Monday, March 31, 2008

snapshot 3/31/08

Sony films headed to mobile phones
Sony Pictures Television is looking to launch the first movie network on mobile phones in the United States. The studio has signed a deal with AT&T and MediaFLO USA to launch the linear channel as one of two exclusive channels coming to the newly announced AT&T Mobile TV with FLO service in May.

Musicians take social networking into their own hands
50 Cent has more than 1 million friends on MySpace, but if the rapper ever decides to leave the social network, he'll be leaving behind those friends, too. So like a growing number of artists, he's started his own social networking site. Even more important: Fans seem to be buying directly from the sites. On Minogue's KylieKonnect, launched in fall 2007 through U.K.-based New Visions Mobile, nearly 25 percent of users have made a ringtone, download or merchandise purchase, company director Julia McNally says.

Web-based YouTube coming to iPhone Safari
Apple's anticipated iPhone 2.0 firmware will add some form of YouTube support within Safari, accounts say. Apple recently began distributing an updated version of the iPhone firmware to accompany the latest version of the SDK, and YouTube is now said to be accessible through a plug-in for Traditionally, iPhone and iPod touch users have had to access YouTube from a separate, custom application, which also only links specially-formatted videos.

Still to be confirmed by developers is whether the plug-in simply provides an integrated web version of the current application, or whether it somehow introduces a form of Flash support. The public iPhone version of Safari does not presently support Flash, mainly due to concerns over battery consumption. Adobe, however, has said it is building a variant of the software that will be downloadable after the App Store goes live in June.

The Greatest Threat, and Opportunity for iTune
The challenge is that all this media is available for free from multiple outlets most notably Bittorrent, Limewire, etc. The other challenge is that a lot of people are getting their media this way. It isn’t an act of hackers. It isn’t underground. The words Bittorrent and Limewire are, I would argue, are more widely know than HMV (do they still exist?) or any other number of brick and mortar stores. As people’s expectation is thaTt music (and, increasingly movies) should be available freely and readily this is a problem for Apple. But in that problem hopefully lies a solution.

So now, the big question. How to pay for this all? Think back to radio. In order to listen to radio you have to a) own a radio, b) listen to advertising or c) pay a fee to not have advertising. Same model for music. You will have to own an iPod (which will assumedly have a tax on it of some sort), listen to advertising between songs, or pay a fee to download and own the music, forever.

TIf Apple doesn’t somehow adjust to this new reality the users and industry will do it without them. Already there are discussions underway between Comcast and Bittorrent with the idea floating around of some sort of monthly fee. What we are seeing right now with iTunes is the in between step from the old structures of selling and distributing music and the new. The new way is Apple’s greatest opportunity, or threat, if it choses to ignore it.

SpiralFrog's deal with Warner Music is half-baked
What's sad about the Warner/Chappell licensing deal, which SpiralFrog announced Monday, is that the troubled music service may be years away from actually featuring music from James Blunt, Green Day, Linkin Park, or any other Warner Music artist. That's because in addition to gaining the music's publishing rights, SpiralFrog must also acquire the recording rights in order to offer the music.

During my meeting with Mohen, no sooner had we sat down then SpiralFrog's public relations people sheepishly told me that the company was filing a Form 15 with the Securities and Exchange Commission later that day. SpiralFrog would no longer be reporting them publicly. What this means is that Mohen no longer has to reveal his company's progress--or lack thereof--since reporting a dismal third quarter. For the quarter that ended September 30, SpiralFrog posted a loss of $3.4 million on revenue of just $20,400.

The Democratization of the Music Industry
Allowing all music creators "in" is both exciting and frightening. Some argue that we need subjective gatekeepers as filters. No matter which way you feel about it, there are a few indisputable facts -- control has been taken away from the "four major labels" and the traditional media outlets. We, the "masses," now have access to create, distribute, discover, promote, share and listen to any music. Hopefully access to all of this new music will inspire us, make us think and open doors and minds to new experiences we choose, not what a corporation or media outlet decides we should want. It is then the public, not a corporation that gets to decide what is bad and good. The revolution (pun intended) has truly begun.

Buzznet Acquires Steve Case-Backed Music App Qloud: Report
A day after we broke the news on Buzznet’s latest funding and wondered who they’d be buying, Mashable claims, citing sources, that it has bought Qloud, the DC-based social music company that claims backing from Revolution LLC. SocialTimes reports the same and says an announcement is imminent. Deal terms have not been reported.

Qloud, started by two ex-AOLers, is the developer of the My Music app on Facebook, which, at one point claimed to be the second biggest music app on the site. Other investors include Ted Leonsis and former Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) music chief David Goldberg.

Friday, March 28, 2008

snapshot 3/28/08

BMI says ringtone sales are falling
Broadcast Music Inc. is projecting U.S. sales of mobile phone ringtones will fall in 2008 compared to last year. The company, which licenses performing rights to musical works, said Thursday it expects ringtone sales will total about $510 million this year, down 7 percent from 2007.

Rockstar and Amazon bring digital music distribution to GTA4
Looking to cash in on that potential, Amazon and Rockstar Games have teamed up to create an interesting new aspect of the game that will leverage the ever-increasing bond between gamers and music: Grand Theft Auto 4 is set to include a unique new model for digital music distribution: gamers will be able to buy music for their iPods, PCs, and other devices in-game.

The in-game radio feature of the Grand Theft Auto games has long been lauded, and now players will have the chance to scoop up the songs they hear in the game to listen to in the real world. A new technology called "ZiT" uses the game's cell phone feature. When players hear a song they like, they can dial a number on their in-game cell-phone to receive a text message detailing the artist and track title. For users that sign up for the new Rockstar Games Social Club, an e-mail will then be sent with a link to a custom playlist which features the tracks phoned in. These DRM-free tracks will be priced in the 89-99¢ Amazon price range.

Report: Music downloads on your Net access tab?
Jim Griffin, Warner's latest top-shelf hire and the former head of Geffen Music, told the details of a radical new strategy to deal with the record industry's 21st-century crisis. According to Griffin's plan, to which he said Warner Music is "totally committed," a monthly fee added to an Internet service bill--say, five bucks--could give consumers unlimited access to music that they could download, copy, and share.

SpiralFrog™ Now Third Largest Legal Music Download Site
SpiralFrog, Inc., ( the free, ad-supported Web-based music experience, today announced it crossed a major threshold with almost 850,000 registered users. Based on reported user numbers, SpiralFrog is now positioned as the third largest legal music download site in U.S. and Canada behind only iTunes and Rhapsody. The company also demonstrated further growth with traffic already surpassing two million unique monthly visitors for March.

Amazon Tightens Grip on Printing Inc., flexing its muscles as a major book retailer, notified publishers who print books on demand that they will have to use its on-demand printing facilities if they want their books directly sold on Amazon's Web site. The move signals that Amazon is intent on using its position as the premier online bookseller to strengthen its presence in other phases of bookselling and manufacturing. Amazon is one of the biggest booksellers in the U.S., with a market share publishing experts estimate to be about 15%. Amazon doesn't comment on sales.r

Your Ticket Is Ringing: Live Nation, Rogers Ditching Paper
The mobile phone has evolved into a multi-purpose weapon, despite its simpler roots. Phones are notoriously omnipresent at live events, but venues are now substituting mobile devices for hard tickets. And just recently, Live Nation brokered a pact with Toronto-based Rogers Wireless on a broad-reaching mobile ticketing solution, one that ditches paper-based tickets entirely.
The "Wireless Box Office" allows Rogers subscribers to present a phone-stored barcode at the gate at selected Live Nation venues in Canada. "The cellphone is literally and figuratively the ticket," a company representative said. The concept is part of a larger arrangement between the companies, one that includes exclusive access to select gigs.

