Friday, August 31, 2007

snapshot 8/31/07

NBC Universal ends contract with iTunes
NBC Universal has decided not to renew its contract to sell television shows on iTunes, becoming the second major media company to challenge Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) dominance in digital entertainment. NBC Universal had demanded more control over pricing for digital downloads of its shows, which include "Battlestar Gallactica" and "Heroes," said a source familiar with the matter on Friday, confirming a New York Times report.
Apple has announced that they will not be offering NBC television shows for the upcoming season on iTunes. In the announcement, Apple revealed that NBC wanted it to pay more than double the wholesale price for each episode, a move that would have resulted in the retail price of each episode increasing from $1.99 per episode to an eye-popping $4.99 per episode. Apple also noted that ABC, CBS, FOX and The CW, along with more than 50 cable networks, are signed up to sell TV shows from their upcoming season on iTunes at $1.99 per episode. to launch music service in September: report Inc has tentatively set a mid-September target for the launch of its music service, the New York Post reported in its online edition on Friday, citing sources familiar with the situation. T he store will offer songs in the MP3 format and give consumers an alternative to Apple Inc's iTunes, the report said.

Apple is in the midst of developing an offering with the major music labels to sell ringers to iPhone users via iTunes, multiple sources familiar with the situation said. The service - expected to be unveiled when Apple announces its new lineup of iPods - would allow users to turn almost any song sold through iTunes into a ringtone for an additional fee. The exact price was unclear.

SpiralFrog Licenses Universal Music Publishing
SpiralFrog, Inc., the free ad-supported Web-based music service, today announced it has entered into agreements with Universal Music Canada and Universal Music Publishing Group, which will allow music from Canada's leading music company and the world's largest music publisher, to be utilized on its service. Publishing agreements allow SpiralFrog use of the underlying musical compositions. Music publishers control the rights to melodies and song lyrics and make their money licensing them. While SpiralFrog had previously licensed the catalog of UMG Recordings in the United States and Canada, these new agreements grant crucial rights from the world’s largest music publisher.

Music dancing in September
September will be a big month for new albums: Kenny Chesney, Kanye West, 50 Cent, James Blunt, KT Tunstall, Babyface, Barry Manilow (more cover songs), Rascal Flatts, Foo Fighters, Melissa Etheridge, Iron & Wine and Steve Earle.

Downward Pricing Pressure From Amazon?
Earlier this year, Berry Ritholtz argued -- based on some info from an industry insider -- that the $9.99 iTunes album price was helping to drive down the price of physical CDs at and other retailers. But I'm starting to wonder if the reverse will happen -- that cheap CD prices at Amazon will result in downward pressure on the iTunes album price, at least for older catalog material.Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Amazon touting its latest music promotion: 899 CDs priced at $8.99. While I'm not about to look up iTunes prices for all 899, I did a quick check of the 24 albums on the landing page for this promotion and found that of the 19 albums that are available at iTunes (no AC-DC, minimal Bob Seger!), only two of them are less expensive as downloads. The $8.99 CD price is cheaper for all the others.

Earnings: Vivendi Up As Music Downloads Double, Games Grow 91.9 Percent
Digital music sales from the Universal Music Group, the world’s largest label, almost doubled (at constant currency rate) but the group’s earnings fell EUR 75 million ($102.2 million) from the same period last year to EUR 220 million ($299.8 million). Universal reckoned it “significantly outperformed its competitors on an operating basis” in a difficult market.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

snapshot 8/30/07

Apple seen revamping iPod line
Apple Inc. shares rose more than 5 percent on Wednesday on growing expectations that the company will announce a revamped line of iPods next week. Technology news Web sites have speculated that Apple could launch a new video iPod with a large touch screen similar to the iPhone, and a redesigned iPod nano in time for the end-of-year holiday shopping season.

Sony ditching Connect music service
Acknowledging its proprietary audio technology was a marketplace flop, Sony Corp. said Thursday it plans to shutter its Connect digital music store and open its portable media players to other formats. The moves were announced Thursday at a Berlin consumer electronics trade fair as the Japanese electronics pioneer unveiled a pair of new digital Walkmans that can play the Windows Media Audio, MP3 and AAC audio formats.

Sony said it would phase out operations of its struggling Connect online retailer, which sold songs in the company's proprietary ATRAC format. "This gives customers greater flexibility in their music software approach," the company said in a statement. "As a result, Sony will be phasing out the Connect Music Services based on Sony's ATRAC audio format in North America and Europe." In an e-mail sent to Connect users, the service said it would not close before March 2008, but it did not set a more specific date. The company's Connect e-book service for the Sony Reader is not affected.

Controlling Access--Activation and DRM
You're selling something digital (software, music, video, e-books, whatever), and you want to make sure that people actually buy it. Broadband penetration is higher than ever, fast file-sharing software like Bittorrent is easier to use than ever, and about 30 seconds of searching on any number of sites will turn up just about any digital thing worth having. In short, it's downright trivial for people to steal what you're trying to sell. The RIAA's propensity to troll with a wide net of random lawsuits notwithstanding, it's really very hard to catch the thieves in that great anonymous, international cloud of the Internet. And as we all know, "free" always wins.

So how do you make sure that the people who use your stuff actually paid for it? One method is to use Digital Rights Management, of course. "DRM" is a blanket term that gets thrown around a lot these days. The loudest voices don't seem to truly understand it (which makes sense: understanding it takes the fear away, so people with a good handle on DRM don't tend to scream "the sky is falling" over it). DRM is, simply put, a software mechanism that "manages" your "digital rights." This can be anything from the DRM Microsoft has developed for Windows Media (audio and video, though certainly it's possible to create WMV and WMA files that are DRM-free), to the FairPlay DRM added onto all the AAC files that Apple sells on the iTunes Music Store, to the stuff attached to Blu-ray and HD DVD movies.

Handleman Posts Widened Losses, Pushes Diversification
US-based retailer Handleman posted stronger revenues during the most recent quarter, though losses widened. The company disclosed revenues of $274.2 million for the three-month period ending July 28th, a 14 percent bump over year-ago figures of $240.4 million. Losses totaled $17.7 million, or $.88 per diluted share, compared to year-ago losses of $5.9 million, or $.30 per diluted share.

Handleman chairman and chief executive Stephen Strome pointed to a major downturn from music-related assets, particularly CDs. Specifically, music-related losses topped $13.8 million, according to the company. "Although our operating performance improved over last year's first quarter, the music industry continues to decline and impact our music revenues," Strome noted. "As a result, we are taking actions to further reduce costs and improve operating performance as well as initiate opportunities for diversification."

Video gaming to be twice as big as music by 2011
Hence our ears perked up when Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said last week that the video game market was poised for massive growth—a 50 percent increase over the next four years. Assuming that Guillemot isn't simply blowing fumée about his industry's growth potential (always a possibility at these kind of events), video games will soon run eclipse both box office revenues and recorded music revenues. That a lot of copies of Halo to move; is gaming really ready to get this big? Let's run the numbers.

Gaming had some major growth, but much of it was in the past, when the industry surged from $2.6 billion in sales to $7 billion between 1996 and 2000. Over the last five years, though, none of the three categories has shown much evidence of explosive growth. Music (which includes CD sales, digital sales, music video sales, and mobile song downloads), in fact, has dropped from a peak of $14.58 billion in 1999 to only $11.5 billion in 2006, and it is expected to fall even further by 2010.

Nokia Music Store – First Take
Nokia today announced their much anticipated digital music strategy. So was it worth the wait? Well the devices were, the latter two Xpress Music devices in particular from a music perspective. The three way sync is also a nice, innovative alternative to dual delivery. But beyond that, the music service is a disappointment. The music subscription service is a PC only streaming service that does not support portable downloads and as such is a generation behind current offerings. And it begs the question, why is a mobile handset manufacturer launching a music subscription service which does not support portable downloads or mobile streaming? Similarly the download service is essentially a ‘me too’ offering, based around 99 cents, windows DRM wrapped single track downloads.

