Friday, December 28, 2007

snapshot 12/28/07

Americans more wired: survey
About 38 percent of U.S. consumers are watching TV shows online, 36 percent use their cell phones as entertainment devices and 45 percent are creating online content like Web sites, music, videos and blogs for others, according to a new-media survey from Deloitte & Touche.

The "State of the Media Democracy" notes that in Deloitte's first edition of the survey just eight months earlier, 24 percent of consumers used their cell phones as entertainment devices, meaning that usage has soared 50 percent. About 62 percent of "millennials" (consumers 13-to-24-years-old) are using their cell phones as entertainment devices, up from 46 percent in the previous study conducted February 23-March 6, 2007. And among Generation X consumers (25-to-41-year-olds), the number grew to 47 percent from 29 percent in the earlier survey.

Netflix hopes flickering
Netflix has had a nice run, but it won’t last. This week the mail order DVD company got some bad news when the Financial Times reported that Apple (AAPL) is joining up with News Corp.’s (NWS) Fox to rent out digital movie downloads through the iTunes service. Given how Apple changed the digital music racket, it’s only natural to expect the company to make big inroads into the home movie business as well - most likely at the expense of Netflix and its struggling rival Blockbuster (BBI).

Test driving Amazon’s MP3 store
The store is quite easy to use. It doesn’t work directly with iTunes, however, so you have to drag your music over. The songs I downloaded were recorded at 44.100 kHZ with bit rate of 266 kbps, variable. It encoded with LAME and the Song ID was encoded in the info as well along with the artwork. I’m glad to say Amazon got this MP3 store experience just right — maybe an MP3 player should be next?

Music Download Warning List via Our Digital Music
Got a new iPod, Zune or other music player and can’t wait to fill it up with great music? A quick Google search for the best download opr mp3 sites will show some deals that seem too good to be true. Well, they probably are…

You want to steer clear of web sites that claim to offer legal music but don’t have licensing agreements with major record labels; and the nice folks at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) have created a lost of the top offenders. Not only is downloading music from many of these sites illegal; there is no guaruntee that the tracks don;t come with nasty viruses or what these guys might do with your credit card info. Read it here and avoid problems later.

'Noel' is music's saving grace
While Groban's "Noel" has crossed 3.5 million in sales to become the top-selling disc of the year, overall music sales during the Christmas shopping season were down an astounding 21% from last year. From the week of Thanksgiving up through the day before Christmas Eve, 83.9 million albums were sold, a decrease of 21.38 million from 2006's 105.28 million.

Why (And How) I Just Canceled All My Music Subscriptions
Now that three of the four major labels have decided to sell music without DRM, I've finally decided to drop it too. I've subscribed to Napster, Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, and other music services over the years, but I canceled them all on Thursday as a sort of preemptive new year's resolution.

For much of the time I've covered online music, it was necessary to subscribe to these services, but the digital music scene has largely evolved past DRM. Services that use it are simply not where the action is. I may consider buying (and advising people to buy) un-DRMed music downloads from these services, but paying for a monthly subscription -- even though I can expense or write off the fees -- just doesn't seem as worthwhile as it did on the other end of 2007.

Apple, Zune web traffic surge on Christmas
Traffic to the websites for Apple's iTunes and Microsoft's Zune has made major strides on Christmas day, according to new information published by stats tracker Hitwise. The Zune in particular saw major gains, with traffic nearly tripling at 299 percent compared to the Christmas before; the increase was also a 392 percent spike versus the 24th. Most of the visits are connected to downloading the necessary Zune software and to sign up for the Zune Social service that lets users share their music tastes online, Hitwise says.

The researchers have declined to publish the year-over-year gains for Apple but note that Apple's overall site traffic for Christmas is still several times that of Microsoft's, with 0.69 percent of all detected web traffic belonging to the iTunes site and just 0.09 percent attributed to official Zune pages. However, day-to-day traffic increased 339 percent for Apple versus Christmas Eve while the Apple Store itself climbed 169 percent. As with Microsoft's site, most of the jump between the 24th and 25th for the iTunes website is connected to new owners downloading copies of iTunes. Boosts to store traffic are unaccounted for but may relate to gift cards or late gifts.

Apple Making Deals for Web Video Rentals
Apple has been trying to interest a number of Hollywood studios in an iTunes rental service, and several people familiar with the negotiations said that more than one studio would appear onstage at the company’s MacWorld exhibition here beginning Jan. 14 to endorse a new Apple movie rental service.

These people, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations, confirmed the Apple-Fox relationship. Apple now trails several companies offering digital movie rental services, including Amazon and Movielink.

Kirsten Hirsch & Cash Music - “I wonder if we might be able to do this together”
Kirsten Hirsch (of former Warner act Throwing Muses and now successful solo artist), along with a number of other artists, has started The basic premise of Kirsten’s offering is basically something Techdirt’s Mike Masnick had suggested all the way back in 2003.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

snapshot 12/27/07

Apple and Fox planning movie rental deal: reports
Apple Inc and News Corp.'s Twentieth Century Fox are set to announce a deal that will allow consumers to rent movies through Apple's digital iTunes Store, media reports said on Thursday. The agreement will allow rentals of Fox's latest DVD releases by downloading a copy from the online iTunes store for a limited time, the Financial Times said, quoting a source. The Wall Street Journal also reported the deal in its online edition.

Amazon adds Warner Music tunes to download service
Online retailer Inc has signed on Warner Music Group to its music download service, which aims to compete with Apple Inc's industry-dominating iTunes online store. Warner Music songs are available on the Amazon MP3 service, which lets users purchase the tunes and download them to many digital music players, including Apple's iPod, the companies said on Thursday. They will also offer exclusive tracks and special album bundles.

Amazon Now Selling MP3s from Warner; 2.9 Million DRM-Free Tracks Now Available
Customers can now choose from more than 2.9 million MP3 songs on Amazon MP3, including music from Warner Music's renowned catalog of artists

2007 in review: The year in music
Given that the word “iPod” has become synonymous with “portable music player,” it’s easy to overlook other Apple-related music matters in 2007. Yet the year brought significant changes to the musical landscape in regard to online music distribution and digital rights management. And in most cases, Apple was at the heart of them. iPod developments—and there were a few this year—will get their moment in the spotlight later in the week; today, we’ll focus on other matters musical, including the death of DRM, the emergence of an iTunes rival, and the ability to buy digital tracks without having to set down your Starbucks frappuccino.

Psst! DVDs Are Starting To Die Too...
For years, we've been pointing out that disc-based media was on the way out, but for the industries (mainly music and movies) that make money from selling those discs, the allure of the cash cow was too strong. They've done little to plan for a future without disc-based media -- which is why you see the recording industry in such a freakout these days. In the meantime, the DVD world wasn't much better off. DVDs could have been saved if they'd agreed to a new format early on, stuck to it, and worked on continually adding new and interesting features that made the DVDs, worthwhile -- but instead they've been stuck in a pointless standards battle where no one will win. Thanks to that, it appears that DVDs are starting to follow CDs on their inevitable sales decline. While there may be whining and complaining about how this damages the movie industry, that's not the case at all. The demand for movies is still quite high -- and if the movie industry ever figures out how to stop treating its customers like criminals, perhaps it will come up with business models that work.