Dave Matthews Pulls a Prince; Albums Bundled Into Shows
Dave Matthews Band is no stranger to multi-platinum album sales, but the group enjoys much stronger revenues from the road. Now, the band is bundling its latest album into a concert ticket purchase, a move pioneered by Prince years ago.

But this time around, the details are decidedly digital. The gratis album contains live performances from the upcoming tour, a work-in-progress approach that extends the excitement beyond the actual gig. Those purchasing tickets through Ticketmaster will have pre-order access to the digital album starting this Saturday. The album will be distributed to concertgoers in September, one month prior to a formal in-store release.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

snapshot 3/27/08

Teens turn deaf ear to risks of MP3 players
Teenagers seem to know that loud music can damage their hearing, yet most see no reason to lower the volume on their iPods, a small study suggests.

Music Outlaws, There's a New Sheriff in Town
Edgar Bronfman Jr.'s Warner Music Group has tapped industry veteran Jim Griffin to spearhead a controversial plan to bundle a monthly fee into consumers' Internet service bills for unlimited access to music. The plan—the boldest move yet to keep the wounded entertainment industry giants afloat—is simple: Consumers will pay a monthly fee, bundled into an internet service bill in exchange for unfettered access to a database of all known music.

"Today, it has become purely voluntary to pay for music," Griffin told in an exclusive sitdown this week. "If I tell you to go listen to this band, you could pay, or you might not. It's pretty much up to you. So the music business has become a big tip jar."

New AT&T Wireless service serves up music from your own PC
AT&T today announced two new music services for its consumers to directly access their library of music directly through their phones. The Make-UR-Tones service is designed to allow users to create and customize any ringtone, while Remix lets users access music from their home PC through a mobile phone. Napster Mobile will be available on more AT&T phones starting this summer, the company said.

The release of mSpot Make-UR-Tones -- available only by phone via the AT&T Media Mall -- makes AT&T the first US mobile phone carrier that allows subscribers to create and modify a ringtone from parts of a song. Ringtones can vary in length from one second up to 30 seconds. Make-UR-Tones costs $6.99 per month for three ringtones. Other customizable ringtones are available a la carte for $2.99 each. The service is available only on the Samsung SYNC, Samsung A737, Samsung A747 and Motorola V3xx, but will expand to phones from other manufacturers soon. Remix streams songs from users' Internet-connected PCs directly to phones, where they are stored in memory. The service is available now for $9.99 per month, for 75 music tracks per month. An additional 10 songs per month can be downloaded for an extra $2.99. Remix is available on the Samsung A737, Samsung SYNC, and LG SHINE phones.

Cox launches co-branded Rhapsody music service
Continuing its efforts to broaden the reach of its music service, Real on Thursday announced a deal with Cox, the third largest cable provider in the US.

New Borders Prototype is a Digital Experience
Borders Books & Music last month unveiled a new concept store highlighted by a multitude of digital experiences. The first store to feature the prototype opened on Feb. 22 in Borders' hometown of Ann Arbor, MI. The company plans to open 13 more in 2008, including a Las Vegas unit debuting in April and seven others in May.

The digital center has usurped a majority of the former music department, carrying a downsized inventory of product and a large amount of technological services. (Borders alluded to the change in its year-end financial release, reporting a decline in music sales and a plan to "reallocate floor space" accordingly.) Services in the digital center consist of:
  • Borders Digital Music, which enables shoppers to burn CDs and download music to digital music players from the chain's music library.
  • Personal Publishing, a service powered by the digital marketplace. Shoppers can publish their own books and register for an International Standard Book Number (ISBN).
  • Genealogy Searches. A partnership with lets shoppers search that company's website from kiosks or sign up for an subscription.
  • Downloadable Digital Audiobooks, which Borders claims is the first "audiobook download service in a physical retail environment." The retailer offers approximately 15,000 titles.
  • Custom Photo Books, an area where shoppers can digitally create and personalize photo albums that will be shipped to them upon completion.
  • Photo Printing, where shoppers can print photos from a digital camera.

Borders also is merchandising products related to the services, including digital cameras and photo frames, GPS devices and Sony's Reader Digital Book.

who’s really number two?
This morning I read with some surprise in USA Today that Amazon is “No. 2 in digital [music] sales since opening nearly six months ago.” Amazon’s entry into this market last year was an important milestone in the continuing irrelevance of DRM and the overly restrictive and anti-consumer policies that the music industry has foolishly wielded in this new, digital age. But let’s get one thing straight: outside of iTunes, no one sells more music digitally than eMusic, and we don’t plan on giving up that title anytime soon.

Orange Tries Ad Supported Mobile Music
European mobile operator Orange has launch an ad-supported content trial on its mobile internet platform, Orange World. In the UK 800,000 of Orange’s 15.6 million EU-wide customers can download music to their mobile handsets.

Steve Ricketts, Head of Third Party Services, Orange UK said: “We believe this ad-funded content model will drive adoption and usage of services, and deliver better value content to our customers. Whilst the trial is initially set for music we are also intending to test this across other content areas, such as games. The mobile is an incredibly personal device and our ad-funded content offer gives advertisers a great opportunity to reach a new audience”.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

snapshot 3/26/08

Amazon takes on Apple with copy-protection-free music
The music industry is finally comfortable selling digital music without copy protection, but the huge shift hasn't resulted in dramatically higher sales. Amazon's MP3 store - which sells only songs without copy protection - has quietly become No. 2 in digital sales since opening nearly six months ago. That's even though Apple dominates digital music with its iTunes Store (the second-largest music retailer in the world, after Wal-Mart) and its hugely popular iPod.

Apple now has 2 million songs from EMI and independent labels available without DRM, out of its 6 million-song catalog. Amazon offers 4.5 million DRM-free songs. Pete Baltaxe, Amazon's director of digital music, won't say how many songs Amazon has sold but will say that consumers love the experience.

The labels are also offering DRM-free songs at other digital media outlets. Universal is working with Wal-Mart, Rhapsody, Best Buy (BBY) and a handful of smaller retailers. Sony/BMG has a deal with Target (TGT). That hasn't significantly boosted sales. It hasn't hurt them either, although music label executives had argued against selling songs without copy protection, saying such a move would increase piracy.

Stats for Music Marketers, Part XII
As of this minute, Coldplay has 392,819 friends on MySpace and 43,156 fans on Facebook. MySpace's Coldplay page has four songs on it; Facebook's one. MySpace's are embeddable on your page; Facebook's are not, yet. MySpace supports for-pay downloads (they're priced absurdly high, but that's not MySpace's fault); Facebook does not. MySpace's page has some personality; but Facebook's has a user video and a discography. They both have band info and touring info.

Peter Gabriel to launch music-discovery service in U.S. April 9
Peter Gabriel, the music star and technology enthusiast, is scheduled to help launch The Filter, a music-discovery service, in the United States in San Francisco on April 9.

The Filter is a free software download that recommends songs, videos, literature and news based on a user's existing digital library. The Filter is designed to filter irrelevant material and deliver content that reflects an individual's tastes, according to a statement released by the company. Executives at The Filter also say their algorithm can make recommendations that cut across different entertainment platforms. Say, for example, you like film director Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, The Filter can suggest certain music based on that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

snapshot 3/25/08

Netflix surveys members on Microsoft Xbox
Online movie rental company Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) has surveyed its subscribers to gauge their interest in streaming movies to their televisions using Microsoft Corp's (MSFT.O) Xbox 360, a Netflix spokesman said on Monday.

Sony BMG developing online music service
The CEO of Sony BMG Music Entertainment says that the company is developing an online music subscription service that would give users unlimited access to its music and be compatible with a host of digital music players.

As for costs to subscribers, the newspaper quoted him as saying that the "simplest option would be a flat rate" fee per month of around 6 to 8 euros ($9 to $12) for unlimited access to Sony BMG's entire music catalog and that the downloads would be compatible with all players, including Apple's ubiquitous iPod. He said that it was "even possible that clients could keep some songs indefinitely, that they would own them even after the subscription expired."