First Zune 2 and Zune Flash Shots
Here are the first shots of the Zune 2 and Zune Flash. The images reveal an 80GB version and a 4 and 8GB flash model.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

snapshot 8/29/07

Nokia wades into new music services
Nokia, the world's top mobile phone maker, unveiled on Wednesday a new online music store, new top-end handsets and a global gaming service as it takes on recent rival U.S. rival Apple (AAPL.O). Nokia said it would roll out its own music store in key European markets later this year, with songs selling for 1 euro ($1.36) each.

News Corp and NBC Universal name video site Hulu
News Corp. and NBC Universal said on Wednesday they have named their new online video joint venture Hulu. The two media companies said the site will be available for private trials by consumers by October - a month later than originally planned. to host nationwide concert tour
In a move that further shapes its image as an MTV-like pop-culture hub as well as a social network, News Corp.'s has announced that it will be sponsoring a concert tour this fall. Appropriately called the MySpace Music Tour, the series of shows will kick off October 16 in Seattle and will host more than 30 performances before winding down in Las Vegas around Thanksgiving.

Speculation: The Beatles on iTunes Sept. 5
Yesterday afternoon, Apple e-mailed out press invitations to a "special event" to be held next Wednesday in San Francisco's Moscone Center, and ever since speculation has been mounting that this will be the day that Steve Jobs announces that The Beatles -- the best-selling musical act of all time, at least in the U.S. -- have finally come to the iTunes Music Store.

EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Speakerheart CEO Jozef Nuyens
Recently PassAlong Networks spun off its Speakerheart division which enables download transactions for indie and D.I.Y. artists. From Snocap to Sonific to Musicane and beyond, Speakerheart has plenty of competition, so we asked CEO Jozef Nuyens what sets his offering apart.

Talking CD case spruces up those mundane disc gifts
As if singing cards weren't zany enough, along comes a product that takes the idea one step further. Pre-vu's talking CD case enables customers to cram burnt home videos or any other optical disc into an enclosure that actually plays back up to sixty seconds of pre-recorded chatter.

PMP/MP3 Market Tracker - Q3 2007
In 2006, the worldwide broadband digital music market grew to $1.56 billion in revenues, with a 77% vs. 23% split between downloads and subscriptions. Growth in both segments will continue to be strong through 2010, although the music downloads will expand more rapidly than subscriptions. While market growth will slow gradually from 2006 to 2008, iSuppli expects a small resurgence of growth resulting from greater broadband connectivity... View Abstract [ pdf ]

iJigg, Digg for music, growing despite competition
iJigg is what it sounds like: A social media ranking site like Digg, but for finding great music. The site’s front page features the most popular tracks and newest tracks from other users, that you can listen to with a click of a button without having to sign up. If you register, you can vote on your favorite tracks, upload your own music files — currently only mp3 files — comment on what you’re listening to, edit your profile and friend other users. Those who upload tracks can choose to let others download them for free.

iJigg has had more than 12 million pageviews so far this month, and more than 250,000 tracks are being listened to on an average day, it claims. More than 130,000 people have registered with around 1,700 more joining per day. Not bad, considering the site launched this past January and was still very small when we first talked to the company in April.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

snapshot 8/28/07

TVs, PCs fight for living room space at tech fair
Internet TV, mobile TV and video on demand may be the talk of the technology sector but when it comes to buying decisions at this week's IFA electronics fair, television sets are set to be bigger business than ever. In time, though, televisions, hi-fis and other analogue equipment are expected to be replaced by PC-based systems. Gartner estimates this will take another three to four years. By that time, most market researchers expect TV set sales to begin falling.

CD Baby Now Selling Digital Downloads
Online retailer/distributor CD Baby is giving its retail website a long-overdue update (the current bare-bones look is supposedly a transitional design that will change later this week). But the big news is that CD Baby now sells mp3 versions of the albums in its catalog. It looks the pricing for the download version of an album (mp3s and album art in a zip file) is the same as that of the physical CD -- here's the page for one of our CDs. That makes it variable, as each musician/label in the catalog sets its own retail price. There's currently no option to purchase single songs and I couldn't find any details on bit rates for the mp3 files.And no details yet on the how the money for direct download sales will break down for the self-released musicians in the CD Baby catalog. As a distributor, CD Baby takes a 9% cut from the revenues it receives from digital retailers -- iTunes, eMusic, Napster, Rhapsody, etc.

I bought an album to see what they were offering - MP3s are 256kbps, album art is 800X800 JPEG, liner notes are text.

Mocha and music as Starbucks serves up a record label
The signing earlier this month of James Taylor to Hear Music, the record label owned by Starbucks Entertainment, completes a triumvirate of “heritage” artists that includes Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell. Hear Music has made a hot start, with McCartney’s Memory Almost Full album, released in June, already boasting global sales of more than 1m. About half of its 500,000 US sales have been in Starbucks stores.

As music companies struggle with the economics of declining footfall at retail, Hear Music is an attractive proposition to such veteran acts. A partnership between Starbucks Entertainment and the Beverly Hills-based Concord Music Group, it has far lower overheads than a major label and an umbilical link to its own distribution network: Starbucks’ 13,000 stores worldwide and their 44m customers a week.

Dialogue with eMusic CEO Pakman
The average iTunes customer buys one song per month, spends about $10 a year on iTunes. The average eMusic customer buys 20 songs per month and spends $168. Is this model for everybody? Of course not. But we’re not trying to appeal to everyone.

The number of people in our focus and demographic is at least 5-10 million right now. ... (But a current study of baby boomers who retailers don’t really cater to) shows that 33% of boomers spend $50 on music a year. That’s 25 million people, and they are becoming increasingly tech savvy. If you are focused on selling music to a teen audience, that market is shrinking. For 2007 so far, people 25 and younger represents only 27% of music sales. We’re focused on the other 73%.

INgrooves' One Digital Adds Film & Video
Digital distributor INgrooves has launched a film & ideo division and signed several high profile content and Ingroovesjpgretailer relationships. The new division, to be headed by President & COO Adam Hiles, will leverage the distribution capabilities of INgrooves’ ONE Digital software platform to automate all administration functions for its film & video clients.

At launch the service represents over 2,000 films and videos from IndiePix, Media Vision Entertainment Group, Pistol Digital and Capistrano Films. INgrooves Film & Video will also distribute content to several of its current music retail partners who are beginning to sell video including iTunes, Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, AOL Music and MediaNet. Additionally, INgrooves will distribute through multiple mobile outlets including, Mobile Streams, Zingy, Jamster, and Moderati.

MySpace Streams Projekt Revolution, Grabs Million-Plus Viewers
MySpace has evolved into an incredibly important music industry player, thanks to a combination of user-generated and produced content. On the user-generated side, MySpace now claims more than three million band profile pages, a number that continues to grow. On the produced side, MySpace has been building its profile with secret shows, album previews, and other goodies. Just last week, the social networking destination streamed a star-studded Projekt Revolution tour, and drew one million viewers to the flame.

The tour, headlined by Linkin Park, was featured as part of the larger MySpace Live series. Others on stage included My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday, and the total performance lasted six hours. The action, filmed from Michigan, also incorporated live footage from fans carrying ComVu PocketCaster Nokia N95s. The show was sponsored by State Farm Insurance, and available on

MySpace Debating Allowing Users To Start Commerce/Selling On Their Pages
After holding out for long and being the subject of some controversies along the route, MySpace (NYSE: NWS) is debating on whether to allow commerce between its members, reports LAT. Till now, its reasoning was that it didn’t want to jeopardize the corporate advertising that accounts for the vast majority of its profit. But with Facebook and other social nets allowing it, and with some amount of success, it is now thinking about it. The users are already doing it, and policing that has been a hard task for the small staff enforcing the rules, hence the possible change of mind.