The Death of High Fidelity
Over the past decade and a half, a revolution in recording technology has changed the way albums are produced, mixed and mastered — almost always for the worse. "They make it loud to get [listeners'] attention," Bendeth says. Engineers do that by applying dynamic range compression, which reduces the difference between the loudest and softest sounds in a song. Like many of his peers, Bendeth believes that relying too much on this effect can obscure sonic detail, rob music of its emotional power and leave listeners with what engineers call ear fatigue. "I think most everything is mastered a little too loud," Bendeth says. "The industry decided that it's a volume contest."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

snapshot 12/26/07

Borders and Sony Launch Co-Branded E-Book Store
Borders and Sony have launched a co-branded online e-book store that will work with Sony's Reader Digital Book and offer downloads of more than 25,000 e-books. Sony extended its contract with Borders in September and released a new Reader device in October.
Customers who buy a Sony Reader device at Borders are given access to the co-branded site, allowing them to immediately purchase new titles. T-Mobile Hot-Spot customers can also access the website while using the T-Mobile wireless access in Borders stores.

Live Music Webcasting Starts Making Sense in 2008
With ticket receipts soaring and online music more popular than ever, why is live concert webcasting -- which sits squarely at the intersection of these trends -- still lagging? After showing early promise at the turn of the millennium, webcasters' path to success was slowed by three major roadblocks having to do with technology, audience and record labels.

Whether the big labels come on board gracefully or not, 2008 looks like the year live music webcasts will take off.

U.S. concert business slumps despite reunion tours
High-priced reunion tours by the Police, Van Halen and Genesis failed to prevent the North American concert industry from posting its worst year since 2004, according to a music industry trade publication. The top 20 tours generated $996 million, down 15.6 percent from the year before, according to preliminary data issued on Friday by Pollstar, which covers the concert business. The previous low was $951.1 million in 2004, when Prince and Madonna topped the box office, it said.

Jamendo: Download and Share Music Legally
Jamendo is one of the hottest places to legally download music, and they've just released a refreshed website. Updates include direct music downloads in http, more intuitive navigation, easier saving of tracks, albums, and playlists, and more.All of the music on Jamendo is licensed by the Creative Commons license, meaning you can download, listen, burn, share, and talk about the songs as much as your heart desires. And though all the music is free, you can donate to the bands who have given you particular joy or satisfaction. Jamendo even shares 50% of its advertising revenue with artists who choose the "Revenue Sharing" program.

snapshot 12/21/07

DMX back in business with new label deal
After being released from his Sony Music deal earlier this year, rapper DMX has signed a deal with the music division of Canadian online gaming company Bodog Entertainment. The rapper plans to release his next two albums, "Walk With Me Now" and "You'll Fly With Me Later" in 2008.

And the Next Starbucks Release Is ... Kenny G
Starbucks is now planning to co-release a Kenny G album with Concord Records, its longtime partner-in-crime. The album, Rhythm and Romance, is a collection of Latin-influenced love songs slated for release in early February. "It is a great pleasure to work with Kenny G and our friends at Concord to co-release Rhythm and Romance," said Kenneth Lombard, president of Starbucks Entertainment.

Downward Sales Spiral Intensifies, Floorspace Threatened
Album sales declines are only intensifying this quarter, and that could further threaten floorspace next year. Just recently, Pali Research analyst Richard Greenfield pointed to year-over-year declines of more than 25 percent - for the second straight week. And every weekly reporting period since Thanksgiving has featured a decline of greater than 20 percent. "Given that the holiday season is the most important selling period of the year for the industry (with Q4 now destined to be the industry's weakest quarter this year), we are increasingly concerned with floorspace reductions from large retailers in 2008," Greenfield opined on Thursday.

Microsoft patent could force downloaders to view commercials
A new patent application filed by Microsoft describes methods for "enforcing" advertisements in downloaded media. Traditionally, ads accompany streaming content and, by extension, restrict that content to a browser. But technology that could bring ads to downloaded content would open up new opportunities for digital distribution services, advertisers, and consumers, and could give DRM a whole new leg to stand on.

Pumpkins go acoustic for new iTunes EP
In between heavy touring schedules, The Smashing Pumpkins have found time to create a four-song acoustic EP, American Gothic, to be released January 2 exclusively via iTunes in the United States. The set includes the tracks "The Rose March," "Pox, "Again, Again, Again (The Crux)" and "Sunkissed," and was produced by frontman Billy Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. The band has previously performed "The Rose March" on the road.

Mininova Launches Content Distribution Service
The popular BitTorrent site Mininova officially launched its Content Distribution service, an easy way for indie publishers to share their content with a wide audience, for free of course.

Is Amazon's iTunes Killer growing up to be a big boy?
It's been a little over two months since Amazon launched its MP3 Download store, and the site's still around. So how is it doing? Well, Amazon hasn't publicly announced any numbers yet, but billboard speculates Amazon's captured about 3% of the digital download market and 6% of the physical CD market. Considering that it hasn't even been three months since Amazon's digital music store opened shop, that's pretty damn good. With Pepsi joining Amazon to give away free MP3s, word of Amazon's new DRM-free store will only spread. Silicon Valley Insider suggests Amazon must be reaching a mainstream audience if Fergie is a top seller at both Amazon and iTunes.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

snapshot 12/20/07

Blockbuster Online Members Socked With Christmas Price Hike
Isn't this a fine little Christmas present from our friends at Blockbuster? Maybe the movie rental company figured since it's this close to the holidays, no one would notice a price increase at Blockbuster Online, announced in a letter to subscribers yesterday. The most painful hit will be taken by those with a "three-out unlimited" plan, taking a huge price boost up the butt, from $24.99 to $34.99, an astonishing 40% hike. Those with the two-disc unlimited plan won't be too happy to see their $21.99 rate suddenly increasing to $29.99, a 35.3% increase. It wasn't quite that bad for other members, most of which saw plan prices raised a couple of bucks. Netflix, anyone?

Digital music: Go legal, get screwed
The Big Four record labels want us to think that the sound recording business is a reformed character these days. Recently, we've heard ritualistic self-flagellations from a succession of top executives. There was Ed Bronfman at Warner's, prostrating himself in front of Apple. In a similar vein, Universal's chief Doug Morris admitted UMG had been clueless, and got it all wrong. EMI's new asset-stripping chief Guy Hands issues almost weekly memos telling the company to reform or die. While over at Sony BMG, staff have been told they must, er... blog their way back into music lover's hearts.

For years, the Big Five (now Four) have preferred to litigate rather than license their catalogues, but we were told that was no longer the case. But the paradox remains: if you go legit, you will get punished by the corner of the music business with the most to lose. If you make out like bandits, and blithely publish copyright material, then you'll get your reward right here on Earth. Just contrast YouTube's $1.6bn purchase by Google with Pandora's struggles to maintain viability by paying sound recording royalties.

Non-iPod Music Player Sales Down During The Holiday Season
U.S. sales of portable music players, not including the Apple iPod, declined during the first three weeks of the holiday shopping season, as manufacturers attracted fewer first-time buyers, a market research firm said Wednesday. Dollar sales of MP3 players between Nov. 18 and Dec. 9 were down 16% from the same period last year, while unit sales declined 9%, the NPD Group said in an update on consumer electronics sales.

In the case of MP3 players, manufacturers and their retail partners faced a market in which there were fewer first-time buyers, and most sales were for upgrades and replacements. "The market is in a position where most of the people who want an MP3 player have one," NPD analyst Stephen Baker told InformationWeek. Even sales of the market-leading Apple iPod were probably not what they used to be for the same reason. "The iPod is not exactly a blistering growth segment," Baker said. "It's a good segment, and you'll still make money on it, but it's not growing 75% a year." Revenues from MP3 players were dropping because people were choosing cheaper flash memory versions of the devices, rather than the more expensive hard-disk-drive versions with much larger storage capacities. Most people don't have enough music and video files to justify paying more for a device with 80-plus gigabytes of storage, Baker said.