Imeem Opens Its Massive Media Catalog to Third Parties
Like MySpace and Facebook before it, imeem will allow third-party software developers to create applications that run on its music-oriented social network, it announced Tuesday. This puts imeem's massive catalog of licensed music at developers' disposal. The service has deals with all four major labels and many indies that allow its users to legally post just about any song for others to enjoy. Imeem says its API will differ from its MySpace and Facebook counterparts by letting developers build the site's music, videos and photos into their apps:

Musical social network searches for a niche with geo-location
Social networking sites are a dime a dozen these days, compelling developers to implement new methods to garner interest. To that end, the IndieMV Group today announced a slew of new changes to its social network for the indie music community.

The most significant change allows IndieMV to offer data, promote events and target ads directly by a user's geographic location. All Google-driven banner ads also have been modified and "enhanced" to provide ads solely on a user's location. If the technology does mistake a user's geographic location, or a user wants to check the "scene" for a different location, it's possible to select a new location through several drop down menus.

3i/BV-Backed DVD Trading Site Peerflix Closing Down Main Service
Peerflix, the Palo Alto, CA-based online DVD trading platform, is in the process of closing down its main swapping service, after adoption and reliability issues, reports Webware. It will continue as Peerflix Media Network, an online advertising network focused on movie watchers. As Rafe points out, “Instead of getting more reliable as its user base grew, the service got less and less reliable, most likely as users stopped participating in it.”

Music scene finds latest hot spots on social sites
Musical heavyweights such as 50 Cent and R.E.M. can't get by with just a MySpace page and a website any more. They need a virtual fan connection. Almost daily, the rapper sends new videos through his channel to his own site and to thousands of personal sites where listeners have embedded Kyte's player. Recent dispatches have included new videos with G-Unit and diatribes against rival Fat Joe.

R.E.M. this week lets fans listen to the new album, Accelerate, on the iLike social network a week before it goes on sale. "We hope it will get a lot of exposure, and people will recommend it to their friends, and hopefully some of them will go out and buy the record as well," says band manager Bertis Downs.

Monday, March 24, 2008

snapshot 3/24/08

Music fans prefer Wikipedia to MySpace
Search for an artist on any of the popular search engines, and the top three results are practically guaranteed: the artist's official Web site, Wikipedia entry and MySpace page -- often in that order. According to data provided to Billboard from Yahoo -- the second-most popular search engine on the Web after Google -- those searching for artist information are selecting the Wikipedia entry link over artists' MySpace pages by a factor of more than 2-to-1. The Wikipedia entries are also more popular than artists' Web sites.

HDtracks Lauches
The founders of Chesky Records have soft-launched HDtracks, a download store that offers full-resolution FLAC files and 320kbps MP3 files; uncompressed AIFF files are on their way ("We're going to be the first company other than iTunes to offer AIFF with the metadata intact," David Chesky said). Tracks cost $1.49 apiece and albums cost $11.98. Participating labels include Tzadik, Blind Pig, Koch Records, Taang!, Vanguard Classics, Sundazed, Luakabop and Cryptogramophone.

MySpace's plan to launch a digital-music joint venture with the major record companies is picking up steam, as the social networking giant nears deals with Sony BMG and Warner Music Group, multiple sources familiar with the situation told The Post. The agreements could be signed as soon as this week. The service is expected to launch later this year.

Unlike most music licensing agreements, which require upfront advances, no money is expected to change hands. Instead, the labels are trading content rights in exchange for minority equity stakes in MySpace Music and the chance to participate in the advertising revenues that News Corp. hopes to generate from the service. The new MySpace Music is expected to be a mix of pay-per-download and ad-supported video and audio.

Rock Band meets iTunes, opens built-in music store
The new software update allows gamers to buy new musical tracks, released weekly, without having to use the Xbox Live front end. The store is no more and no less than a full-fledged music service for Rock Band; you can browse available songs by artist, by song title, and, later, by album. Many of the tracks are shown with album art, the name of the CD they've been taken from, as well as detailed information about how difficult each song is to play on each of the game's four instruments. A preview function is also available, allowing gamers to hear each song before they pay the dollar or two to download the tracks for use in the game.

Ars Technica has downloaded the update and tested it; the interface is slick and easy to use. It really does feel like you're shopping for music, and gamers are hungry for the constant content updates to the rhythm game. This presents a unique ability to push new artists. Last week, one of the tracks was by a relatively little-known band called Paramore, and suddenly their name was being talked about on all the major video game blogs and sites, along with links to their songs and videos. Gamers were downloading the song for $1, and not only were they listening to it, but they were interacting with it via the game, talking about the bass line, the vocals, how fun it is to play on the drums.

SpiralFrog Launches Free Concert Ticket Sweepstakes
SpiralFrog (, the free and legal ad-supported music site, gives music fans the chance to win $5,000 in concert tickets with a new sweepstakes launching today. Whether fans want to see Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige, Rascal Flatts, The Hives, Sugarland, Maroon 5 or The New York Philharmonic or even all of them, they can! The winner picks the concerts and SpiralFrog pays for the tickets – up to $5,000. Once fans enter the sweepstakes by becoming a registered member, they get more chances to win by referring a friend.

The Royalty Scam via Hypbot
The musicians who posted their work on are no different from investors in a start-up enterprise. Their investment is the content provided for free while the site has no liquid assets. Now that the business has reaped huge benefits, surely they deserve a dividend.

Rhapsody Rallies Madonna Pre-Release; Big Spending Ahead
Rhapsody has now secured a juicy Madonna exclusive in the United States, according to details shared with Digital Music News on Thursday. The track, "4 Minutes," is the lead single ahead of the April release, Hard Candy. The album will be the last for Madonna under Warner Music Group before the superstar exits for Live Nation.

The song, which features Justin Timberlake and production by Timbaland, can be streamed gratis from or through the Rhapsody subscription application. Die-hard Madonna fans are already swapping pre-release leaks, though the unauthorized downloads are of grainy quality. An authorized download is also available to Vodafone subscribers in Europe, and ringtones are coming next week.

Celestial Jukebox Arrives, But Is It Any Good?
MusicStation currently offers 1.5 million tracks -- far fewer than Napster or Rhapsody. Still, all four major labels are on board, and we were able to find a fair amount of what we were looking for, including 33 albums by The Fall and live versions of certain songs.

Each song contains full album art, and is encoded at 48 kbps in the enhanced aacPlus codec -- a descendant of the format used by XM Satellite Radio. Through nice Shure in-ear earbuds, audio quality was good enough, if a little fuzzy and harsh at high volumes. We detected none of the high-frequency artifacts associated with poor MP3 encoding. Unless you're wearing a pair of high-end cans or top-shelf buds, these sonic imperfections will be hard to detect.

Analyst: 50 percent of phones will play music by 2011
Music players are losing out in popularity to phones that pull double-duty, according to a market research report released Monday. More than 500 million music phones were shipped worldwide in 2007, which puts that category of device 300 million units ahead of regular old portable music players, according to the report released Monday by MultiMedia Intelligence. The company is forecasting that by 2011, of the 941 million handsets that will ship worldwide, more than half will be music phones. (The report defines a music phone as a handset that plays music files, and has a memory card slot.)

"Music has been the first 'killer app' for the operators to drive the consumption of premium content on the handset," said Frank Dickson, chief research officer for MultiMedia Intelligence. To that end, MMI predicts the mobile music market will be worth $6 billion by the end of this year. "With such significant revenue and customer demand at stake, the operators' and handset providers' concerted efforts (will) use music as a central part of their handset strategies," the report says.