Hewlett-Packard promotes benefits of content digitization
After successfully getting a DVD of Barry Bonds’ record-breaking 756th home run to fans two days after the historic event, Hewlett-Packard and Ascent Media Group are offering their digitization services to the broader Hollywood community. Following successful initial results with studio partners Sony Pictures Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, among others, H-P and AMG are showing suppliers how a digital network of their content can save significant money when transitioning an analog library into digital files for delivery to various media platforms, such as DVD, broadcast, mobile and broadband.

“We are committing to 50% cost reduction in automating these [digitization] processes,” said Tom Kuehle, VP of digital content services at H-P. “These are processes that have been mostly tape-based. Once assets are digitized, it completely lubricates their distribution.”

New Creative Player Does iTunes Tracks
Creative's newest Zen player is the first from the company to support AAC music and iTunes Plus tracks from the iTunes Music Store, the company said.

Monday, August 27, 2007

snapshot 8/27/07

Digital music services try to nibble away at Apple
Several digital music service providers -- including MTV's Urge, Rhapsody, Verizon Wireless, Wal-Mart and Yahoo Music -- have unveiled new forays designed to shine light on their struggling services in the shadow of Apple's still-dominant iTunes.

While no individual effort is likely to dislodge Apple from its No. 1 position, all are clearly efforts to chip away at its commanding lead. According to data from NPD Group, Apple controls 73.7 percent of the retail digital-music market, with more than 3 billion tracks sold since it went live. iTunes is also the third-largest music retailer of any kind, surpassed only by Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

SanDisk Announces Super-Small MP3 Player
In a direct move to challenge Apple's dominance of the itty-bitty MP3 player market, SanDisk today announced its super-tiny Sansa Clip. This extremely small and wearable music device is barely bigger than a pack of matches and comes in memory capacities of 1 and 2GB for $39.99 and $59.99, respectively. Though the 1GB version only comes in black, the more expensive 2GB model will be available in multiple hues of red, pink, and blue.

Of course, the Clip is named after its clip-on fastener which lets you attach it conveniently to clothes, the same way the Apple Shuffle does. The big difference here is, unlike the Shuffle, the Clip sports a slick OLED screen for navigating tracks and controlling the player's other functions. Besides playback of MP3, WAV, WMA (both protected and not), and Audible audio formats, the Clip features an FM tuner/recorder, plus an internal microphone. The Clip is expected to support various music services including Rhapsody to Go, Napster, and eMusic.

Pass the Popcorn. But Where’s the Movie?
According to Craig Moffett, vice president and senior analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, cable’s video-on-demand is well positioned, technically speaking, to be the preferred way that movies reach the home, but the Cable Guys cannot get access to Hollywood’s products: “They built a Ferrari of a delivery engine, but the content owners didn’t show up.”

The movie studios are preternaturally suspicious of the new and unfamiliar. Their fear has nothing to do with crunching the numbers, but rather with large organizations’ tendency to lose sight of their interests — not to mention their customers’. Thanks to the efficiencies of digital delivery, the studios actually earn three times the margin on each video-on-demand viewed that they earn on a store rental, while charging the same $4.

As Download Services Go DRM Free Where Are The Indies?
As the major download services add DRM-free tracks from EMI and Universal, where is music fromDrm_anti_wall the indies? Indie music after all makes up 70-80% of all new releases by volume and 30% of sales. And it's not that indie labels don't want to sell DRM-free to iTunes,, Rhapsody and others. Most indies already sell DRM-free at bargain prices via eMusic. And even a Walmart_2 usually selective Wal-Mart has virtually unlimited shelf space in their digital storefront.

Diversification Pushes CD Prospects Southward, Analyst
CDs are now sliding precipitously, especially in the United States, and that has intensified media diversification efforts at major retailers. Store-specific numbers vary, though broader figures have been soggy. At the halfway point, year-over-year disc sales in the United States dropped 15.1 percent, according to Nielsen Soundscan. That gap has since broadened to 18.4 percent, according to more updated, year-to-date information released last week.

For retailers like Trans World, Hastings, and Virgin Megastores, diversification has now become an accelerated survival tactic. During the recent quarter, music-specific sales at Trans World dropped 19 percent on a comparable store basis. That is more severe than dips of 16 percent recorded during the same quarter last year, and represents a worsening trend. "Trans World has 950 stores and we would expect them to continue to deemphasize music over the next 12-24 months," said Richard Greenfield of Pali Research during a recent investor note. Greenfield noted that Trans World has already lowered its music-specific selection to 43 percent of total inventory, down from 47 percent last year.

The decreased selection means less consumer matches, and lowered sales volumes. "As floor space continues to contract at physical retail, we are increasingly concerned that the rate of decline in CD sales will materially accelerate in 2008," Greenfield asserted.

Music online is different. It’s not just ‘new format’ different — it’s ‘new ballgame’ different. But some rules still apply.
1) More distribution is better than less distributionDoesn’t matter whether you’re selling shellac 78rpm records or house tracks as 320kbps mp3s. The more places your music is available, the more chances people are going to have to stumble over it. That’s not job done, of course — making something available is not the same as marketing it — but it’s the other half of the equation.

iPod and iPhone Media Download Kiosks Coming January 2008
Although the "upcoming" Zune music kiosk download feature seems obvious thanks to the player's Wi-Fi capabilities, being able to download music onto your iPod or iPhone on the go seems less obvious. However, 22Moo has just announced a date for their iPod- and iPhone-compatible internet kiosk station that lets you download movies, videos, games and music onto your player when you're on the go. The launch is planned for January '08 at CES and MacWorld.

Friday, August 24, 2007

snapshot 8/24/07

New DRM scheme will let consumers stream cable TV over home networks
Cable subscribers should soon be able to stream cable TV programming over their home networks, as CableLabs has announced its approval of a new streaming protocol. Called DTCP-IP (Digital Transmission Copy Protection), the new spec will use DRM to lock down content to ensure that it doesn't escape the cozy confines of cable subscribers' homes.

Here's what consumers will get: they will be able to move content across their home networks for viewing on devices that aren't attached to a set-top box. That will include PCs as well as portable devices, and high-definition and video-on-demand programming will be covered by DTCP-IP.

SoundExchange Inks Royalty Deal With Large Webcasters - Small Guys Waiting For Congress
SoundExchange has reached an accord with the largest online broadcasters for per stream royalty payments. Under the new agreement, which lasts until 2010, SoundExchange will cap the total that the largest commercial broadcasters will have to pay at $50,000 for all streams, instead of $500 per channel. Prior to this deal, the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) stated that there would be no limit to the $500 per-channel or per-station minimum fee that services must pay to SoundExchange.

In addition, the big web broadcasters will not be mandated to incorporate technology to prevent the streamed music from being ripped by listeners at this time, but will discuss options for the future.The decision comes on the heels of SoundExchange offering small webcasters a deal that would maintain the old rate structure through 2010, but has not been well received.

DivX unveils “Connected” media extender
DivX has officially unveiled its “Connected” media extender platform. Previously codenamed “GejBox”, the device is designed to deliver content from a PC onto the living room television — entering a crowded market that includes the AppleTV, Playstation 3, XBox 360, as well as dozens of streaming media boxes from companies such as Netgear and Cisco, some of which already license DivX’s own video compression technology.

…the device has no hard disk or fully-fledged CPU, and instead the connected PC handles most of the work by converting its display data into a DivX video stream which can then be decoded at the other end using the GejBox’s built-in DivX chip. The fact that the device doesn’t need additional processing power or storage should make it a lot cheaper than its competitors.