MySpace, Pennywise Confirm Gratis Album Giveaway
MySpace recently confirmed plans to give away a free Pennywise album, another front-running experiment. The ad-supported concept, which first bubbled in mid-November, also involves off-deck mobile music provider Textango. According to MySpace, fans simply need to add Textango as a friend to receive the free download. "Every stakeholder in the equation gets clear value," MySpace Records executive J. Scabo told Digital Music News on Wednesday.

The action begins on March 25th, 2008, according to MySpace, which has now signed Pennywise to its budding record label. The DRM-free download will only be positioned for two-weeks, though fans can purchase an enhanced CD/DVD combination. A vinyl version, which contains two additional bonus tracks, will also be serviced to retail outlets. Textango is a mobile-based billing and music delivery platform.

Study finds girls eclipse boys in photo posting, other obvious web facts
  • AIM: 93% of American teens (ages 12-17) use the web. Many of them use the web to interact with others.
  • YouTube: 64% of online teens create online content, up from 57% in 2004.
  • MySpace: 27% of online teens keep a personal web page.
  • LOLcats?: 26% of online teens "remix" content they find online.
  • WoW: 49% of online teens play games online.
  • Facebook: Social network communicators are more "intense" communicators.
  • Facebook: Girls eclipse boys in photo posting.

The Second Coming of Apple TV
For those of you you've been following the stunted evolution of the device, you've no doubt noticed it's suffered greatly from the company's obvious lack of confidence as well as some uninspired marketing. But if Apple plays its cards right, 2008 could be a very big year for Apple TV. Here's a list what could -- and in some cases, needs to -- happen in 2008 for the Apple TV to assume its rightful place among the company's star devices:

Radiohead: EMI main barrier to online music
One of the key reasons Radiohead has refrained from signing on to digital music is licensing rights, the band's lead singer Thom Yorke says in an interview with Wired. The musician observes that the group's previous, multi-album contract with music label EMI contained virtually no clauses for digital music rights as it was struck years before digital music stores were available. Radiohead's release of In Rainbows in October with flexible pricing was the first real opportunity the group had to earn money on a digital offering.

"In terms of digital income, we've made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever — in terms of anything on the Net. And that's nuts," Yorke says. "It's partly due to the fact that EMI wasn't giving us any money for digital sales. All the contracts signed in a certain era have none of that stuff." The back catalog is also available through the group's own website and also sells much of its back catalog through Amazon MP3, where the band's historical preference for selling its music only in a whole-album format has remained intact.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

snapshot 12/19/07

Soundbuzz offers Lossless Downloads in Singapore
Online music store Soundbuzz is offering customers in Singapore the ability to purchase lossless audio files. Soundbuzz's High Fidelity Music Store offers songs from a range of Asian artists using the Scalable-to-Lossless (SLS) file format developed by Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A-STAR) and published as part of the MPEG4 standard in 2006.

The lossless files, which use a compression technology that recreates all of the data used to encode the song, are aimed at audiophiles who want better sound quality. Because of the amount of data required, lossless music files can be very large. Smaller files in MP3, AAC and other formats use lower-quality "lossy" compression, which recreates most of the data from the original input, but not all, in order to reduce the file size.

Mac users much more likely than PC users to pay for music - NPD
Apple's growing herd of Mac users are three times more likely to pay for and download music than their Windows PC-using counterparts, potentially serving as a harbinger for the further growth of digital music, according to a new consumer research study from NPD Group.

David Byrne's Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars
So what happens when online sales eliminate many of these expenses? Look at iTunes: $10 for a "CD" download reflects the cost savings of digital distribution, which seems fair — at first. It's certainly better for consumers. But after Apple takes its 30 percent, the royalty percentage is applied and the artist — surprise! — is no better off.

Where there was one, now there are six: Six possible music distribution models, ranging from one in which the artist is pretty much hands-off to one where the artist does nearly everything. Not surprisingly, the more involved the artist is, the more he or she can often make per unit sold. The totally DIY model is certainly not for everyone — but that's the point. Now there's choice.

Nonesuch Launches Download Store
Nonesuch Records is launching its own download store, designed to sell new releases from its artists directly to fans. The store allows fans to buy CDs online, and have the option of instantly downloading the full album digitally at no extra charge. Digital downloads will be free of DRM, and buyers can choose either 320 kbps or 128 kbps versions. There will be a $2 delivery fee for purchased CDs, which Nonesuch will waive if customers buy more than one CD.

Will investors go ga ga over Yangaroo?
Although the company has exclusive Canadian distribution agreements with the four major international music labels — EMI, BMG Canada, Universal Music Canada and Warner Music Canada — as well as signed deals with the big players on the Canadian radio landscape such as Corus Entertainment Inc., Astral Media Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc., Yangaroo has remained a relatively small player in the U.S. market since venturing there in 2005.

Music News: Independent and Unsigned Artists Distribute Music At New Music Website
New music website Boost Independent Music ( ) has made a dramatic entrance onto the online music store stage, staking a bold claim to become the World’s Number One website selling downloads by independent and unsigned artists. Boost Independent Music launches with a 50/50 model, 69 cents downloads and a goal of being the go to place for indie and unsigned artists.

Neuros develops "Unlocked Media" brand for DRM-free stuff
Neuros has developed a name and logo for DRM-free media to allow companies to brand their products in such a way that consumers know they're getting a fully portable file. "Unlocked Media" might not be super catchy as far as names go, but we like the idea of a positive move that consumers and companies can latch onto; promote the benefits of DRM-free, rather than just decry the evils of copy protection. The branding is available to "any entity that uses media using open standard technology which is available to all on a non-discriminatory basis." Neuros hopes some independent third party will step in to manage the trademark.

Wal-Mart Year-End Report Card: C
This was the year that DRM stopped cramping online music stores, and that's in some part due to Wal-Mart's insistence selling DRM-free tunes. Together with Amazon, it's one of two major online retailers selling MP3 files. And while the MP3 store is still pretty lousy, Wal-Mart's push to have the last major-label holdouts drop DRM will be good for us all. If that happens, Wal-Mart's influence will at least have something to do with it.

Wading into Amazon's murky water
The company still is known primarily as a site to buy books, music and DVDs. Sales of media products accounted for nearly two-thirds of Amazon's sales in the first nine months of this year.

Still, Amazon is not forgetting its roots. In 2007, Amazon launched both MP3 Downloads, a downloadable music store, and the Kindle, a hardware e-book reader device with a built-in marketplace that lets people download books and magazine content.

Why Would Any Company Trust Microsoft Over DRM Ever Again?
It really was just last week, right, that Microsoft was last seen totally screwing over all those partners who had signed up to use its misnamed "PlaysForSure" DRM? Apparently, bygones are bygones and other companies have no problem stepping right up into Microsoft's embrace on a new DRM solution -- this time in the mobile space. Nokia is apparently agreeing to use Microsoft's mobile DRM offering dubbed "PlayReady" on a variety of Nokia devices. You would have thought that after the PlaysForSure debacle, Microsoft would avoid dubbing its DRM anything similar. Give it a few years and perhaps Microsoft will support some totally different DRM on its own phones (like it did with the Zune) and then we can ask again what Nokia was thinking.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

snapshot 12/18/07

Doug's Universal Toll Booth Collects From XM
Universal Music Group has settled a lawsuit against XM over a player that records XM programming by extracting a per unit fee from the satellite radio service similar to the per unit charge it gets from every Zune sold.