Fuzzy Logic on Potential iPod Music "Subscriptions"
According to Jupiter surveys, somewhere between 5% and 15% of the songs on anyone's iPod are purchased from a downloads store, the average user has 1500 songs on his iPod (though that's skewed by big collections: only 20% have more than 1,000), and the average iPod user spends $20 to $35 per year -- not over the lifetime of a device -- on downloads. (The average paying downloader actually spends at least $10 more, but a lot of iPod users don't buy any downloads.)

MySpace Scores Gold Record (In Ad-Supported Terms)
MySpace has scored 500,000 downloads for the upcoming Pennywise album, part of a larger, ad-supported concept. The tally would normally constitute a gold album in the United States, at least by traditional sales certifications. The total, confirmed by MySpace Records executive J. Scavo to Digital Music News this weekend, comes ahead of a Tuesday album delivery.

At that point, MySpace will send emails to the pre-release takers with redemption instructions. The tie-in, which first surfaced in November, requires users to become a friend with sponsor Textango prior to receiving the free download. The album, Reason to Believe, comes roughly twenty years after the group first formed in Hermosa Beach, California. Pennywise peaked in the 90s, though the latest download tally - and a friend total of 150,000 - reflect a sizable group of loyal fans.

Friday, March 21, 2008

snapshot 3/21/08

Costello skips CD format on next album
Elvis Costello's next solo studio album, curiously dubbed "Momofuku," will arrive April 22, and plans are for the set to be released only on vinyl, with a digital download code included in the package.

Smashing Pumpkins Entering the Studio to Plot Their Next Move
The Smashing Pumpkins will begin recording new material later this spring, according to drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, but fans looking for a proper follow-up album to last year's 'Zeitgeist' may be out of luck. "But I don't think we will make records again," the drummer explains, pointing out that the band's contractual commitment to Reprise Records is finished. "I look at it like the old business model is dead and the music business doesn't know how to move forward. We want to keep things vital and keep things viable and get our music across while remaining relevant. Music has in many ways just become an advertisement for your tour.

"I think what we'll do is start releasing songs," Chamberlin continues. "The record or CD format places too many limitations on your piece of art. People just don't buy records anymore. Anyone under the age of 24 just buys songs. It's just in our best interest to release blocks of songs. And I think what we'll do – not to let the cat out of the bag too much – is to create the framework where we can release a number of songs and maybe create a title. We can gather three or four songs, but it will all flow up to a larger body of work. But to call it record in the traditional sense would be anachronistic."

Got Playlists? Fresh Startup Strikes Yahoo, MySpace Relationships
Now, a fresh face is gaining traction. The startup,, involves former MySpace vice president Shawn Gold, now head of networking consultancy SocialApproach. Jeremy Riney is the founder and chief executive of the company. Initially called Project Playlist, the beta startup is now putting some serious deals together, including tie-ups with MySpace and Yahoo. On Tuesday, Gold shared exclusive details on both the roadmap and partnerships with Digital Music News. "We're scaling this in a big way," Gold promised, hinting at potentially serious investments ahead.

Gold views playlists as a great mechanism for artists and labels to monetize their content. "Playlists are one of the best angles you have at actually driving commerce," the networking executive explained from his home in Los Angeles. "If there is a practical application to your life, you are more likely to buy it. In line with that thinking, the destination is peppered with iTunes buy links. But the playlists themselves pull streaming content from all across the internet. For example, one track within a playlist could be sourced from a music blog, another from a MySpace band profile page, and another from an artist website. "Nothing is being hosted by us," Gold said, though he did point to ongoing label negotiations.

Why is Universal Music cozying up to Apple?
Morris has approached Apple with an idea to offer a device that comes preprogrammed with Universal Music's entire library on it, sources told CNET A music industry source said Wednesday night that Apple has broached the idea of bundling music with the other three major labels but didn't show much enthusiasm for the plan. "Apple was just inquiring about whether this kind of thing would interest (the other record companies)," said the source.

Insiders say Universal Music, whose artists include U2, DMX, and The Killers, wants to pump life into subscriptions, and is tired of seeing Apple selling songs cheap and making fat margins on the music players. Not surprisingly, he wants a slice of device sales from any gadget maker that licenses his music. Morris also has ambitions of turning Universal Music into a total entertainment company.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

snapshot 3/20/08

Borders explores sale, suspends dividend
Book retailer Borders Group Inc (BGP.N) on Thursday suspended its quarterly dividend and said it was reviewing strategic options, including the sale of some or all of its businesses, and its shares sank more than 30 percent to a new year low.

Mixwit - Make your mix tapes online
Making a mix tape with Mixwit is super easy. You can upload your own artwork for the tape skin, search for songs online and drag and drop them on the playlist you're creating, share by publishing it on Mixwit or even embedding on your blog or website. It's absolutely free too. We think you'll love it.

Inside Rock Band's New In-Game Music Store
An in-game music store will be added to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Rock Band with Thursday's big title update, Harmonix said. The store will free players from having to scroll through the clunky interfaces of the PlayStation Store and Xbox Live Marketplace, and allow them to more easily find what they're looking for and preview tracks before buying them.

Sabotage: Safari bundled with WiniTunes
If you’ve downloaded iTunes for Windows, you might get a window encouraging you to download a software update — really the entire package — for the latest version of Safari. This seems a bit disingenuous and smacks of bundling and the only thing I can imagine is that iTunes needs some sort of Safari DLLs to visit the iTunes store. That, however, is fairly bogus because why not just offer a patch.

Nokia's "Comes With Music" now comes with EMI
EMI is looking to become the second major label to provide music to Nokia's unlimited subscription download service called "Comes With Music." Announced last December, Comes With Music would give owners of compatible Nokia handsets access to unlimited music downloads for one year. Universal was the first label to sign up at the time of Nokia's announcement, and EMI will be another welcome ally in the industry's renewed movement towards music subscription models.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

snapshot 3/19/08

Apple Working On A “Radical New Business Model”: Flat-Rate iTunes: Report
This sounds similar to what Nokia, Omnifone and some others are working on in Europe: giving away music for free to users, and the handset/service providers pay the premium, only in Apple’s (NSDQ: AAPL) case the premium would be passed onto consumers. In easier language, also called subscription much for the “a radical new business model.”

The FT story says Nokia (NYSE: NOK) is offering almost $80 per handset to music labels, divided according to their market share, to subsidize the service for users...and giving it to users for free. However, Apple has so far offered only about $20 per device, the story quotes sources and labels are balking at the lowball offer. There could be two variation of the business model, the FT story says: Subscriptions, which would work only for its iPhone devices, where it has a monthly billing relationship with customers, and a bundled-in model (markup on these devices) would work with iPhones and with iPods. Presuming that each of these would have different compensation models for labels.

DRM is added to Flash with new rights management server
With today's rollout of the Adobe Flash Media Rights Management Server, Adobe is unabashedly targeting a product specifically at movie studios, big corporations, and content providers anxious to protect their IP.

"Flash Media Server 3 has content protection for streaming video over RTMP. But the Media Rights Management Server protects video downloaded in FLV or MPEG4," said John Landwehr, director of Adobe's security solutions strategy, in a briefing for BetaNews "The DRM can continue to work even when you're playing back video offline." But to make this happen on a desktop or mobile PC or Mac, you can't use a garden variety Flash player. Instead, downloading content from the new DRM server requires installation of either the new Adobe Media Player or a custom video application running on Adobe's recently released AIR software.

Music functions off-limits to iPhone SDK developers
Any functionality related to music playback is inaccessible by the iPhone SDK, a new report claims. While the SDK allows access to many other functions of iPhone and the iPod touch, such as dialing, the camera and Internet access, The Inquirer writes that any components connected to iTunes are off-limits, preventing developers from accessing one of the most popular features of the phone, next to web browsing and Google Maps.