Walmart Photos QuickUpload for Safari
I use Walmart's online photo service quite a bit; it's cheap and quality is rather good for the cost (if a bit too dark). The best thing about it is that that you can upload your photos from home and pick them up an hour later at most Walmart locations for 19 cents each (4x6). The downside is the web browser form-based uploading. You have to select the images one by one, which obviously takes forever if you have a lot of pictures. Naturally enough they have desktop software for Windows, but not Mac. However, I recently had a lot of photos to upload and started digging around their site for a better solution. After a lot of clicking, I finally came across a deeply buried and hard-to-find little gem: the QuickUpload plugin for Safari. If you download and install it (I've only tested it with Safari 2), it will allow you to select and upload an indefinite number of photos much more easily. So what I do is export the photos I want to print from Aperture to a folder on my Desktop, then select that folder with the QuickUploader and let it do its thing.

But I Already HAVE a DVD Player!
Let’s harken back to the VHS / Betamax war. We’ve all heard the stories, the accusations, and the innuendo. There are many reasons that Betamax lost but two of them are because of the longer recording time of VHS and the fact that the VHS players hit that magic $200 price point first. Most people don’t care about quality. They don’t get it, and when you explain it to them they don’t care.

What’s round, shiny, and can play music and/or movies? About 20 different types of discs. DVDs, CDs, CD-Rs, SACDs, DVD-As, and now HD DVDs and Blu-rays. Enough is enough! We’ve all seen the shiny round disc. We use the old ones for decorations and coasters. The magic is gone. If you really want to capture the public’s imagination, release a NEW format and I don’t mean another stupid shiny disc. Make it square, oval, make it the shape of a crystal or Mickey Mouse for all I care. Make it solid state, give it a display, make it huge, tiny, thin, fat... it doesn’t matter. Just make it different. People have been handling the same media for YEARS now. If you really want to get them excited, release something different.

Was MTV's Rhapsody Decision Really Punishment For Microsoft Abandoning PlaysForSure?
We chalked up MTV's decision to drop Microsoft for RealNetworks in its online music store efforts to MTV's typical internet bumbling. However, there is another interesting possibility. MTV dumped Microsoft to punish the company for pulling the rug out from under them when it killed off "PlaysForSure" DRM. You may recall that Microsoft used to have its own DRM that it tried to get pushed as an industry standard. The company called it "PlaysForSure" in a bit of marketing hubris to try to make sure people felt comfortable with it. There was just one teensy problem. When Microsoft decided to get into the business of selling its own digital music players, it wouldn't support PlaysForSure, making the name that much more ironic. When your own digital music players won't play your own PlaysForSure DRM files, you have a problem. Not only did it screw over all the users who had been buying PlaysForSure files, it hurt all the different music stores, including MTV's, that had bet on PlaysForSure. So, with that in mind, it's no wonder that MTV decided to find someone else to partner with.

Trans World Entertainment Announces Second Quarter 2007 Results
Trans World Entertainment Corporation today announced total sales decreased 10% to $267.3 million for the second quarter ended August 4, 2007, compared to $298.3 million in the second quarter of 2006.

Universal Music Group Grabs Top YouTube Channel Ranking
Universal Music Group, easily the largest of the roost, surprised onlookers this month by triggering a major experiment in MP3-based sales. But the company has also been allocating considerable energies towards its YouTube partnership, despite cloudy revenue models. Just recently, the major hoisted a number one position among YouTube channels, which are dedicated collections of content from specific providers.

The first-place ranking was prompted by 167 million total views, a record result that outdistances competitors like CBS and NBC. From a broader perspective, that is mostly a drop in the bucket - according to figures released last year by Hitwise, YouTube serves more than 100 million videos daily, a number that has probably increased markedly.

Finding DRM-Free Music Online
Just this week, Wal-Mart began selling unprotected MP3s of many Universal Music Group and EMI songs through its website. RealNetworks, MTV, and Verizon have also teamed up to launch Rhapsody America, a music service catered toward mobile phone users that will provide DRM-free downloads, in the near future. Even LimeWare, a P2P software maker, has recently announced that it plans to be part of the DRM-free movement (this time legitimately).

While the progression of things suggests that all online music will eventually be DRM-free, there’s no need to wait to get in on the DRM-free action. Check out the DRM-free online music retailers below to get better quality music that plays on virtually any handheld music device, on any computer, and with any music program. The retailers covered provide music from both major and minor labels.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

snapshot 8/23/07

Microsoft, Limelight strike online media deal
Limelight Networks Inc and Microsoft Corp said on Thursday that they had entered into a technology agreement in which the Web content delivery company will help improve the reliability of the software maker's online services, such as video, music and games. Limelight will provide media streaming and content delivery services to Microsoft under a multiyear deal. The two companies also agreed to cross-license their technologies.

IPod Rivals At Drawing Board
Other makers of MP3 devices -- the name comes from a digital audio standard compatible with most digital music players -- are still searching for a feature or two that will help them stand out. Creative Technology and San-Disk (NasdaqGS:SNDK - News)have been particularly active. With the fall approaching, the MP3 suppliers are girding for their big Christmas season push with new features and models.

Consumers should expect devices with more network connectivity, lower prices, bigger displays and more support for gaming.

Vringo does video ringtones Vringo offers sharable video ringtones that work with smart phones from Sony-Ericsson, Motorola, and Nokia (like the affable N73 in the picture). You can choose a "VringForward"--that is a video ringtone--to assign to each person in your phone's buddy list. The cool part is--they'll see the video when you call them. A "VringBack", on the other hand, is a video that one of your buddies has chosen for you to see when they give you a call. What's even more nifty, you can record videos with your phone's camera and share those as VringForwards, too. So, if it's your best friend's birthday, you could create a special birthday greeting just for her. Plus, Vringo offers a slew of licensed video content from big-name music publishers.

One Has The Brains, One Has The Money, But Will Americans Buy Into It?
Rhapsody is the brains of the two. The subscription service is the best in its peer group and has succeeded while MTV's URGE has failed. But subscription services are a game of scale, and Rhapsody drastically needs to increase its numbers of subscribers. Enter MTV. The company has the money and the marketing muscle. MTV will provide a five-year, $230 million note to the joint venture. (In return, RealNetworks has agreed to buy $230 million of advertising on MTV cable channels over the next five years.)

Is America ready for a subscription service like Rhapsody America? It depends on a lot of things. Mainly it depends on Americans' willingness to rent music. Thus far the idea of renting music -- streaming it and/or downloading protected music files to compatible, non-iPod music players -- has not taken off. Subscription services are a niche in this country of downloaders. The word "rent" is fine for movies, but it's been a non-starter for music.

Six years ago, analysts thought subscriptions would soon overtake downloads. In this 2002 PC World article, said Jupiter Media Metrix expected subscription services to generate $1 billion in 2006 while downloads would account for only $600 million. What happened in 2006? According to RIAA figures, subscriptions accounted for $206 million (that would be PC-based subscriptions, not mobile-based) while digital downloads totaled $857 million

uPlayMe raises “multi-millions,” joins pile of music services
uPlayMe, the latest in a ever growing pile of companies offering a desktop application to let you connect with people through shared tastes in music, said it has raised a “multi-million” round of funding. The New York company uses a recommendation engine, looking at the music you’ve played and letting you contact other users who have recently played the same music. I

Archos 605 contains evidence of massive content partnerships?
A couple of lines in a settings file does not a partnership make, but some enterprising hackers at the Archos Community Forums have discovered evidence that Archos is planning at least one large-scale content deal when the super-hot 605 launches in the US. Poking around in the unit's provider.xml file inside the system folder, user Plissken007 discovered pointers to not one, but eight major content partners for wireless media distribution, including some with live holder pages on the Archos website. Notables include Best Buy, Cicuit City, Amazon (for Unbox, probably), MovieLink, Vongo, AOL, and, of course, YouTube. Now, we can't see Best Buy and Circuit City sharing space like this, so Archos is probably hedging their bets a little, but if it's true, it looks like there's finally going to be a major competitor to Apple's iPod / iTunes ecosystem out there, eh?

