of compact discs in the nation - is signaling that it may rock the music world by stocking fewer CDs. Such a move is part of a trend that would further accelerate the already-steep decline of CD sales as consumers make the transition to digital music. The album, called "Black Ice," will be available at the discount retailer's stores and Web sites Oct. 20, as well as on the band's Web site. It is AC/DC's first album of all-new material in eight years and will be priced at $11.88.

Topspin Delivers Byrne Eno Exclusive Album
Topspin's technology puts to the test starting today as they provide the technology behind the exclusive delivery of the first David Byrne & Brian Eno collaboration in 30 years. "The album is available exclusively from this Web site. You can stream all of the songs for free and purchase it in a variety of digital and physical formats, including a limited edition Deluxe Package designed by Stefan Sagmeister. All formats can be downloaded immediately and physical CDs will be shipped in the Fall." One track is available for free with options priced from $8.99 to $69.99; all include an immediate 320 kps mp3 album and booklet download. The site also offers free streaming of the entire release via this viral player...

CinemaNow downloads now playable on Macs
CinemaNow announced today it has signed a deal to use Widevine Technologies' multi-format digital rights management and copy-protection technology to make CinemaNow's video downloads playable on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. The technology also enables CinemaNow to stream movies to users through the Internet Explorer, FireFox, Safari and Opera browsers.

The move could help the company wrestle market share away from Apple iTunes, which dominates the paid digital video business. Up to now, iTunes has been the only download service to sell major studio movie downloads playable on Apple computers and PCs.

Legal P2P Music Service Doomed to Fail
If you can’t beat pirates, join them. This is Playlouder’s philosophy, a music download service that allows subscribers to download music from BitTorrent and other filesharing networks, while reimbursing the copyright owners. The concept sure is interesting, but the current setup is naive, flawed and doomed to fail.

Playlist my way? Not quite.
At first glance, Universal Music's new "Playlist Your Way" program may look like the company is finally catching on to one of the things that fans and digital music mavens have wanted for a long time: options. The company plans to sell greatest hits CDs from artists across a variety of genres which come with a card that lets the consumer download a 15-minute biographical podcast about the artist—basically, audio liner notes. The consumer also gets 6 additional tracks by the same artist "and/or" a studio album of his or her choosing.

The download card also features two digital music offers related to that artist: Consumers may choose six additional tracks and/or a full-length original studio album. With "Playlist Your Way," fans can complete their own "greatest hits album" or their music collection for that artist with physical product and/or digital downloads.

Friday, August 15, 2008

snapshot 8/15/08

Lyric Culture pays songwriters for their words
Online music thieves can't interfere with the hundreds of songwriters Hanna Rochelle Schmieder has on her payroll. Her company, Lyric Culture, prints famous song lyrics on high-end jeans and T-shirts — and pays artists for the privilege.

Xbox to sell Warner Music videos for $1.99
Gamers with a hankering to watch music videos will have more choices after Warner Music Group Corp. announced Thursday it is adding its library of videos to Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 game console. Videos from Sony BMG, which sell for the equivalent of $1.99, have been offered on the Xbox since last December.

Music Marketing, Alternative Reality Collide At Conference
Palmer predicted that social networks would replace album art as a way to learn about and share with musicians. Gottehrer predicted that albums will become evolving projects, with artists doing things like releasing a few tracks every few months in addition to releasing static records.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

snapshot 8/14/08

Universal Music Group Debuts Hybrid Music Package
Universal Music Enterprises announced today the "Playlist Your Way," a digital-physical hybrid package with a greatest hits CD and a download card that can be redeemed for a podcast on the artist as well as the choice of six additional tracks and/or a full-length original studio album. Looks like the main point is to get CD buyers to test drive digital downloading. Another stated benefit is the podcast as a replacement for the more limited information that can be offered in a CD booklet. (More information, less practical.)

The press release does not give pricing information, but lists 16 "Playlist Your Way" CDs with an August 5 street date and a $10.99 list price. All 16 titles are already being sold as used items by third parties. They're going for less on eBay.

Handleman Reports $65 Million Loss In Quarter
The Handleman Co., in a continuation of its management-led liquidation, reported that the company lost $65.6 million, or $3.22 per diluted share on sales $91.5 million, for the fiscal quarter ended May 3. The company's loss is largely attributed to its decision to liquidate, as it booked a $30 million goodwill impairment charge and a $17.2 million impairment of subsidiary assets and a $20.5 million loss from discontinued operations, which including its North American rackjobbing operation; its Artist To Market unit; and its UK operation, all of which have been sold or in the process of being sold.

FCC leaks second-gen Slacker media player
Slacker is developing a smaller, upgraded version of its unique Wi-Fi media player, according to an FCC filing. Dubbed the G2 Personal Portable Radio, the device is visibly smaller and more rounded than the original but also adds wireless links that aren't present in the original, including 802.11a Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 for short-range peripherals, and an FM radio to complement Slacker's existing technique of automatically downloading songs from the Internet.

Disc Makers Starts Courting the Elite...
Established artists are increasingly leaving the major label nest and flying solo. Perhaps the biggest example comes from Radiohead, though a growing number of artists - including Nine Inch Nails and Tori Amos - are making big moves without the help of a big company.