KOCH Records Now Available in iTunes Plus
KOCH Records, the # 1 Independent Music Label for 6 years running, now offers its catalog in iTunes Plus, which features DRM-free music with audio quality virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings (

Cornerworld Debuts 5 Million Song Digital Music Catalog with Napster
Cornerworld Corp. announced today that the Company has launched a new offering with Napster, Inc the pioneer of digital music, that will provide CornerWorld members with full access to Napster’s complete digital music catalog of more than 5 million music files through the Company’s flagship site, The new offering is an extension of a distribution agreement with Napster, Inc, signed earlier this year that gives Napster the non-exclusive right to reproduce and distribute to its subscribers original content from Cornerworld members as a part of their digital music store.

Why Dropping DRM Won't Save The Music Business (AAPL)
  • We don't think most consumers are aware of any DRM restrictions, because almost everything they buy or own works on iTunes and iPods.
  • We have yet to see any concrete numbers from either EMI or Universal Music Group about their DRM-free tracks sold at iTunes and Amazon's new mp3 store. We've been told, unofficially, that sales are "encouraging," but we think if they were truly impressive, we'd have seen the results already.
  • The conventional wisdom is that if only consumers had legal opportunities to buy music online, they would do so instead of using P2P filesharing systems, or borrowing and ripping their friends' CDs etc. But there's no shortage of legal places to buy music online these days, and consumers are indeed buying songs: They bought 1 billion tracks at iTunes in the first half of this year, and we assume that rate increased this fall. But the industry's main problem remains unchanged: It used to sell discs at a wholesale price of $10; now it sells individual songs at a wholesale of about 70 cents. If the business is going to survive, it's going to have to figure out a way to do that profitably -- and dropping DRM isn't going to solve that problem.

Amazon partners with fans' online record label
Sellaband, the fledgling music site which allows users to become 'investors' in bands whose music they like, has been given a major fillip by striking a distribution deal with Amazon. From January, a dedicated section of the Amazon store will be devoted to music produced by acts that have been discovered on Sellaband, with albums selling for £8.99. Once the wholesale price Amazon pays for the music has been deducted, remaining profits - understood to be about £6 per album - will be split equally between Sellaband, the artists and their 'investors', otherwise known as fans.

Next for Apple: Lossless iTunes Store
Apple has used its own lossless audio format since 2004 -- Apple Lossless Audio Codec, or ALAC. But why bother developing its own, when patent- and royalty-free options were already available? Firstly, some options weren't Mac-compatible. Others didn't support DRM. FLAC, arguably the most popular lossless codec, actively discourages the use of DRM, and Apple knows better than to anger a mob of hardcore geeks by shoving copy-protection into their open-source format.

But by not using FLAC -- a format rarely supported by players, bar Cowon, for example -- Apple ensures only its devices will work with Apple Lossless, thus a) maintaining the crucial ecosystem, and b) ensuring future sales of iPods, namely the expensive 160GB models.

Sony Reader felled by the classics
he load-up time, I've discovered, depends on the length of the book. At 3,423 pages with the smallest font (4,757 pages in the medium font, and 7,269 in large font), War and Peace takes more time than any other book I've tried. Our Mutual Friend, the Charles Dickens classic at 2,678 pages, comes in at 16 seconds. Pudd'nhead Wilson, at 428 pages, takes only about five seconds. Anything less than 400 pages takes about three seconds.

The Reader apparently insists on loading up the entire book before you can read it. Since most people don't read entire books in one sitting, this seems a bit weird.

Monday, December 17, 2007

snapshot 12/17/07

Digital business heats up for Latin music
After years of modest results, the digital marketplace in 2007 finally began to yield considerable revenue streams for Latin labels and acts. Sales of Latin digital albums numbered 477,000 units by December 10, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- 1.6 percent of all Latin albums sold. That figure is still significantly less than the 10.4 percent portion of album sales overall that were digital, but far exceeds the 293,000 digital album sales tallied for Latin music in 2006.
Growth has been bolstered by iTunes Latino's solidified status as a destination for a vast, well-catalogued library of music and by the proliferation of videos by Latin acts now found on YouTube. Ringtones and master ringtones are also growing sources of revenue for Latin labels.

New music services reach for slice of digital pie
After 2006 -- a year when virtually no one managed to launch a digital music service in competition with Apple's dominant iTunes -- 2007 was a refreshing change of pace. Several fresh faces emerged onto the digital music scene this year, buoyed in part by record companies' newfound willingness to experiment with different business models, but also by the departure of several high-profile competitors.
By far the most visible service to throw in the towel this year was MTV's Urge; now, a new entity called Rhapsody America joins Rhapsody's technology with MTV's editorial and music curation staff. Sony began the slow dimming of the switch on the struggling Connect music service. The company in August announced a gradual shutdown that will begin in March, laying off about 20 employees and reallocating the remainder to another division.

Zune, though, is hanging in there. This year, the Microsoft service was upgraded with a decidedly social networking-oriented strategy. The Zune Social initiative incorporates user profiles (called Zune Cards) that members can use to list their favorite artists, post widgets onto other social networking services and let others sample music in full-song fashion. Meanwhile, a host of such companies as Snocap and Lala tried a more "distributed commerce" approach -- where digital vending machines called "widgets" let artists offer downloads from their own social network profiles, as well as from their fans' profiles, rather than forcing consumers to visit digital megastores like iTunes.

Piper sees iTunes rentals, new breed of Apple touch games in 08
Meanwhile, Munster and his team also expect Apple to announce new content partnerships with one or more movie studios, which may involve the launch of iTunes movie rentals.
If Apple begins renting movie downloads on iTunes, we expect a related software update to the Apple TV enabling movie rentals direct to the Apple TV. In fact, the Apple TV software currently includes 'iTunes Store settings' in its settings menu, but the option is essentially inactive," he wrote. "We expect this setting to be activated soon; users will likely be able to log into their iTunes accounts directly from the Apple TV and browse movie rentals, then download them directly to their Apple TV."

Is Microsoft’s 80GB Zune Officially A Hit?
Microsoft’s 80GB Zune is reportedly experiencing a surge in demand during the Holiday season with some retailers experiencing shortages. The first generation of the Zune was Dead On Arrival, but the follow-up has proven to even the hardest critics that the portable music player is ready for its close-up. In fact, many industry analysts have picked the Zune over the iPod in their evaluations.

“What’s happening is that consumers are putting the 80GB Zune up against the 80GB iPod Classic and finding better value with Microsoft,” Greg Geller, Technology Editor for FutureMusic observes. “For gift buyers who are looking for a portable music player, the Microsoft Zune offers the best technology bang for the buck with the iPod Touch being just too expensive for average consumers and having only 8-16MB of storage.”

Rhapsody Makes Facebook App (Because Everyone Else Is Doing It)
Just got word that the Rhapsody music service has a new Facebook app called Music By Rhapsody. You get "access" to 4.5 million songs, and there's a preference engine that recommends songs for you and your visitors to play from the profile page. The price catch is, you get 25 free songs per month, after which you have to upgrade to a paid-for plan. And the whole thing, still in beta, feels more promotional than servicy. Like many Facebook apps, the promise of doing things right there on the profile page is quickly dashed, and you're whisked away to another page after just a click or two. I don't blame Rhapsody, I just think the Facebook app format is—ahem—highly overrated. [Rhapsody on Facebook]

Warner Music Faces Challenging Wall Street Week
Wall Street may continue to punish Warner Music Group this week, now a battered stock. Shares of WMG dipped as low as $6.21 last week before settling at $6.34 by the closing bell Friday. The stock, now a sub-$5 threat, has been buffeted by both external market conditions and a disillusioned recording industry investor. Instead of improved revenues and a successful digital transition, investors have mostly witnessed a downward sales spiral - as well as the departure of superstars like Madonna.