SpiralFrog: Free Music Alive And Hopping
Songs on SpiralFrog are not ad-supported through interstitial advertising or free in the sense that you can bring them anywhere. Instead, you get DRMed songs (WMA) leased to you for a free 30 day membership (or you can buy on Amazon). You can renew your membership, and the lease to play your songs, by answering survey questions (# concerts per year, how you discover music, etc). All that data helps SpiralFrog know what kind of ads to serve on the site.

To keep the whole system secure, they’ve locked down the download process end to end DRM controls. First you have to get a download manager, and then ensure you have Windows Media Player 9.0 or up. The system is kind of annoying and only works on Windows machines since it uses Microsoft DRM. Although, Microsoft DRM has already been cracked. The DRM requirement also means the songs only play through Windows Media Player, making them unportable. Unlike other DRM setups, though, there doesn’t appear to be a limit to the number of computers you can download to as long as you set SpiralFrog up on them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

snapshot 8/22/07

Wal-Mart selling digital music free of copy curbs
Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on Tuesday it is now selling digital music downloads on its Web site without the customary copy-protection technology that limits where consumers can play the songs. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, said its new MP3 music catalog includes thousands of albums and songs from major record labels such as Vivendi's Universal Music Group and EMI Group Plc without copy-protection software, known as digital rights management.

The move puts Wal-Mart in closer competition with Apple Inc. Apple's iTunes online music store is the third-largest music retailer in the United States. In May, Apple launched iTunes Plus, a copy-protection-free music download service.

Electronic books with musty book smell launched
An electronic textbook Web site is launching a smelly e-book after finding college students like to be able to smell their books. A survey of 600 college students conducted by pollster Zogby International found that 43 percent of students identified smell, either a new or old smell, as the quality they most liked about books as physical objects. Six out of 10 students also preferred buying used textbooks over new or electronic textbooks even though e-books are generally a third less expensive. E-books sales have been slow to take off.

Eagles to release first studio album in 28 years
The Eagles will release "Long Road Out of Eden," their first full studio album for 28 years, in October, Universal Music Group said on Wednesday. Universal will distribute the new album outside North America, while in the United States the record will be released through Wal-Mart stores, warehouse retail chain Sam's Club and the band's Web site

gBox Unveils New Digital Commerce Model for the Age of the Consumer-Driven Web
gBox, Inc. (, a new Silicon Valley company, formally launched today with a new approach for digital commerce in the age of consumer-centric environments and social networks. The company unveiled a new music portal -- -- and the gBox Gifting Widget, a simple way for music labels to reach consumers via personal Web sites, blogs and social networks.

The gBox company launch comes on the heels of news that Universal Music Group (UMG) will direct consumers to gBox's online store for its "Open MP3 Test," a program that's making thousands of music titles available without digital rights management (DRM). Once users are in the gBox store they can easily setup their own gBox wishlist and publish it on their profile pages.

Sonific Sets SongsSpots Free
Publishers and artist to connect with 100s of social networks and online communities and make their Sonific plans to make its SongsSpot song streaming widget available at no cost to all record labels, musiccatalogs available for streaming on social network sites. Ecommerce functionality will be provided by iTunes, eMusic, Amazon, Wippit and others.

With Sonific, content providers share in ad revenue and can have a single channel to enable viral exposure on all key online communities and social media including Facebook, Wordpress, Myspace, Friendster, Hi5, Xanga, Orkut, Typepad,, Livejournal, iGoogle,Google Gadgets, Netvibes, Blogger, AIM Pages and The goal is that with a single click, music companies will soon be able to connect to 100s of platforms and present their music on what Sonific believes will become the next iteration of radio - social networks.

PassAlong Expands StoreBlocks And Partners With MedaTree
PassAlong Networks has upgraded its StoreBlocks Incentive Marketing Platform and partnered with MediaTree – a company that has designed campaigns for companies such as PepsiCo, Red Cross, Scotties Tissues, MTV and Delta Airlines.

The upgraded StoreBlocks Incentive Marketing Platform includes nearly 2.1 million songs in MP3 format and includes Macintosh compatibility. Storeblock's fulfillment technology and custom design capabilities create a package solution for MediaTree and provides a flexible music delivery platform for other incentive marketing firms. MediaTree has already powered a Red Cross blood drive where donors received free music download cards. Scotties Tissues also participated in a promotion where specially marked packages contained a PIN code for free downloads.

Resnikoff's Parting Shot: The Wal-Mart Experiment
The result? Greenfield anticipates a squeeze on CD floorspace at Wal-Mart going forward. "Wal-Mart's entry into the sale of DRM-free music could signal a more rapid decline in album pricing, with CDs likely to lose even more shelf space at physical retail as a result," Greenfield asserted. "As DRM fades away, the near-intermediate-term industry risk is that MP3-album discounting makes it even harder for physical retail to compete for consumer spending on music with either wholesale pricing coming down, floor space reductions or at worst, both."

BlogMusik To Go Legit; Launches Free & Legal Music On Demand
BlogMusik is a service born in France that lets you search for mp3 files on the web and listen to them in streaming mode for free. BlogMusik will announce tomorrow that they came to an agreement with the SACEM, clearing the service of copyright infringement accusations. The details of this agreement are not are not being disclosed, but other deals suggest it is based on a revenue sharing mode. BlogMusik’s business model is relying on advertising and affiliate revenue coming from the sales of songs on iTunes and Amazon. This agreement should cover BlogMusik for any music they host wherever the music is listened from. However they still have to come to an agreement with organizations representing majors and labels (Pandora had to face new webradio rates imposed by the RIAA). This is being taken care of according to the CEO of the company and new agreements should be announced soon. will also change name and become

Sizing up video downloads: renting may be where it's at
As the movie industry looks to tap into online sales and rentals, studies are starting to evaluate the potential place for movie downloads amongst the rather robust field of options already out there. While outright sales generate more profits for the studios, they also know that most Americans rent films as often if not more frequently than than buy.

A recent report by The Diffusion Group says that newer rental methods such as direct mail (e.g., Netflix), video-on-demand, or pay-per-view are growing in popularity. However, despite reports that services like the Xbox Live Video Marketplace are doing well, TDG says that online movie rentals are only making a "negligible impact" on rental behavior thus far.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

snapshot 8/21/07

MTV’s Urge and RealNetwork’s Rhapsody To Merge
Viacom’s Urge will merge it’s download store with RealNetworks’ Rhapsody according to reports. MTV’s Urge has gained very little traction since its debut last year in a partnership with Microsoft. So the real winner here is clearly RealNetworks who will get to use the MTV brand and television reach to their advantage. RealNetworks desperately wants to give Rhapsody, a $12.99 per month subscription service, a boost in its ongoing battle to gain on iTunes. Most subscribers who actually use the service, love the offering, but it just doesn’t have the seamless sex appeal of the iPod/iTunes combo.

Universal and Rhapsody launch DRM-free partnership "test"
Rhapsody America (the new Real / MTV partnership) wasn't the only thing that Real had up its sleeve today. Hot on the heels of the Universal snubbing of iTunes, and consequent announcement that the company would begin selling music via other outlets, comes today's news that the Rhapsody / Universal Music partnership has officially launched, at least in a limited "test" form, with the aim of selling UMG's catalog of thousands of tracks -- sans DRM -- via the Real Rhapsody service, charging $.89 per song for subscribers and $.99 for non-subscribers. Currently, only a select group of artists are up for grabs, including 50 Cent, Amy Winehouse, The Pussycat Dolls, The Police and Johnny Cash, though the plan is to make Universal's entire catalog available in the future.

Wal-Mart to Sell Music Online Without Copyright Protections
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has begun selling some of its online music catalog without anticopying software, stepping up its competition with Apple Inc.'s iTunes store. Wal-Mart will sell songs without the software -- known as digital rights management, or DRM -- through its site for 94 cents a track, or $9.22 an album. The No. 1 seller of recorded music said it will launch the service with songs from two major record labels, Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group and EMI Group PLC.