Apple has not spoken about the restriction, but it is suggested that this may be a way of blocking third-party alternatives to the Wi-Fi Music Store, which would undermine Apple's music sales. This may have the unintended side-effect, however, of stopping the creation of enhancements to music functions, such as native versions of the iLike or plug-ins.

Apple could split device sales with music labels
As part of a deal to offer devices featuring preprogrammed music, Apple would have to agree to share sales revenue from the devices with the labels, says a source close to the deal. Cutting the labels in on iPod or iPhone revenue would mark a sharp turn in Apple's strategy. The deal being discussed by the labels and Apple calls for the company to license the music and also "kick in a piece of the device sales," said the source. The Apple device, which hasn't been determined yet, would come preprogrammed with a certain amount of music that after a period of time, perhaps six months or a year, would roll into a subscription type of service plan, the source said.

Songkick Debuts Live Music Recomendation Destination
Songkick scans the web, blogosphere and a user’s music library, and alerts users whenever a band that they like or may like is playing in their area. For every concert listed, Songkick provides one-click access to ticket vendors, providing convenient price comparison for music fans.

SanDisk launches Sansa Sessions -- music distribution by microSD, what else
SanDisk just dipped its toe into the digital content distribution waters with the launch of Sansa Sessions. Of course, this isn't an on-line storefront, it's flash-based naturally in support of SanDisk's core business. As such, the US-based program relies upon microSD cards to distribute DRM-free tracks of unspecified quality from more than 50 "emerging artists" on more than 30 labels. At the moment, the featured artists include All Time Low, Ladytron, Magnet, Nada Surf, Of Montreal and The Coup. SanDisk has tied a free, 55 track microSD "sampler" card (of el cheapo 512MB capacity, presumably) to the purchase of its 8GB Sansa Fuze MP3 player. While the $0 cost and DRM-free aspects of Sansa Sessions are certainly appealing to us, this seems best fitted as a record / artist promotional tool than it does a replacement for web-based or over-the-air music distribution.

Ebooks Catalog OverDrive Adds MP3 Audiobooks; Borders Signs On First
Ebooks distributor OverDrive is expanding its online catalog to include MP3 audiobooks, the company told us. Publishers who are participating in OverDrive’s audiobooks program include Random House Audio, Blackstone Audiobooks, Hachette Book Group and Books in Motion, among others. The MP3 titles, which naturally come without copy protection software, will be added to OverDrive’s existing catalog of roughly 20,000 DRM-protected digital audiobooks and over 100,000 eBooks.

Borders is the first bookseller to agree to sell OverDrive’s MP3 at its dedicated Borders Audiobooks channel. For Borders, this is one more initiative that it hopes will round out its website, which is concluding a digital overhaul by the end of this month. OverDrive’s audiobooks, however, won’t be available until May.

Starbucks caters to digital crowd with social-networking site
Starbucks has launched My Starbucks Idea, an electronic suggestion box where people can offer up their best ideas for making the already ubiquitous coffee retailer even more successful. You could say the company is as aggressive with its Internet campaigns as it is with its prices. There is Wi-Fi in the stores, they let you log onto iTunes to see what song is playing in the store and download it, let you use text messaging to find the nearest store, and they gave away free digital songs for a month last year. You can offer up ideas, vote on other peoples' ideas, and get feedback from Starbucks employees. The company says it will consider implementing the most popular ideas.

eMusic: Apple's bundled-music device would be anticompetitive
Apple is in for a fierce legal fight should it ever release a device that offers all-you-can-eat music, according to David Pakman, CEO of rival digital music service eMusic.

"It smells like classic Sherman Antitrust Act to me," Pakman said. "I only know what I've read but the plan sounds very similar to the tying practices Microsoft used with Windows/Explorer. And Microsoft is still paying the penalties for that one."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

snapshot 3/18/08

Stats: iPhone/iPod browser share growing rapidly
The number of Americans browsing the web via the iPhone and iPod touch rose dramatically between December and March, according to StatCounter. The web tracking company reports that figures rose 64 percent in the period, from 0.14 to 0.23 percent of surfers; while the amount is dramatically smaller than that using desktop browsers such as Firefox or Internet Explorer, it is far in excess of some other cellular technologies, such as Nokia's. People browsing from Nokia devices represent just 0.01 percent of the US market.

LiveWire acquires Groove Mobile for $14.5 million
The all stock transaction calls for the purchase of every outstanding share of Groove, and gives LiveWire a larger presence in the mobile music download market. With the addition of Groove, LiveWire gains some large provider contracts like those from Sprint, 3 UK, and Bell Mobility, among others. The company's total presence will expand to 42 countries with about 15 million active subscribers.

R.E.M. pushes limits with Accelerate as record deal expires
The avant-garde fun doesn't stop there, either. R.E.M. has licensed several songs (no, I don't know which ones) to video games after squeezing Orange Crush into Harmonix/Electronic Arts hit Rock Band. Bertis noted that some licenses never get used, but that there's a good chance that we might see more of Michael Stipe and the gang on our Xboxes and Wiis. Also, iTunes seems to be treating the band very well because they're set to play a set in the world's largest Apple store next Wednesday, two days after doing the Albert Hall. "We're playing a lot of smaller venues to support this album," said Downs, "but this is definitely the only computer store on our schedule."

All of this speaks volumes about Warner's willingness to embrace the new realities of the entertainment industry. It's impossible to tell how much of this freedoms comes from R.E.M.'s Hall of Fame-worthy star power, how the impending contract negotiations factor in, and how open-minded the label's top brass would be without those factors. But it's a start. Would R.E.M. walk in Radiohead's footprints and go truly indie? Bertis simply said that the band is looking at all its options, and that the opportunities to make interesting moves are so plentiful that they have to say "no" to most of them. In other words, wait and see. Whatever happens, R.E.M. will make news—and waves.

Monday, March 17, 2008

snapshot 3/17/08

Indie labels take e-commerce into their own hands
With their digital download sites, a growing number of indie rock labels have begun to answer the prayers of fans who would love to hear long-out-of-print singles on their iPods or other mobile devices. Merge Records became the latest to join the field with the recent launch of its online emporium, which, according to label president Mac McCaughan, features "high-quality MP3s and full FLAC (free lossless audio codec) files of recent, older and out-of-print titles, including all the early Merge singles, as well as the Superchunk 'Clambakes' series." The store will also eventually host exclusive tracks, remixes and video content, in addition to the label's catalog.

Such sites can also help foster a new ethic of digital-song ownership. After a song is purchased at Seattle label Sub Pop's download store, launched in fall 2007, "you can log on to your account page and download it as many times as you want," director of technology and digital development Dean Hudson said. "We are also able to do things like automatically upgrade songs without any cost to the buyer once the song becomes available at a higher bit rate. And of course, all the songs are (digital-rights-management)-free."

More bands embrace the option of giving away music
The two latest bands to offer their new albums online for free are advancing divergent versions of the business model Radiohead introduced in fall 200 Where Nine Inch Nails' approach, like Radiohead's before it, draws fans in with free music and then offers additional music for purchase in more extravagant configurations, the Charlatans UK release doesn't seem connected to any such game plan.

California looks to tax iTunes, other downloads
Mirroring efforts by a number of other states, including New York, legislators in California hope to apply sales taxes to iTunes and other digital downloads, according to the Orange County Register. The tax would result in the price of a 99-cent song going up to $1.07 or more for California purchasers, while more expensive downloads would also increase by roughly 8 cents on the dollar. Digital downloads from Apple and other companies would all be subject to the tax requirement. However, the report notes that the legality of California’s proposed “iTax” has come into question, as Assemblyman Charles Calderon of Whittier is attempting to use an unconventional and likely illegal voting strategy to get it passed, circumventing the state’s requirement that two-thirds of the legislature approve of any new tax. Consequently, should Calderon’s bill be voted into law, it will likely face immediate enforcement and other legal challenges.