Now, onlookers are wondering exactly where the bottom is. Clearly, Warner has assets on its balance sheet - both on the recording and publishing side. But a punishing year is wreaking havoc on investor psychology, and the all-important fourth quarter is offering little relief. Cumulative album sales recently edged towards 442.5 million units for the week ending December 9th, a 14.8 percent year-over-year decline according to Nielsen Soundscan.

Having it all: New model for lossless downloads
An agreement in October between Olive Media and MusicGiants envisions a vastly different consumption of digital music, where owners of media servers (like Olive's) download CD-quality music files (like MusicGiants') that are also freed from the restraints of Digital Rights Management.

MTV to premiere Britney’s latest video on Web first
For the second time in the past seven days, MTV Networks has chosen an alternative distribution method for new content. This time, MTV will premier Britney Spears’ new music video “Piece of Me” exclusively on its Web site. Starting Friday at 11 p.m. ET, will showcase “Piece of Me”, the second video off Spears’ recently released album “Blackout”, for 48 hours. Afterward, the video will go into rotation on MTV’s cable TV channels.

Just last week, Paramount Pictures and MTV announced they were using a different distribution strategy for the latest movie in the Jackass franchise, “Jackass 2.5.” It will be streamed free of charge before being released later on download-to-own services such as iTunes and Blockbuster’s Movielink and DVD. “Jackass 2.5” and Britney Spears, a tabloid favorite, certainly aren’t the best that the movie and music worlds have to offer, but it’s obvious MTV and Paramount are paying attention where there youthful customers are — and that’s on the Internet, not always in front of their TVs and at the movie theater.

Friday, December 14, 2007

snapshot 12/14/07

Happy holidays for video game biz
It's shaping up to be a huge holiday season for the vidgame biz, as boffo sales in November for Activision's "Call of Duty 4" and "Guitar Hero 3," Nintendo's "Super Mario Galaxy" and Wii console and Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed" drove the industry to a new record. The year is going so well, in fact, that the $13.1 billion in total industry revenue as of Dec. 1 surpassed the total for all of 2006, according to the NPD Group. "If the year had ended on Dec. 1, 2007 would be up 5% vs. last year," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier. "With the biggest month of the year yet to go, total industry sales are on track to achieve between $18 billion and $19 billion in the U.S."

Mobile makers shake up music biz
Mobile operators are losing their grip on the mobile-music business. The latest threats: a planned free service from handset vendor Nokia and a new music-downloading service from rival Sony Ericsson that will launch next spring.

Sony Ericsson plans to offer more than one million full-track songs that users can download straight to their phones or PCs with a service called PlayNow. It's a gutsy move, because PlayNow undermines Sony Ericsson's best customers, mobile carriers like Orange and Vodafone that buy hundreds of millions of phones.

E-Commerce Sites Continue to Struggle With Holiday Traffic
Thirteen years after Pizza Hut debuted the first web-page order form, you'd think online retailers would have all the kinks worked out of their e-commerce sites. Guess again: Retailers have seen record sales online this year, but there's also been a host of embarrassing outages at major sites.

Holiday web traffic has always been strangely problematic. Even though retailers have compensated for growth by continuously increasing the capacity of their sites, a rotating cast of retailers continues to experience e-commerce meltdowns on high-traffic days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This year was no exception, with's eight hours of downtime on Black Friday matched by Yahoo Shopping's 10-hour crash on Cyber Monday.

But many retailers, it seems, haven't learned that web stability is more about shoppers than actual buyers. "While e-commerce isn't doubling or tripling, it's catching some online retailers off-guard in another way," explains Harpointner. "There is an increasing number of users who are going online to price items, and they are driving traffic to the sites and using bandwidth in the process." In other words, the retailers have enough online cash registers for customers who are buying, but not enough floor space to accommodate the crowds who are only looking.

More Bands Experimenting With Free As A Part Of The Business Model
Eric the Grey writes in to let us know about yet another band understanding the economics facing the music industry. Apparently the band Big Head Todd and the Monsters isn't just giving away free downloads of their new album, but are also giving away 500,000 CDs. They're actually doing it in an interesting way. Somewhat similar to Prince's recent offering to give away CDs with newspapers, BHTM is giving the CDs away via radio stations. Fans could sign up on the band's website for the CDs or get them from radio stations who are being given the CDs in batches to be given away. While giving away physical CDs doesn't make as much sense as just offering the downloads (it's a lot costlier...), it appears that the folks involved with this project understand the basics: "This sort of thing might very well be the future of music distribution. Give away the music, build a bigger fan base [and] generate revenue through live shows, merchandising and other platforms." That, of course, is what plenty of folks have been suggesting for years, while having record label execs insist it would never fly.

Comedian Hofstetter experiments with pay-what-you-want — and provides numbers
Following in the footsteps of Radiohead, Steve Hofstetter, an up and coming comedian with a strong Internet following among high school and college-age kids, has released his latest album “The Dark Side of the Room” on his Website. He’s believed to be the first comedian to take a pay-what-you-want approach.
  • He currently is averaging about $6 an album, including freeloaders. That’s more than triple what his royalty would be if this we released by a label.
  • The most common price paid is $9.95, what the album would cost on iTunes.
  • Unlike Radiohead, Hofstetter has his fans choose between various payment levels — 1 cent (I wish it were free!) to $4.95 (a bargain!) to $8.95 (save a buck) to $29.95 (big tipper!) and everything in between.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

snapshot 12/13/07

Indie filmmakers can score Moby freebies online
Dance musician Moby has launched a Web site that gives his music away -- to the right people, of course. He is licensing his music for free via to help out indie and student filmmakers.

PlaysForSure officially dead
Today, one of my colleagues pointed out that Microsoft's no longer maintaining the facade: PlaysForSure has officially been rolled into another logo program, Certified for Windows Vista. The old compatibility guidelines and tests for device partners are still in place, but the brand will quietly disappear into the annals of market failures.

Select XM Original Programming Available On XMradio.Com and Itunes as Podcast Downloads Beginning Today
XM, the nation's leading satellite radio service with more than 8.5 million subscribers, announced today that select XM original music, news and sports series are now available as free podcasts for download through and Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store ( Beginning today, consumers can download XM content hosted by Bob Edwards, James Carville, Luke Russert, Mike Krzyzewski, Barry Switzer and Opie & Anthony, as well as exclusive XM music and comedy programming.

Digital music player makers to aggressively launch Windows CE 6.0-based products
Digital music player makers are competing to launch new products based on Windows Embedded CE 6.0 (WinCE) technology, according to makers. Apple's launch of the iPod touch has stimulated demand for devices featuring touch panels and as such has increased the desirability of the WinCE platform to digital music player chip suppliers and assemblers.

In the past, Texas Instruments (TI), Freescale and ADI all pushed chips that support the WinCE platform, according to makers. However, as production costs are high, the technology is still mainly limited to PDA, GPS and other portable devices, said the makers. Nevertheless, with improved software integration and reduced development time for the products to two to three months, many digital music player makers have been developing WinCE-based digital music, and digital video players since the second half of 2007. The price for a traditional digital music system-on-chip (SoC) solution is around US$3-4 while chips that support WinCE are around US$7-8. Thus, the new digital media players will still target the mid-range and high-end markets, said the makers.