Audio samples now in Yahoo! Audio Search
Yahoo has brought audio samples into the Yahoo! Audio Search. Adding to song titles, artist names, album titles, and lyrics, millions of samples are now available to play though an instant playback button beside search results. Audio samples can be heard by selecting Audio from the 'more' dropdown at Yahoo!'s main site. Upon clicking the search results 'Play Sample' button, a 30 second clip loads in the same window and plays. Users can then choose to download, aka buy, the track from BuyMusic, iTunes or MusicMatch among other online stores.

gBox: Give The Gift Of DRM-Free Music
gBox is a new take on selling digital content. Instead of emphasizing sales directly to consumers, gBox is encourages you to create wish lists and buy gifts for your friends and family. To kick-start the service, they’ve sealed a pretty big deal with Universal to be the retailer for their new “Open MP3″ experiment into DRM free music. In a move that’s a snub to Apple’s iTunes, Universal will be buying Google AdWords for their music, linking people to the gBox site to buy their artists’ music. gBox will be expanding to other forms of digital content in the future.

Adobe Beefs Up Flash 9 with H.264, AAC and Hardware Support
Adobe's introduced a powerful new component it'll be placing into its Flash Video Player 9, adding support for that red-hot H.264 codec, the video compression routine that's behind Blu-ray, HD DVD and lots of HD goodness all over the videoscape. Adobe's also heightened the efficiency of Flash audio, adding AAC audio compression. Perhaps the most important part of the announcement is the addition of hardware acceleration for playback of all different types of full-screen video.

Monday, August 20, 2007

snapshot 8/20/07

Universal Music tests the mixtape waters
In a move designed to fill the void created by the Recording Industry Association of America's crackdown on the formidable business of mixtapes, Universal Music Enterprises (UME) is trying its hand at legal mixtapes. The company has created a series titled "Lethal Squad Mixtapes," expected to retail for $5 to $6. But it's unclear whether a corporate take on the grass-roots idea of mixtapes -- compilations, usually of copyrighted songs from other sources -- will wash

‘Fifth Major’ Merlin Launches To Cut Music Indies’ Online Deals
Seven months after it was announced, Merlin, the body designed to represent thousands of indie music labels in striking online deals, announced finally plans to go live on Monday. Independent labels represent 30 percent of worldwide music sales and 80 percent of new releases, but in negotiating licenses for online sale and streams they have been fragmented. Dubbed a “virtual fifth major”, the organization was announced in a press conference at the Midem music industry conferences in Cannes back in January; now it has incorporated as a non-profit company in London and Holland, owned by its member labels. The aim is to put indies on a level playing field, correcting what Merlin reckons is a growing assumption that emerging media need only strike licenses with the four major labels.

Building B Builds A God Box For Internet Video
Building B became the latest startup to join the Internet video set-top box sweepstakes today with the Belmont, Calif.-based company’s announcement that it has developed a video god box capable of marrying traditional television with video-on-demand and Web video. The service seamlessly integrates traditional television with on-demand premium content and Internet video — all delivered to the living room television without the need for a PC. ….. leverages the unique strengths of wireless broadcast technology.

Interactive MVI discs are the CD's newest rivals
Several acts are turning to the MVI (music video interactive) disc, a format poised to succeed the fading DVD-Audio and SACD. It plays in DVD players, computers and some game consoles but not CD players. With its increased storage capacity, superior sound and interactive capability, many see a potential to revitalize physical album sales.

The format's first title, Linkin Park's Minutes to Midnight, sold about 60,000 copies in MVI, or roughly 10% of its opening week total in May, rivaling the download slice of 13%. The Linkin Park CD retails for $18.98, the MVI $27.98.

MTV Networks Readies Refreshed Music Initiative
TV Networks is now planning a refreshed digital music initiative, according to information received Monday afternoon. The company is expected to outline the details of the updated concept during an official announcement Tuesday morning, though company representatives declined to offer additional details ahead of that point. Meanwhile, one executive with ties to the company pointed to a music-focused social networking play, and cited a pre-release demo. That information could not be independently verified, though MTV Networks has been steadily aiming to deepen its online audiences.

Another Blank Check Digital Media Acquisition Firm To IPO
Another blank check digital media rollup firm is being started, by Phillip Frost, Miami’s billionaire entrepreneur in pharmaceuticals...Ideation Acquisition will offer shares to the public in the next several months to raise $78 million to $90 million, reports Miami Herald. The company, based in LA, plans to focus on businesses in the digital media sector.

EA selling games in the Apple Store
…Friday they dropped a press release that the exact four games we'd called MIA were now available in the Apple Store (and sure enough, they are). As our good friends over at Joystiq noted, EA also promises that those games will also be available in brick-and-mortar Apple stores by the end of August, with Tiger and Madden coming later this year.

Top 200 Sales Show The Long Tail Creeping In
In the last month or so I've shown some trends in album sales over the last three years. I looked at how different places in the Top 200 album chart have changed over the years, such as the #200 album, and how the sales of the #100 album have dropped far more than sales of the #10 album.

Today I have a graph that shows the percent of total weekly album sales that are represented by the Top 200. As the theory of the long tail would predict, the Top 200 accounts for a lower percent of total album sales today that it did three years ago. Between July 2004 and June 2007, that percent dropped about five points to about 35% from 40%. That's a small but meaningful annual change, about 4% per year.

Forget pop music, it's all about ringtones
Carnes, a songwriter for nearly three decades, laughs when he considers that his work is more valuable as a ringtone--just a few seconds of his music--than a full version of one of his songs downloaded from the Web. Until last October, music publishers were able to pocket 10 percent of the retail price for a song, according to Steve Gordon, a copyright attorney. This meant that for a $2.99 ringtone, the publisher could make 30 cents and typically split half with the songwriter.

But the labels are now threatening to choke off that extra income. Record companies claim songwriters and music publishers charge too much and want prices restricted to a rate of 9.1 cents per song. The labels argue that they are entitled to the extra money because music publishers pay nothing of the large upfront costs associated with producing master recordings, according to Gordon.

More songs to buy, download and share
Artists such as Jay-Z, Amy Winehouse and the Beach Boys today will join the Rolling Stones, Norah Jones and others who have tunes for sale online free of copy restrictions.

Major label Universal, which also is home to 50 Cent, Sting and Gwen Stefani, begins testing the market for digital music without digital rights management built in to hinder sharing. Tracks will be available through online music retailers such as Google, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Rhapsody but not the largest seller of music downloads, iTunes.

Facebook's social networking numbers
  • Over 150,000 registrants daily since January.
  • 35 million current users.
  • In September there were no users from outside colleges, today that user base consists of over half.
  • Average visitor stays for 20 minutes.
  • 47,000 Facebook groups.
  • More than 2000 applications.

New search engine "listens" to music to help you find new tunes
Peer-recommendation services like and Pandora are pretty good at leveraging the power of the community to help you discover new music, but a recent grant from the National Science Foundation to the College of Charleston aims to take the concept to the next level, by creating a search engine that "listens" to music and creates critical comparisons between works. The system, as described by Ars Technica, involves a neural network that is trained to recognized the composer and style of music, an evaluation engine that's supposed to simulate human taste, and a set of objective metrics like pitch, tempo, and duration. The results are then combined and the system can then recommend matches to find similar music. The researchers have already demoed a similar system with good results…

Friday, August 17, 2007

snapshot 8/17/07

AOL Pushes Video
AOL LLC continues to try to improve its position in online video, a multi-year effort that has involved acquisitions, in-house development and strategy changes but that hasn't yielded the company the leadership position in this red hot market. Truveo is one of several video sites that AOL runs and that it is says complement each other. While Truveo focuses on video search, UnCut is a video-sharing site and AOL Video is a video portal.

Netflix: How to build a killer community
Netflix is one of the companies that really "gets it" right now. I have been following their Community Blog for the past few months and I have been really impressed with the level of communication that they have going with their users. Netflix's community team has developed one of Netflix's defining features, that I like to call movie discovery.