LimeWire DRM-free music store launches
The U.S.-only store currently has a catalog of 500,000 tracks, with thousands more to be added “daily”. All music is offered as MP3s encoded at 256 kbps and priced a la carte at 99c per track. Additionally, LimeWire is offering pre-paid plans similar to eMusic, ranging from $9.99 per-month for 25 downloads (40c per track) to $19.99 per-month for 75 downloads (27c per track).

Despite being at least six months in the making, the LimeWire music store is a purely Web-based affair and doesn’t yet tie into the LimeWire P2P client. On that note, LimeWire says that in the future it “will be releasing a version of our file-sharing software optimized for integration with the Music Store.” That way, LimeWire can begin to leverage its, albeit shady, brand recognition amongst music down-loaders in an attempt - like Napster before it - to develop a legitimate business in the onlooking eyes of the music industry.

Retailers clash with Pepsi over free music downloads
Pepsi is at odds with some of its biggest US retail customers over a national marketing campaign offering free digital music downloads from online retailer Amazon.

But the partnership has antagonised rival bricks-and-mortar retailers. Amazon's media and electronics business competes directly with Wal-Mart and Target, the two largest mass retailers, while its rapidly growing grocery business competes with major supermarkets. "You have to ask yourself why Pepsi would team up with a company that doesn't sell its products, and risk antagonising all the people that do sell its products," said a source at one retailer.

In an apparent response to retailers' concerns, Amazon's name has been banished from the front of Pepsi bottles carrying the promotion - rendering it invisible in supermarket aisles to passing shoppers. Similarly, Amazon's logo is on the back of cardboard multi-pack cartons of cans that are stacked on the shelves of mass discounters and supermarkets, next to the product's bar code and nutritional information.

Songkick Attempts To Rank Band Popularity
Songkick, a concert listings website, has introduced a new online application that attempts to rank a band’s popularity online. The site measures band popularity by gauging activity levels on MySpace, blogs and Amazon sales rankings.

The results are heavily swayed towards currently touring rock bands, but it’s entertaining to pit your favorite bands against each other. Unfortunately, the technology is somewhat clunky. In the battle of the bands chart above, The Chemical Bros. received a Zero in overall rank, which tells you something is amiss — but the concept is provocative.

Indie labels bypass iTunes, give digital sales a shot
So why are some indie labels ditching the cheap and easy distribution channels and doing their own digital distribution? "Money" and "shelf space" (or the digital equivalent of shelf space) are the answers. The money angle is simple enough: the label slaps up a store, offers its music for sale directly to fans, and splits all the profits with the artists. Steve Jobs doesn't get his pound of flesh.

Nor are the labels at the mercy of stores like iTunes, which choose which artists to promote. The blessing of a major retailer can be a good thing, as it is for artists like Feist who are lucky enough to appear in an Apple television ad, but it generally means that small acts won't be prominently featured on the iTunes Store. Unless buyers already know about these bands, they're unlikely to discover them through browsing. Building your own store solves this problem and allows labels to feature the bands they want, when they want.

But in the digital, long-tail era, such stores can succeed by targeting a niche fan base with exclusives, rarities, and out-of-print material. They can also cater to online buyers concerned about audio fidelity by offering lossless versions of tunes, something that the major stores don't even make available.

Music on the Web awaits non-techies
The shift to the Web hasn't caught on with people who, like Ms. Berry, feel that they don't have the time or the technical know-how to track new music online. But in fact, to reach casual fans, several Internet sites have developed easy, typically free ways for music lovers to cut through the clutter: music search engines, music-streaming sites and music-based social networks. Some musical artists are using these sites to connect with their fans on a more personal level, too.

Does This Latte Have a Funny Mainstream Taste to You?
In 2005, Starbucks looked like it was going to do for undiscovered music what it had done for the nonfat latte. The company decided to stock “Careless Love,” a CD of sophisticated pop-jazz songs by Madeleine Peyroux, who had attracted only a modest following in this country, plying her craft in small bars. Ms. Peyroux soon found herself at No. 81 on the Billboard chart, and has become a mainstay of jazz.

Starbucks was betting that its eclectic taste played to the upscale atmosphere of its coffee shops, where it enticed customers to pay $4 for their daily caffeine fix. And record companies saw Starbucks at the vanguard of a new class of unconventional sales outlets that could keep the CD alive in an age of digital downloads.

But the ardor for Starbucks has gone the way of yesterday morning’s grounds. Critics in the music industry say the company squandered its cachet by mismanaging the effort to broaden its music mix. The choices that reflect its early taste for the offbeat — like an album from Lizz Wright, a torchy pop singer — are now squeezed in with offerings not unlike those at Wal-Mart, including the latest releases from Alicia Keys and James Blunt. The shift has not been lost on some customers.

Friday, March 14, 2008

snapshot 3/14/08

Rocker Lou Reed takes aim at new technology
Lou Reed is lashing out at new modes of audio technology, saying that "people have got to demand a higher standard" than current MP3 music files. In typically glib and dry-witted form throughout the wide-ranging 55-minute conversation, the bespectacled Reed bemoaned the current state of audio and other digital technologies, noting that "it's like the technology is taking us backwards. It's making it easier to make things worse.

"Here's our song reduced to a pin drop -- what, what, what?!" Reed explained. "It's like if no one knows any better or doesn't care, it's gonna stay on a really, really low level and people who like good sound are gonna be thought of as some kind of strange zoo animal." Reed did express some hope that "you hear they've got a newer version (of MP3) that sounds better, and you suddenly hear the other instruments that are on the song. They've got to bring up the standard. You have the world open to you now; you can get almost any song in the world as an MP3, and I suppose if you like it you can go out and try to find a version you can actually listen to -- if you like good sound. If you don't like good sound, none of this matters for a second."

Bebo Music Meets AOL Music (Or Something Like That)
The ink is still drying on the massive, $850 million buyout of Bebo by AOL. That means that integration details are largely unresolved, including those related to music. AOL Music is one of the largest stand-alone music portals, and it represents a very different animal than Bebo Music. Bebo officially started in 2005, the year that MySpace was purchased by News Corp. That seems hard to believe, though the internet is now crowning champions overnight. Still, the compressed timeframe means that Bebo's music strategy has developed more recently.

In the summer of 2006, the company opened dedicated band profile pages, and well-known names like Paramore, Rihanna, Dizzee Rascal, and 50 Cent are now among the most visited. In October of last year, the network reported a total of 700,000 profiles. Additionally, Bebo music fans can download the iLike application, which offers its own set of 200,000 profiles.

With the HD War Over, Why Aren't We Seeing Blu-ray Drives in Apple Computers?
Before we attempt to calculate what's at risk here for Apple, let's think about what the company has to gain -- or what they might THINK they have to gain – by delaying. Apple clearly sees a huge part of its future in content distribution including TV shows and movies. I can only guess that Jobs sees Blu-ray as a threat to that download business and this decision to delay Blu-ray deployment is an expensive stalling action, buying time for Apple to launch its own true HD alternative. Yes, you can download some movies from iTunes in 720p right now, but in the surging HD market 720p is no longer good enough. The obvious standard is 1080p and right now you need Blu-ray or BitTorrent to get that. Putting on my near-futurist hat, then, I'm guessing Apple is working madly to deploy its own 1080p download solution and is hoping the world will wait for it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

snapshot 3/13/08

Starbucks to release Simon & Garfunkel live CD
The Simon & Garfunkel live album originally due last September via Columbia/Legacy has been revived as a Starbucks exclusive, beginning March 25. A release to traditional retail outlets is expected in the fall. Live 1969" is drawn from previously unreleased recordings from Simon & Garfunkel's November 1969 U.S. tour, which turned out to be the duo's last for more than a decade.