Wal-Mart Enjoys Eagles Multi-Platinum Moment
The Eagles have now gone triple-platinum on their latest release, Long Road Out of Eden, according to figures released by the RIAA. That is a significant accomplishment for the group, and a validation of a Wal-Mart exclusive distribution strategy. "The album surpassed our expectations in sales from the very first week," said Gary Severson, senior vice president of Entertainment at Wal-Mart. The album was released on October 30th, and scored sales of 711,000 during its debut week.

Another extended outage at Rhapsody locks out some users
An extended outage at RealNetworks' Rhapsody music service has locked out an unknown number of users for the second time since March. While the earlier problem prevented some customers from accessing the site for up to two weeks, this time executives don't know when the problem will be corrected. A handful of Rhapsody users complained on the company's message boards this week that they haven't been able to log on since Friday.

"It's a known issue," said Justine Navaja, a company spokesperson. "We don't know yet when it will be fixed, but it's only affecting a small group of users. We're doing what we can to make sure it gets fixed as soon as possible."

Viacom Looks for a Web Kick
In an experiment that tests consumer appetite for online movies, Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures movie, "Jackass 2.5," is skipping traditional theatrical release in favor of online distribution. The movie, from Paramount and MTV New Media, is the second sequel in a franchise based on the MTV program that features violent, often stomach-churning stunts. On Dec. 19, "Jackass 2.5" will be available exclusively on Blockbuster's Web site for free streaming, meaning viewers can watch but not keep the movie. Starting Dec. 26, the movie will be available for purchase on DVD at all major DVD retailers, but for rentals the DVD will be available only at Blockbuster.

Will iLike users like Thumbplay's ringtones too?
Thumbplay announced on Thursday a deal it just wrapped up with iLike, a music recommendation service big on Facebook, to exclusively stock iLike's virtual shelves with ringtones. Thumbplay's ringtones are disguised on by the generic command to "get ringtones," and placed alongside iTunes links. They'll also be sprinkled throughout the iLike Challenge game on iLike's site and will be available for purchase through the iLike Facebook app.

Simplify Media extends to iPhone, gets funding
When we wrote about Simplify Media in July, we pointed out the company’s ability to tie together the libraries of iTunes users, allowing them to stream music to their friends or to themselves, when away from their home computer. The Redwood City, Calif. company has now added support for Winamp, iPhone and iPod Touch. Users can hop onto a WiFi connection with their iPhone, hook up to their home computer and listen to their full collection remotely.

Simplify is interesting because, while iTunes includes native support for streaming, the program restricts sharing to a limited number of authorized computers. The Simplify add-on instead opens your collection to up to 30 other devices on your list, providing full access as long as your computer remains on. And because it’s built in to other existing applications, Simplify’s app doesn’t require users to learn a new system for sharing. The company’s end-goal is to work across every program, opening up friends’ playlists to each other even when they all have different music players.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

snapshot 12/12/07

Orb opens up iPhone
Orb is expected to announce that it's supporting Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch in the next few days. Orb provides access to your playlists and songs on your home PC (as well as photos, videos and TV) from anywhere. It's Sling without the hardware, with many users simply using it to access their home music collections at work. On the iPhone and Touch, Orb is accessed through the browser. It wasn't as straightforward as that, however, since Apple stealthily blocks applications that use RTSP, the standard mobile streaming protocol. It will deliver your streams in MP4 instead.

Second-gen iPhone in final phase; Apple TV update planned - report
After meeting with key component suppliers and manufacturers in Asia, researchers for investment bank Goldman Sachs said this week they believe Apple will introduce two revisions to the iPhone in 2008 -- one minor, one major -- in addition to an Apple TV overhaul during the second half of the year. Among them is a second-generation iPhone currently in the "final design phase," the analyst said. The handset is expected to "have a similar form factor as the current version although it could have a different look and will probably include 3G capability."

Meanwhile, the analyst's Asian contacts have also led him to believe that "Apple will be making changes to Apple TV" sometime in the second half of 2008 "which could include an LCD display." Bailey estimates that the next-gen iPhone will launch sometime during the second half of the year, but also believes the company will tie over consumers with "a smaller upgrade with more flash memory earlier in the year."

Mog Gets Rhapsody, Gives You Instant Song Search-and-Play
Until now, Mog, the music blog network, has been missing one key ingredient: mainstream music. Music lovers could talk about music, share files of more obscure acts, and even share YouTube videos of popular songs. But today, Mog teamed with Rhapsody to deliver all those millions of tracks inside the web browser legally. (You will have to pay the $10-per-month PC subscription, or else use up Rhapsody's 25 free listens per month.) Mog also added a fast Spotlight-style search engine, which lets you grab songs fast. It'll even find songs you may not be able to play, but will tell you quickly whether you'll hear it or not.

Curtain Falls On Movie Download 1.0; But Get Ready For The Sequel; MovieBeam closing down, but Apple, Netflix, TiVo, others vie in the 2.0 game
Movie rental service MovieBeam, once backed by Walt Disney, Intel and Cisco Systems, will close down Saturday, stranding people who paid $200 for its set-top box with a useless piece of hardware. Call it the crash of Digital Download 1.0, an eight-year effort by Hollywood and tech startups trying to do an end-run around cable and satellite TV firms by selling movies and TV shows direct to consumers via the Internet. Other pioneers still standing despite taking some arrows in the back include CinemaNow, Akimbo and Vongo.

Analysts say these services were in large part simply ahead of the times. But a new crop of players -- including Apple, TiVo and Netflix -- believe the time is right. They're looking to steal market share for fee-based movies, TV shows and videos from cable and satellite TV companies. Time will tell what the killer application for downloading and watching video will be. Some companies are pushing a PC-to-TV solution. Others are looking at Internet-enabled TV sets such as Sony's Bravia. Others maintain an Internet-connected TV set-top box is the way to go.

Forget the SanDisk Deal, NBC Direct Will Soon Have Free Downloads in HD
In the meantime, NBC has something brewing that could actually make a difference to the digital-download appeal on its own site, NBC Direct. NBC will soon start using peer-to-peer technology from Pando to distribute its downloads, a story StreamingMedia broke a couple weeks ago. Yesterday at the Web Video Summit in New York City, where I was moderating a panel, I was able to confirm that a stripped-down version of Pando’s technology will be incorporated into the NBC Direct video player. I also learned something new. The reason NBC wants to go with P2P technology is because it wants to start distributing high-definition videos. Pando’s P2P system can help NBC not just to lower the cost of distributing large files, but also to differentiate itself with HD video downloads. No special Vudu box or SanDisk USB video device will be necessary.

Microsoft rebrands PlaysForSure to Certified For Windows Vista, confuses world
Microsoft's PlaysForSure DRM just took another step closer to the grave with the help of some rebranding. Those of you with players from SanDisk, Nokia, and Creative among others, looking for compatible music from Napster, Real Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, Wal-Mart and such must now look for the "Certified for Windows Vista" logo, not PlaysForSure. Of course, Microsoft's Zune is also certified for Windows Vista, just not certified for Windows Vista so it won't play back the same protected files.

Eleven Seven Strikes iLike Deal, Slithers Into Facebook
Eleven Seven Music has now secured a strong position within Facebook, thanks to a well-chosen deal involving iLike. The label tie-up, which first surfaced last week, involves promotions for a number of Eleven Seven bands, including Drowning Pool, Mötley Crüe, and SIXX: A.M. The groups are posting music videos, tour diaries, personal video messages and online events onto iLike, and often debuting fresh content.