The true value in having a library of movies as large as Netflix's is being able to discover movies that you might like, but that you had not previously heard of. Of course, Netflix already offers an extensive recommendation engine which deals out great movie suggestions, but Netflix takes discovery a step further. Netflix has always allowed you to see the movie reviews of those who you have designated as Friends, but it wasn't until recently that they found a good way to find Friends.

The AudioFile: Handcuffing Digital Music
Unfortunately, it’s not just the recording industry making it difficult for digital music to live up to its potential. The three biggest stiflers of universal music sharing are music management software, audio file formats, and operating system support — things the major labels have very little control over. Sony has been an exception here, with its multifaceted existence as label, hardware manufacturer (Walkman phones and music players), and software maker (SonicStage), and music store (Sony Connect), though SonicStage is now dead, and the Connect store is about to go dark after a traumatically unsuccessful life.

eMusic Surpasses 150 Million Download Milestone
Independent digital music store eMusic has now crossed the 150 million download mark, part of an accelerating sales rate. The company, which brokers in mostly independent label content, packages its downloads within monthly subscription tiers. Unlike most of its bigger competitors, eMusic enjoys a loyal following, one fostered by elements like compelling editorial, expert recommendations, and MP3-based content. That has translated into increased sales, despite plateauing figures for the larger digital download space. "Even as research shows that overall paid download growth is slowing, eMusic continues to attract new customers and sell more music,”" said eMusic president and chief executive David Pakman.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

snapshot 8/16/07

The resurrection of free
With The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal said to be looking at removing the “pay wall” around their online content, and others – including CNN, Google and AOL – having already done so, one question springs to mind: Are we seeing the death of paid content online, and the return of free as a business model?

Google – which now owns YouTube – appears to have come to a similar realization, and recently closed its Google Video service, which charged users to download movies online. One of the most prominent services to switch from a paid subscription model to a free one is America Online, the former Internet giant that merged with media conglomerate Time Warner in 2000, in one of the most ill-fated business deals in modern memory.

Can Universal turn the tide against Apple's iTunes?
Nobody knows, but in a six-month experiment the world's biggest music label will try to switch people away from iTunes, the world's biggest music download store. Pick a side!

The bait for the switch is copy protection, known as DRM (digital rights management). Users who continue to shop online at Apple's iTunes Store will still get their Universal music encumbered with Apple's DRM. If they go to a different store, they can buy unprotected MP3s of the same tracks for the same price, or less. Vivendi's Universal Music Group owns more than a dozen labels including Decca, Mercury, Polydor and Deutsche Gramophone. It distributes music by a wide range of artists from Bing Crosby to Amy Winehouse, including 50 Cent, Black Eyed Peas, Elvis Costello, Gwen Stefani, Prince, Stevie Wonder and Shania Twain. The unprotected tracks will be sold by several iTunes rivals such as, Rhapsody and Wal-Mart, plus the new Universal says it will advertise on Google to drive traffic to gBox.

Like music free, but don’t like breaking the law? launched today with a free music service available to the first 100,000 registered users. Fans seeking free music downloads are encouraged to register as soon as possible in order to gain access to the website’s catalogue of over one million songs. All songs in the Your Free Music catalog are in MP3 format and can be played on a computer, on an iPod or any other portable media player.

Your Free Music Downloads is an ad-supported free music download site with a catalogue of over 1,000,000 legal MP3 songs currently growing by 500 songs a day. Unlike other ad-supported free music download websites, Your Free Music Downloads does not embed ads in the track. Instead, when registering, users are asked to complete a short survey that generates revenue.

Kiosk eases portable music hassle
The task of filling an MP3 player with songs is set to become even easier, thanks to an invention by a Belfast company. It lets customers buying CDs or DVDs in the stores transfer the content to iPods, MP3 players or mobile phones before they leave the shop.

The firm, Ripfactory, is selling its CD2 (CD squared) system to music stores in the UK and overseas, including north America. He says another reason for its popularity is that it includes software which allows the user to browse other music while waiting for the transfer to complete. The touch screen kiosk can load up to four CDs at a time, and will also transfer data such as cover art, album titles and track listings.

Netflix Lowers Prices for DVD Rentals by $1 ... Again
Netflix just lowered its prices on the "three DVDs out at-a-time" plan again, taking it down a buck to $15.99 a month. Our jaws dropped as we saw the above notice in our inbox, because it was just three weeks ago when Netflix had lowered the price to $16.99. Hey, keep those price reductions coming, Netflix! Pretty soon, they'll be giving them away. We have a price war on our hands between Netflix and Blockbuster, folks, and it looks like we movie buffs will be the winners. shares love with musicane widget and drm-free release
As part of Universal's growing DRM-free experiment, Musicane has created a widget to coincide with the Interscope release of the Black Eyed Pea founder's solo single "I Got It from My Mama" on August 28th. The Musicane widget acts as a media player on websites, blogs and social networks selling both digital and physical product and can be added with a single line of code.

In a somewhat revolutionary move from a major artist, is sharing the monies earned from Musicane product sales with fans that embed the store onto their blogs and social network profiles. Fans who pre-order the album will get a free download of the new single, as well as exclusive remixes. All of the downloads will be DRM-free mp3's.

MySpace Prepares Talib Kweli, M.I.A. Album Exclusives
MySpace is now pushing a number of high-profile streaming album exclusives, part of its growing music initiative. Starting this Friday, MySpace is offering an exclusive peek at the upcoming Talib Kweli album, Eardrum. The preview, at, will last through the album release date of August 21st. Kweli (Blacksmith/Warner Bros.) has roughly 200,000 MySpace friends.

Also in the mix is M.I.A. (XL/Interscope), who is readying her second studio album, Kala. The Sri Lankan artist is now previewing the release on, though the action only lasts through Thursday. Additionally, MySpace is also featuring a preview from the New Young Ponys (Modular), a UK-based group that is now pushing their debut album in the United States.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

snapshot 8/15/07

HarperCollins offers digital book content for iPhone
Publisher HarperCollins said on Wednesday it would make samples from 14 new book titles available for Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) Web-browsing iPhone in a new effort to extend publishing into digital formats. Most of the new books will debut in August and September, with the iPhone-compatible versions available at HarperCollins mobile Web site.

HarperCollins' "Browse Inside" applications allows readers to sample pages of its books on the Web. The company began to build up its digital warehouse of published material in 2006 with digital technology firm LibreDigital and now has 10,000 titles available. After sampling the stories, customers can choose to buy or pre-order the book from retailers through the mobile application.

Microsoft Points - what’s next for the company’s virtual currency?
Perhaps the initial reason Microsoft created the points system was to help cut down on costs. Many items available at the Xbox Live Marketplace may have a low price to you, but the transaction fees that Microsoft is charged by payment processors quickly add up. It’s the same reason that many restaurants and shops require you to make a minimum purchase before they’ll accept debit or credit cards. Small transactions are just very costly to process.

As the company sells more and more products and services online, having a common currency between them becomes very attractive. Already you can purchase Microsoft Points from the Zune Marketplace and use them on Xbox Live, and vice-versa. Almost all of the major forces in the digital living room have a payments system of some sort. Sony has the PlayStation Network Card, Nintendo has Wii Points, Google has Checkout, and Amazon recently launched FPS. Sony and Nintendo’s systems are virtual currencies, whereas Google and Amazon’s are payment services. Microsoft could be the first company to offer both by opening up Microsoft Points to the world.

PassAlong Spins Off Indie Download Enabler Speakerheart
Music distribution developer PassAlong Networks is spinning off Speakerheart, an online platform for independent artists and bands to upload and sell own music, as its own company. Speakerheart is a Rich Internet Application built using Adobe Flex that enables artists to upload music, create track samples, set prices and sell it in custom storefronts. Artists can access sales reports and receive payments via PayPal. Artists also have access to promotional tools called Shelves, which can be pasted onto Facebook, Friendster and MySpace pages plus artist blogs and fan sites.