Apple Researching Digital Video Recorder (DVR) Possibilies
A new patent application published by Apple today reveals that they have done considerable research into the possibility of an Apple-branded Digital Video Recorder (DVR). The Tivo-like device would offer the ability to tune into television channels, record and playback shows. The currently shipping AppleTV does not support any sort of recording or tuning functionality

Of most interest is that Apple appears to be looking into ways to integrate their iPod or iPhone into this experience. They describe and picture an iPod-like device that would dock to the DVR. Customers could then sync their recorded television content with their iPod and also select future shows to also be recorded from the portable device. Once syncing takes place the future shows are added to the DVR's recording queue and new shows are transfered to the iPod.

Live Nation in running for the Rolling Stones archives
Live Nation, the world's largest concert promotion firm, has emerged as a surprise bidder for the Rolling Stones back catalogue of hits as the band considers ending its relationship with EMI.

Partner Details Emerge on PushButtonMusic Initiative
More details emerged Wednesday on PushButtonMusic, a pre-loaded portable music concept scheduled for summer release. The idea, developed by Broadcast Data Systems (BDS) founders Hal Oppenheimer and Robert Uhlmann, was first tipped by Digital Music News earlier this week. Now, supporting partners are emerging. The team includes Javien, which will provide backend payment processing; and J. River, which is developing the PC-based media player and synchronization interface. Also in the mix is MediaNet Digital, which is powering the subscription content and offering catalog licensing.

In recent discussions, Oppenheimer also pointed to a roster of advisers, though specific names are not revealed. "This includes individuals with time spent at RealNetworks, MTV/Urge, Sony, RadioShack, major record labels, internet TV, MediaNet and large scale web-based projects," Oppenheimer described. Oppenheimer also clarified that MediaNet is handling all licensing details, though major labels are being consulted along the way.

Luxurious Fairmont Offers Pampered Music Downloads
Anyone staying at a luxury hotel can afford a music download, though even the elite surf with the riff-raff on LimeWire. But the Fairmont, known for its pampered inns, is now creating its own music download store. The guests-only destination, appropriately titled the Fairmont Music Store, will be unveiled at the Plaza Hotel in New York this spring. The store will initially carry music exclusively from EMI, which is the only major currently extending its catalog to the hotel without content restrictions. "As the only major music company offering its entire digital catalog in a premium, DRM-free, higher audio quality form, EMI is unique among major music companies in their ability to offer Fairmont customers music that will work on all music players and devices," the hotel group explained in a statement.

The Complete Guide to iTunes Tagging
Though support for the feature was added to iTunes 7.4, iTunes Tagging remains one of the least-understood expansions of the iPod ecosystem—arguably, for good reason. Developed by Apple and implemented in new iPod speaker systems by companies such as Polk Audio and JBL, iTunes Tagging enables an HD Radio tuner to record information about the currently playing track, save it to an iPod, and let the iPod’s user easily find that track in the iTunes Store for purchase.

Third Generation Zune in Fall 2009
There are some more interesting pieces of news from this article stating that the Zune Marketplace will hit mobile platforms on the upcoming Windows Mobile 7 OS. Could this be the start of a Zune Phone? My guess would be that is will not be a fully fledged Zune Phone but an intermediary step with music being a tight integration with Windows Mobile 7. Without a doubt we will see this new mobile Zune service in coming Sidekicks since Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Danger.

Widgets are great for musicians, and not so bad for businesses, either
Second, widget service provider Gydget has struck a deal with indie music marketer and distributor The Orchard, to distribute music through widgets on MySpace and other social networks. The site lets anyone create a simple widget that they easily put their social networking information inside of. For example, for bands on MySpace, Gydget’s widget lets them enter their user ID or profile URL, then it imports their images, events, MySpace blog and YouTube videos. After a band creates the widget, it can easily update the widget with new information, such as tour dates.

The company, which faces music-focused competitors like Splashcast, says that in less than four months, more than 800 “major” recording artists have started using its widgets, with more than 15 million people seeing these widgets each month.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

snapshot 3/12/08

War against Web tops music biz "screw-ups" list
The talent scout who turned down the Beatles has long been credited with committing the music industry's biggest gaffe. But Dick Rowe's billion-dollar boo-boo has been beaten to the top spot on Blender magazine's list of the "20 biggest record company screw-ups of all time" by the failure of record companies to capitalize on the Internet.

The major labels took top dishonors for driving file-sharing service Napster out of business in 2001, instead of figuring out a way to make money from its tens of millions of users. The downloaders merely scattered to hundreds of other sites, and the industry has been in a tailspin ever since. "The labels' campaign to stop their music from being acquired for free across the Internet has been like trying to cork a hurricane -- upward of a billion files are swapped every month on peer-to-peer networks," Blender said in the report, which appears in its newly published April issue.

Handleman Company Reports Third Quarter Fiscal Year 2008 Results
Handleman today announced results for its third quarter of fiscal year 2008, which ended January 31, 2008. The Company also announced that it has entered into an amendment to its credit agreements that, at its request, is intended to provide sufficient liquidity to fund the Company's day-to-day operations through May 31, 2008. Handleman intends to use this three-month period to finalize its fiscal 2009 business plan and then revise the terms of its credit agreements based on that plan. Revenues for the third quarter of this fiscal year were $346.9 million, compared to $485.0 million for the third quarter of last year. The decline in revenue was due primarily to the termination of the Company's unprofitable music supply agreement with ASDA in the United Kingdom (UK) at the end of August 2007 as well as lower music sales in the United States. This decline was offset somewhat by an increase in higher margin fee-for-services and video game revenues. Operating income for the third quarter of this year was $8.0 million, compared to $7.8 million for the third quarter of last year. Net income for the third quarter of this year was $2.4 million or $.12 per diluted share, compared to $4.2 million or $.21 per diluted share for the same quarter of last year.

Are Carriers Crushing US-Based Mobile Music?
The US-based mobile media market has always been a giant step behind its European - and especially Asian - counterparts. But what is stunting growth in the stateside market? Plenty of factors are potentially in play, including awareness problems on newer music formats like ringback tones. But major cultural and consumer differences cannot be ignored. After all, Americans have the disposable income to purchase mobile media assets, just like they have the money to purchase expensive iPhones, subscribe to high-end wireless plans, and barrel though endless text messages.

That introduces the question of whether carriers are killing an early-stage media market by imposing heavy percentage demands. According to Chris Brunner, Vice President of Mobile Content & Services at Univision Communications, carriers are cramping entrants and innovation with heavy access percentages. "We do all of the marketing, branding, content creation, billing, and customer care, but we get less than the carrier does," Brunner explained to Digital Music News during the Mobile Monday symposium in Los Angeles. "40 percent goes to the carriers, without us ever seeing it."
Carriers see the issue differently, especially given the upfront, multi-billion dollar sunk costs associated with their networks. But Universal Music Group digital and mobile executive Rio Caraeff pointed to heavy differences between Asian and American carrier demands. "The average carrier revenue share for off-deck transactions in the US is 35-40 percent," Caraeff said. "It would be as low as 9 percent in Japan."

Are music graphics dead post-digital?
The music industry is set for massive upheaval, with digital distribution destabilising long-held business models. How will this affect the designers who create the all-important visual imagery? asks Adrian Shaughnessy

But Saint is critical of the way labels view digital work. ‘Their thinking is that if it’s digital it must be cheap. There almost seems to be a naive attitude that things should cost less when created for digital usage when we all know that in commissioning terms the cost and value remain the same no matter what the usage. Ethical photography, image-making or graphic design do not become cheaper to produce just because the end usage lives in a virtual medium.’ Music's First Ever "Live In-Store" Band Performance, Presidents of the United States of America
Mark your calendars! On Saturday, March 15, at 10pm PDT, the Presidents of the United States of America will be celebrating the release of its new album, These Are the Good Times People, with a performance at Seattle's Paramount Theatre, and we'll be broadcasting the show worldwide right here from our music blog. Be sure to tune in to catch this exciting performance.