Those assets are being pumped into iLike's Universal Artist Dashboard and iCast multimedia blogging tools, and syndicated into Facebook via the popular iLike application. "Our new Universal Artist Dashboard offers Mötley Crüe, Drowning Pool and SIXX: A.M. a channel to reach the most fans with the least effort, with a syndicated presence on iLike, Facebook and beyond," explained Ali Partovi, chief executive of iLike. Other Eleven Seven artists include Buckcherry, Trapt, and The Exies. Eleven Seven was founded by Allen Kovac, chief executive of music marketing and management company 10th Street Entertainment.

Nokia: Comes with Music tracks are WMA 192kbps and 128kbps
  • Audio is wrapped in an old-school, WMA DRM wrapper
  • Songs can be burned to CD only after purchasing an upgrade of undisclosed cost
  • Nokia has not announced any CWM devices, yet
  • You can download music directly to your CWM device or computer using a unique PIN
  • Songs will play only on your CWM device and the computer you registered with your CWM account
  • Oh, and tracks will "typically" be delivered in 192kbps, while "older tracks may be delivered at 128kbps"

Once-Hyped SpiralFrog Continues Licensing March
Ad-supported SpiralFrog recently pushed its catalog past one million, a development that inches the company towards competitiveness. SpiralFrog was the focus of a media frenzy last year, though the startup is now trudging through a far less glamorous existence. That includes laborious negotiations with individual rights owners, and in at least one instance, a ludicrous multi-million dollar upfront licensing payment.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

snapshot 12/11/07

Dave Matthews Band and Van Halen join ringtone rush
In recent weeks, two of the more high-profile acts that weren't selling their music as ringtones have given in. And in both cases, AT&T Mobility is involved. The operator scored exclusive access to a handful of Dave Matthews Band's ringtones made from live recordings, but will later include studio tracks. Van Halen, meanwhile, is making its most popular songs available as ringtones to all wireless operators, but agreed to give AT&T exclusive versions of those same songs for a limited time.

Why now? Industry sources suspect that with such supergroups as Led Zeppelin and even AC/DC finally getting into the ringtone game, those influenced by them see less of a barrier for doing so as well. AT&T director of music and personalization products Mark Nagel says the Dave Matthews deal was a result of simply communicating the demand.

NBC to provide TV shows for SanDisk service
Media conglomerate NBC Universal will offer television programming for a Web-based service from SanDisk Corp that lets viewers download shows from the Internet and play them on a TV set-top, the companies said on Tuesday.

New shows from NBC's broadcast network as well as its cable channels like USA and Bravo will be available on SanDisk's Fanfare service in January. They include hit comedy "The Office," supernatural thriller "Heroes" and sitcom "30 Rock."NBC said earlier this year that it would not renew a contract to sell TV shows on Apple Inc's iTunes, the most popular media download service.

Salsa star and Sony BMG sign innovative touring deal
In what represents a first for the Latin music industry, a major label -- Sony BMG -- will promote all performances by a major artist -- Puerto Rican salsa star Gilberto Santa Rosa.

The deal struck between Santa Rosa and Day 1, a talent development division of Sony BMG's Latin-American arm, marks a departure from the revenue-sharing model that other Latin labels have recently taken up with their artists. Where Universal Music Latino, for example, is involved in tour sponsorships for rock singer Juanes and gets a percentage of his touring revenue, Day 1 will also represent Santa Rosa in all his public performances, either directly or by working with independent promoters in specific markets.

RealNetworks lays off a hundred employees
Around a hundred employees at RealNetworks are dealing with the news that their job is no longer available, and about 35 of those positions were in Seattle, Washington while the others were in Asia / Europe. According to company spokesman Bill Hankes, the firm made cuts "across the board to reduce redundancies built up as a result of six acquisitions made over the past two years," and he also added that these were the "first layoffs the company has made since those purchases." As it stands, around 1,700 employees are left, and no further job cuts are "planned."

Napster CFO quits after three years of commuting
Napster CFO and VP Nand Gangwani will leave the company at the end of the year. The "personal reason" cited? A killer commute. "Mr. Gangwani has been commuting from his home in the Bay Area to Los Angeles for the last four years," the release reads. Hmm. Why are we more inclined to believe Gangwani's departure has more to do with Napster's three-year share-price tumble from $10 in 2003 to $2.36 at yesterday's close -- and that his commute showed he was never that committed to the company in the first place?

Vudu gets 'Bourne' the same day as DVD
In a major shift in movie distribution, a high-definition version of the hit "The Bourne Ultimatum" will be released through Vudu Inc.'s online service Tuesday -- the same day the DVD comes out. It is the first of many HD movies Vudu plans to deliver online at the same time DVDs become available.Owners of Vudu's set-top box, which costs $399, use a high-speed Internet connection to watch the movies they rent and to download the ones they buy.

Some Music Still Sells: Latest Gold & Platinum Album Certifications
Despite sales declines that could reach 15% in 2007, some music is still selling. After the jump you'll find the latest gold and platinum album certifications including some surprising older titles that keep on selling. Who knew people still cared about Anne Murray?

Snocap Aggressively Shopping Itself ... Any Takers?
Beleaguered digital music upstart Snocap is now looking for an exit door, and pitching itself to prospective buyers. On Monday, Snocap vice president of Marketing and Public Relations Bruce Taylor confirmed that the company is aggressively seeking acquisition prospects, and courting multiple possibilities. "There are several companies that we are having active discussions with," Taylor told Digital Music News, though the executive stopped short of offering specifics.
Meanwhile, a number of sources pointed to a hard closure at the end of January if a buyer is not found, though Taylor dismissed those claims as unfounded. "We are funded through the sale," Taylor said. The latest development follows a major downsizing at Snocap in October, and revelations of meager revenues from a MySpace ecommerce pact.

Maroon 5, Fergie among year's top sellers on iTunes
Maroon 5 and Fergie hold the top spots on iTunes' year-end sales roundup. The online music store released its top-selling albums and singles Tuesday, though they declined to release actual sales figures.

Maroon 5's sophomore album, "It Won't Be Soon Before Long," was the No. 1 seller on the site, followed by Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" and Kanye West's "Graduation." Winehouse and West are also leaders heading into the 50th annual Grammy Awards - he has eight nominations, she has six. Rounding out the top five best-selling albums were "American Idol" alum Chris Daughtry's band's self-titled debut, "Daughtry," and "Coco" by newcomer Colbie Caillat, who has the hit "Bubbly." Fergie came in first and fifth place in single sales. Her hit "Big Girls Don't Cry" was the top-selling single of the year for iTunes, while "Glamorous" finished in fifth. Gwen Stefani's "The Sweet Escape" came in second place, followed by Plain White T's "Hey There Delilah" and Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend."

Amazon Invests in Bill Me Later
Buying stuff on Amazon is about to get even easier. The online retailer took an equity stake in a Maryland-based company called Bill Me Later that lets people shop now and pay later at more than 700 Websites, including the Apple Store, Overstock,, and Amazon will be offering the payment option as well.

The way Bill Me Later works is you enter your birth date and last four digits of your social security number online, and it does a credit check on you in three seconds to determine whether you are worth the risk. Bill Me Later pays the merchant, and sends you a bill. (It also powers PayPal’s Pay Later service). According to the Baltimore Sun, about 3 million people have signed up so far, and the company is on track to pull in over $100 million in revenues this year. It must have some really sophisticated algorithms to make that credit risk decision on the fly. For people still not comfortable using a credit card to pay online, this type of service removes any remaining friction in e-commerce. I wonder what its default rate is.