The financial argument is compelling, though the amount of heavy-lifting is daunting. That opens the door for new entrants, a slot that New York-based Disc Makers plans to fill. According to confidential sources familiar with the initiative, Disc Makers is now planning to launch a sister company called Elite Artist Services, an outfit geared towards upper-level, post-label acts. Elite Artist Services will offer a range of physical and digital services, including disc manufacturing, merchandising, ecommerce infrastructure, and asset distribution. Those services would be offered within a no-strings contract, though ahead of a formal announcement, exact terms of the planned agreements remain unclear. The move is part of a broader expansion for Disc Makers, a company that recently acquired CD Baby.

The Jamendo Free Music Story
On Jamendo artists allow anyone to download and share their music. It's free, legal and unlimited. Patrick Haour, the site's chief of music shares how the wonderfully simple concept was born and where they are taking it.

Simplify Media for iPhone
The Simplify Media iPhone application (iTunes link) v1.1 has hit the App Store. As you can see from the video, with Simplify Media installed on your Mac and on your iPhone or iPod touch, you can stream your home iTunes library to your mobile device wherever you may be. It will supposedly work over EDGE, 3G, or WiFi and promises what might be the holy grail for mobile audio devices -- practically unlimited storage.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

snapshot 8/13/08

Best Buy to sell iPhone in the U.S.
Best Buy Co Inc. will be the first national retailer to sell Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) iPhone in the United States in a partnership that could help drive sales of a device expected to be one of the hottest gadgets this holiday season.

Vudu now offering 99c rentals
Vudu (see our early review) has cheapened its set-top box movie service in the right way by offering heavily discounted rentals through its newly launched “99 for 99″ movie channel. As the name suggests, 99 movies will be on offer priced at just 99 Cents per rental. Titles will be “personally” chosen by Vudu’s “in-house movie expert” Steven Horn, and will include both recent releases and “classics”, with selections rotated each week.

‘The iTunes Download’ to debut this weekend
Premiere Radio Networks has announced the launch of ”The iTunes Download,” a new three-hour weekend countdown show hosted by iTunes Director of Music Programming Alex Luke. In addition to playing a selection of the 30 most downloaded songs from iTunes, the show will feature interviews with high-profile artists, celebrity playlists, and iMixes. President of Premiere Radio Networks Charlie Rahilly said, “Being the first radio company to do a national show with iTunes demonstrates our desire and ability to explore unprecedented ways to reach, entertain and involve listeners.” “The iTunes charts have become the first indicator, each week, of what millions of music fans are buying,” said Luke. “Radio is where more music buyers first hear what they want to buy and iTunes is the place they go to do it—now we’re connecting the two.” “The iTunes Download” will debut this weekend on Top 40 radio stations nationwide, and will air on Saturdays or Sundays.

Indie bands talk digital music and life without the labels
Panda Riot is a Chicago-based electronic distortion band originally founded in 2005. After recording its first full album in 2007 "in a tiny bedroom in Philadelphia" with the help of a MacBook Pro and Apple's Logic Pro software, Panda Riot began selling music—simultaneously in both CD and online form—in November. Since the band's music sales adventure is still quite young, its perspective on online music is a little different than the old guard that runs, say, the Big Four music labels.

Panda Riot uses Tunecore to sell its music through iTunes in the US, Canada, Japan, and Italy, as well as Amazon MP3. But, as we mentioned in our Tunecore feature, the real key to success online is promoting your music—otherwise, no one has a reason to be aware of it and buy it. "It's all social network type stuff. Blogs are a huge part of the equation too, and Internet Radio (like also plays a big role," Cook said. "It's all about finding avenues that are global."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

snapshot 8/12/08

MySpace faces rejection, internal dissent in hiring music venture CEO
MySpace Inc.'s search for a new CEO to run the MySpace Music joint venture has hit a number of snags, not the least of which is that its preferred candidates have declined the job. Another obstacle: Key technology executives inside the company have urged top brass not to hire a new leader until after MySpace Music launches next month.

The source describes the technology team's push to launch MySpace Music in September as "all-consuming and desperate," adding that any further delays could jeopardize the venture's relationships with content partners. While leadership for the music division is badly needed, the source said, the technology team either wanted a new CEO several months ago, or wants one a month or two into the future -- but not now. DeWolfe and Kapur are overseeing MySpace music's development a chief executive is hired.

Starz kills Vongo online movie service
Vongo, a service provided by Starz Entertainment, was one of the first major players in the online movie space. But it looks like Starz has decided to pull the plug on Vongo. Starz will now focus on Starz Play, a service the company recently launched for Verizon. Starz Play looks and feels a lot like Vongo -- but it has Verizon branding all over it. Starz is pursuing similar partnerships with other companies.

Current Vongo customers can continue using the service through September 30th. There's some good news in the announcement. Vongo customers paid $9.99 a month for unlimited movie downloads. Starz Play charges just $5.99 for access to the same content library.

States may tax iTunes, other digital downloads
With retail e-commerce sales now estimated to exceed $130 billion a year, and iTunes song purchases topping 5 billion, state politicians and tax collectors have begun to levy new fees on digital downloads.

Text message in your Netflix movies and Amazon wish lists with Kwiry
Kwiry, a service that allows you to interact with different web services through your phone, now allows you to use text messages to send in movies you wish to add to your Netflix movie rental queue. You do this simply by texting “netflix” and then the name of the movie you want to add to Kwiry’s number, 59479 (k-w-i-r-y).

Kwiry is also launching similar integration with Amazon’s Wish List feature. This is the area of the site where you can add items that you hope to buy, or that someone will buy for you later. Simply text “amazon” followed by the name of the product you wish to add to the same 59479 number and the product will be in the list the next time you check it.