Apple My iTunes widgets
Apple is syndicating iTunes purchase history and user reviews as Flash widgets and Atom feeds under a new program called My iTunes Widgets. Any iTunes Music Store customer can opt-in to sharing their subscribed podcasts, purchased music, music video, TV shows, movies, and positive reviews through an account preference set in the iTunes application.

Microsoft licenses audio watermarking technology
Microsoft said Wednesday that it has signed a deal to license audio watermarking technology from its research labs to Seattle-based Activated Content. While watermarking technology is often used as an antipiracy measure, Microsoft said its technology allows companies to add-in other types of content and services into the watermarked music. One of the big potential applications is adding in advertising into streaming media, according to a report on MediaPost.

Harry Potter and the death of books
The pirating of a blockbuster novel onto the peer-to-peer networks is one of those seminal moments that is supposed to herald a new era, wherein the old way (books) is cleared out by the new way (computers, e-books) and the days of paperbacks and hard-bound volumes become marginalized to the sentimental periphery of culture along with vinyl records and postcards.

But the book world is a hard target for digital technology. If anything, the Harry Potter piracy should serve as an interesting anomaly. Whereas digital music, mail and now cinema are quickly changing the landscape of communication and entertainment, digital books seem to have had a much slower evolution. If digital novel sharing marks the death of books, I assure you it will be a long, slow death.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

snapshot 8/14/07

Universal Goes DRM Free, But Not on iTunes
Universal said late Thursday that it planned to start selling music tracks from its artists in MP3 format for a limited time, however not through Apple's iTunes Music store. Also a surprise in the announcement: Google plans to begin selling MP3s directly from its search engine, BetaNews has learned.

Universal will make the tracks available through the Web sites of the artists themselves, as well as selected online retailers. The tracks will be available from August 21 to January 31, 2008. Among the retailers to offer the MP3s would be Amazon, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, RealNetworks' Rhapsody, among others.

Blue Note Web site embraces the graying of digital
The label is in the process of revamping the site to become a social network and digital music store for fans of jazz and blues -- the staples of the Blue Note catalog -- rather than a simple promotional Web site for its artists.

Google to stop Web video rentals, sales
Google Inc. is shutting down a service that sold and rented online video, ending a 19-month experiment doomed by the proliferation of free clips on other Web sites like the Internet search leader's YouTube subsidiary. The video section on Google's Web site will remain open, but will stop showing paid programming Aug. 15.

John Lennon Solo Catalog Debuts on iTunes Store
Apple® today announced the debut of the John Lennon solo catalog on the iTunes® Store ( Sixteen of Lennon's solo works from EMI Music are available for the first time on iTunes starting today, with the “Lennon Legend” and “Acoustic” collections making their worldwide digital debuts. For a limited period of 30 days, exclusive video content will be included with the albums “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band,” “Sometime in New York City,” “Walls and Bridges,” “Milk and Honey” and the collections “Anthology” and “Working Class Hero.”

Video Surge Divides Web Watchers
Researchers have long warned that rapid increases in Internet usage could strain the capacity of the data lines and gear that make up the network, severely slowing traffic and even knocking out service. For years, they've been wrong as Internet-access providers and telecom carriers have added routers and other hardware to keep ahead of demand, and the data-carrying capacity of the Internet pipes has greatly expanded thanks to technical advances.

"One of the key possibilities for 2007 is that the Internet could be approaching its capacity," analysts at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu wrote in a January report. "Our belief is we'll start to see some brownouts or service slowdowns or service issues," says Phil Asmundson, the national managing partner leading Deloitte & Touche USA's Telecommunications practice.

BitTorrent revolution builds on old model
Beginning next month, the San Francisco video and media-distribution company will offer some of its library of television and feature films which include titles such as "Letters from Iwo Jima" and "24" for free as streaming videos, supported by advertising.

Universal's MP3 Watermarks Could Contain Unique Identifiers
Andrew Friedman of Contentinople [and others] confirmed that Universal's watermarked numbers refer to songs, not individual files. The "weak DRM" of unique identifiers is not in play this time, but could be used in later "open MP3" offerings.

Google Key to Latest ITunes Challenge
The Cupertino, Calif., startup was forced out of a stealth mode when Universal Music Group announced late Thursday it would test sales of some digital music without the customary copy-protection technology. Under the program, gBox will get referrals through ads Universal will buy through search leader Google Inc., gBox Chief Executive Tammy Artim said Friday.

McDonald's, Yahoo, Ne-Yo Spark User-Generated Lyrics Play
Hit songs have memorable lyrics, and fans can usually recite every word by heart. Now, McDonald's and Yahoo Music are joining forces on a user-generated lyrical play, one focused on urban artist and songwriter Ne-Yo. According to information received by Digital Music News on Monday, the action will revolve around a new Yahoo Music property called Lyricmakers ( Through that service, fans will soon be able to upload their lyrical concepts, and Yahoo Music visitors will vote for the winner.

GameStop Spins Madden NFL Download Giveaway
Just recently, EA Sports unveiled the soundtrack for Madden NFL 08, a lineup that includes Sum 41, Daddy Yankee, and Timbaland. Now, gaming retail giant GameStop is offering a number of free downloads from the soundtrack to those that pre-purchased the title. The giveaway involves New Jersey-based Dropcards, a company that ties multimedia asset giveways into redeemable plastic cards.
The cards also include the trailer for the game, which uses the Airbourne track, "Running Wild.” Dropcards estimates that the effort will reach roughly 70,000 pre-buyers. The game arrives at retailers today.

Strayform Tries New Indie Music Model
Strayform is a Texas startup that, like SellaBand and the recently funded Amie Street, is giving unsigned artists a way to promote and sell their music.

Like SellaBand, artists sign up, upload some of their music and then create proposals for new music they want to create. Fans can listen to and download the music (DRM free), and donate directly to proposals they like. The proposals are all different. One artist, for example, says he will mention the name of person who pledges the most in the song itself.

Are Movie Viewers Down on Downloads?
Video downloads may not replace physical DVDs anytime soon, judging by US consumers' opinion of download quality. Parks Associates' "Global Digital Living II" found that those who had downloaded videos generally had a negative experience. Only 16% of US consumers thought that there was a good selection of downloadable videos available online. Just 13% said video downloads were sold at a reasonable price. Less than one-fifth said they planned to download videos again in the future.

Lime Wire to Enter Music Download Market With New Digital Store and Inks Deals With Music Companies
Lime Wire LLC, maker of the popular LimeWire file-sharing software, announced today that it will open a digital music store. Initially the store will be a stand-alone website, also accessible from links in the file-sharing software. Subsequent releases will enable users to browse and purchase music directly from within the LimeWire program.

How Rhapsody Will Handle DRM-Free
Tracks will be 256kbs, DRM-free MP3s. Unlike the way iTunes sells EMI's DRM-free files, Rhapsody will offer only a DRM-free version and will not sell a protected version. Rhapsody subscribers will pay $0.89 per track for UMG's MP3s while non-subscribers will pay $0.99.

Apple Gets Into Social Music Scene with My iTunes
Apple has launched My ITunes , a set of widgets that may be a first step in taking their fair share of the social music market. Niall Kennedy caught sight of it a couple of days ago.

There are currently three embeddable widgets to choose from. One shows recent iTunes purchases. Another shows music you’ve reviewed on iTunes. The last shows a sort of tag cloud of artists you’ve purchased on the iTunes store. The widgets can be customized by size and color.

Movielink-Blockbuster Deal: Cash $6.6M
Blockbuster purchased all of the outstanding membership interests of Movielink from MGM On Demand Inc., DIGICO Inc., SPDE - MF Holdings, Inc., Universal VOD Venture Holdings LLC, and WB - MF LLC for $6.6 million in cash, subject to adjustment for Movielink's working capital at the closing.