Digital kids grow up
Club Penguin, Webkinz, Starfall, and Facebook. They may sound like childish names, but these are some of the companies that proved in 2007 that kid's play online is serious business. Kids' lives seemed immersed in technology at every turn this year, whether it was Barbie morphing into an MP3 player or teens spending the summer at a high-tech camp.

Millions of kids cut their teeth on the Web this year. Little ones learned their ABCs on Starfall; tweens paid dues to play virtual house on Club Penguin and Webkinz; and high schoolers and older teens "Facebooked" each other as the hippest way to keep in touch.

XStreamHD to Take on VUDU with HD Movie Box
A new service that will fill a set-top box with high-definition, pre-downloaded movies will launch early next year, and the company will begin announcing content deals at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. The startup is XStreamHD, which will use existing satellite technology to download between roughly 30 to 280 movies, from standard-definition resolutions on up to 1080p.

Monday, December 10, 2007

snapshot 12/10/07

MySpace gears up for more music with Transmissions
Hoping to broaden its relevance to the music industry in the face of increasing competition from other social networking sites, MySpace will roll out a suite of services and initiatives as part of what company officials are calling MySpace Music 2.0. But a new policy at Universal Music Group (UMG), the world's biggest record company, limiting full-song streaming on the site illustrates the challenges ahead.

The first hint of MySpace's music effort is Transmissions: The site ( elID=115631898) features video of participating artists in the MySpace studios, performing select songs and conducting interviews, both of which MySpace has the exclusive rights to stream. Bowing to label pressure to start monetizing MySpace traffic that to date has been mostly promotional, MySpace will provide links for users to buy songs by all featured Transmissions artists. According to MySpace VP of marketing and content Josh Brooks, the idea is to create more opportunities for "instant gratification" music purchases. However, the company won't dictate how those purchases are made.

Universal Music Group in Web deal with Imeem
Universal Music Group on Monday said it signed an agreement with music-based social networking Web site Imeem Inc to provide free, on-demand streaming of its digital music and videos that will be supported by advertising. Universal, which is owned by French media group Vivendi, is the fourth major music company to strike a deal with the Web site, following Warner Music Group Corp, EMI Music and Sony BMG Music Entertainment, a joint venture between Sony Corp and Bertelsmann AG.

Songza’s Free Internet Jukebox: Any Song Instantly
Songza is a music search engine that acts as a free internet jukebox. It locates songs posted on the net and lets you listen to them in their entirety and add them to playlists or blogs. To try it out, visit, choose the song or artist you wish and Songza will search for your request and play it. Its all presented via a clean, clutter-free design and transparent remote control ( play, share, rate and add to playlist). Unlike KaZaa or Bit Torrent, Songza does not enable unauthorized downloads of digital music files; users can only listen to songs, not obtain copies. And unlike or Rhapsody, Songza permits users to choose exactly the song or artist they want to hear, and does not require them to subscribe or pay for the service.

Stars Are Aligning for Subscription Music
Now, changing consumer behavior is giving subscription advocates new hope. Members of the Facebook Generation are bombarded with music recommendations every day, and don't necessarily want to pay a buck to check each one out. And since people are used to getting e-mail, appointments, and news feeds streamed to smartphones and other devices, many industry watchers assume they'll want the same for music. "If I can access whatever I want whenever I want," says Ted Cohen, who led EMI's digital music efforts and now runs an entertainment consultancy called TAG Strategic, "why do I need to own it?"

Music Retail Bleeding Continues, Handleman Shows Declines
Music and entertainment retailer Handleman Company reported revenue and earnings declines during the recent quarter, an all-too-familiar result in the sector. For the company's fiscal second quarter ending October 27th, revenues dipped 4.5 percent to $315.5 million, and losses widened $6.8 million to $15.0 million. Those are movements in the wrong direction, and part of a larger bloodletting in music retail.

During its recent quarterly report, the company pointed to "lower music sales in the United States and Canada," as well as a severed relationship with distribution partner ASDA in August. The company also outlined losses from various "cost saving initiatives," and heavy charges from currency fluctuations. Additionally, Handleman incurred a serious loss related to a 2005 investment in London-based startup Blueprint Digital Ltd.

Universal Music Restricting Music Streaming On Certain Sites
Universal Music Group, the largest music label, has implemented a new online streaming policy for its artists: each song for its artists will be limited to either 90-second clips or full-songs that contain promotional voice-over messages, reports Billboard. Excluded are any online services that UMG has a commercial licensing deal with, which means it is getting compensated for each stream. The policy applies to MySpace (which UMG is suing for violation of copyright law) and others. The story says UMG is concerned that users won’t buy the track or album if they get free streaming of full songs.

Video games score headshot against DVDs this season
DVD sales are lagging and game sales are up. Something's gotta give, as they say. Retail shelf space is a finite thing in the world of brick and mortar, so each inch has to be maximized with product that is going to sell. As video games continue their rise, we're likely to see less and less shelf space given to DVDs, and more to video games and related merchandise.

Retailers don't have any loyalty to the DVD market; if they can make more money by stocking their shelves with video games and hardware, they will. With even 7-11 locations beginning to stock games for big launches, games could become the dominant product on the shelves of historically music- and movie-focused stores.

Bands and the net make sweet music The possibilities of the web are setting new challenges for the music business, says Barry Mansfield
After years of kicking and screaming, there are signs that the industry is coming to terms with the fact that the market has changed for good. The internet is now the stage where stars will be born and established artists can indulge their fans in the hope of sell-out crowds when touring.
With the launch of KylieKonnect ( last month, Kylie Minogue became the first star to create a dedicated social-networking site. It allows her fans to create personal profiles, upload images and blogs, and communicate with other fans across the globe using their mobile phone or web browser. Similarly, Habbo (, one of the largest virtual worlds for teenagers, has been used by McFly and Bullet for My Valentine to engage with their fans. Artists have an avatar created that looks like them and then chat with their fans in a public room on the site in real time. Other artists, such as Oasis and Sean Kingston, have chosen Habbo to launch previews of new material.

'Everyone is talking about the demise of the music business, but it's really just the demise of big business in music,'' explains Shelley Taylor, the site's founder. "Digital has not, and will not, become the cure for what ails us. We also need to continue to deliver quality, for which there is no substitute.'' That Elton John and the Rolling Stones can command up to pounds 350 per seat at their concerts demonstrates the true value of a star performer. At the root of the music industry's transformation is a rediscovery, or a renewed appreciation, of the communal origins of music-making and listening. As MP3 players and online video have grown in popularity, so has an appreciation that music isn't just something that goes on between your ears.

Wired Decides: Zune or iPod This Holiday Season?
Hardware -The iPod has a nice 2.5-inch screen and a familiar and simple scroll wheel. But the Zune has a larger 3.2-inch, 320 x 240-pixel LCD, a full 0.7-inches bigger than the iPod classic's screen. Yes, the Zune's touchpad is quirky, but it's also elegant.

Content - iTunes is still king of content, but cracks are starting to show. It can't rip DVDs and the hemorrhaging of some content (Goodbye NBC) has blackened the eye of the once unstoppable juggernaut. The Zune marketplace has been re-designed from the ground up and features an ever-expanding library of audio and video content. 3 million songs and growing, all available on an affordable subscription plan.

Networking - iTunes syncing is seamless and quick (but not wireless) and there's no integrated FM radio. Sharing songs or "squirting" them to friends may sound disgusting, but it actually works pretty well. Unlike the iPod, no dongle is needed to listen to FM stations.