Disney: 4 Million iTunes Movies Sold
Silicon Alley Insider is reporting that Disney CEO Robert Iger announced today at the Digital Hollywood Media Summit that the company has sold 4 million movies on iTunes since the movie store launched in 2006, along with 40-50 million videos.The site extrapolates that the total revenue from these sales is just under $123 million USD. Disney recently announced a $1 billion digital sales goal for 2008, which includes revenue from advertising online (i.e. ad revenue from online video viewing or from any of its sites), subscriptions to online games, downloads of movies and music, and e-commerce that is not related to its theme parks. For perspective, Disney had sold 1.3 million movies by February 2007 after 3 months of the iTunes movie store being in operation.

iTunes makes $570m
Although Apple has often maintained that the iTunes Store is a vehicle for sales of the iPod rather than a source of profit, the company may have earned $570 million in pre-expense income for 2007 alone, according to calculations by the music chart keeper Billboard. Using as a yardstick Apple's recent revelation that it had sold four billion songs since the store opened in April 2003, the publication estimates that Apple sold about 1.7 billion tracks last year. This amounts to more than just $1.7 billion, however: as stores in Europe and elsewhere often charge more than 99 US cents per track, Apple is more likely to collect $1.9 billion.

After factoring in Apple's roughly 30 percent direct earnings from every song sold, this leaves the Cupertino, Calif.-based company with about $570 million of its own versus the 70 percent left to the labels. The income doesn't translate to a similar amount in profit for iTunes. Apple has explained in the past that its portion of the song price is largely used by bandwidth and maintenance costs, though the company has never broken down its revenues in public statements.

Apple sued over foundation to iPod + iTunes franchise
ZapMedia Services, Inc. has filed a lawsuit against Apple Inc., claiming to have conceived the underlying principles of the iPod + iTunes franchise a full two years before the first iPod went on sale.

Report: gamers still hot and heavy for CDs, DVDs
Entertainment is big business and, while sales of physical DVDs and CDs are down, consumers are spending on video games in a big way. While conventional wisdom may say that more time and money spent buying and playing games leeches profits from other forms of media entertainment, a new report from the NPD Group says that gamers actually spend more money on non-gaming entertainment products, making them an important target for companies worried about withering sales.

"While it's true that growth was centered on gaming last year, core gamers—those who played video games daily or several times each week—still spent most of their entertainment budgets on non-gaming entertainment," the NPD Group states. "These consumers remain more likely to buy a DVD or CD than they are to purchase a new video game. In fact, 58 percent had purchased a new DVD in the past six months, 46 percent bought a CD, and 43 percent purchased a game for a console."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

snapshot 3/11/08

Hulu makes public debut, adds Warner Bros shows
Hulu, the online video joint venture of News Corp and General Electric's NBC Universal, will make its public debut on Wednesday with programming from Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros Television Group, Lionsgate and from sports leagues.

At launch, Hulu will offer full-length episodes of more than 250 TV series from current hits such as "The Simpsons" as well as older shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." It also will offer 100 movies including "The Big Lebowski" and "Mulholland Drive."

Puretracks Announces New DRM-Free Mobile Music Store for the BlackBerry Platform
-Toronto-based Puretracks, a leading North American digital music provider that partners with Universal, Sony BMG, Warner, EMI, and independent labels worldwide, has developed a new DRM-free mobile music store and service for BlackBerry® smartphones from Research In Motion.

The Puretracks Mobile Edition music store for BlackBerry, built in conjunction with handset development partner Magnet Mobile Media, will work with all BlackBerry® Pearl™, BlackBerry® Curve™ and BlackBerry® 8800 series smartphones. It is a next-evolution digital music service developed exclusively for wireless handsets using compressed DRM-free AAC/AAC+ file formats. This high-quality digital format is only half the size of MP3 files, significantly reducing the download time and storage capacity required while maintaining CD quality sound. The DRM-free service will make it easy for users to download and play songs on their BlackBerry smartphones.

Publishers Phase Out Piracy Protection on Audio Books
Some of the largest book publishers in the world are stripping away the anticopying software on digital downloads of audio books. The trend will allow consumers who download audio books to freely transfer these digital files between devices like their computers, iPods and cellphones — and conceivably share them with others. Dropping copying restrictions could also allow a variety of online retailers to start to sell audio book downloads.

Publishers, like the music labels and movie studios, stuck to D.R.M. out of fear that pirated copies would diminish revenue. Random House tested the justification for this fear when it introduced the D.R.M.-less concept with eMusic last fall. It encoded those audio books with a digital watermark and monitored online file sharing networks, only to find that pirated copies of its audio books had been made from physical CDs or D.R.M.-encoded digital downloads whose anticopying protections were overridden.

Korean music-making site MusicShake expanding to U.S.
MusicShake is a South Korean company that was a crowd favorite at the TechCrunch 40 awards last year. I checked in recently with the company and found that it has been doing fairly well, picking up over 100,000 users and achieving some success with a music sales model that I was skeptical of. MusicShake users create songs by combining pre-created instrumental tracks (from a list of thousands). The creation software, which currently still requires a download but will be moving fully online sometime this year, makes it relatively easy to create a catchy song. More daring users can also add their own vocals to the tracks they create.

According to co-founder Kihong Bae, users have already sold around 60,000 songs to each other, from which MusicShake takes a small cut. The site itself has proven extremely “sticky” to users — average sessions can be around an hour. However, to really make much money, sales will really need to ramp up for the company.

eMusic Adds Labels
eMusic has announced that its catalog has surpassed 3.5 million tracks with the addition of 43 new record labels and digital aggregators. The eMusic roster now includes German electronic label Kompakt (Michael Mayer, Superpitcher), indie rockers Constellation Records (Do Make Say Think, Silver Mt Zion), and pop/rock/electronic imprint IAMSOUND Records (Cut Off Your Hands) among others.

Pre-Loaded iPod Killer Emerges; 30,000 Songs On Tap
That is the underpinning of a pre-launch startup called PushButtonMusic, a more sophisticated iPod killer. The concept is being started by Hal Oppenheimer and Robert Uhlmann, cofounders of Broadcast Data Systems (BDS). Instead of millions of songs, Oppenheimer asserts that most consumers are actually tuned into a selection of roughly 30,000. The company is assembling that collection by monitoring airplay, file-sharing, purchasing, social networking, and club spins, a cross-section that produces a smaller-than-expected list. "It's a pyramid, not a bell," Oppenheimer explained. "Can you find something we don't have? Yes, but we are addressing 98 percent of the market."

The plan is to pre-load that pyramid onto devices, before it hits consumer hands. The company is scheduling its initial launch in July, at which point consumers can handpick their collections online and have their pre-loaded devices shipped to them. But the idea is not iTunes compatible, and relies on a subscription-based relationship. Oppenheimer tossed a monthly figure of $20 per month, a serious handicap against freebie acquisition methods. The underpinning for the service is MediaNet Digital, which is no stranger to subscription models. Initially, PushButton will launch on a 30GB, Creative Zen, a size that trims the collection to about 7,000 songs. But much bigger players are on the roadmap - potentially by Christmas.

Monday, March 10, 2008

snapshot 3/10/08

Lionsgate Adding iTunes Digital Copy on DVD and Blu-ray Discs
Lionsgate announced that they are working with Apple to provide iTunes Digital Copies on select DVD and Blu-ray releases. The process of copying the movie to iTunes involves entering a unique code into iTunes. The movie is then transferred to iTunes, allowing you to sync the movie with your iPod, iPhone or Apple TV. Each DVD (unique code) will allow digital transfer to only one iTunes library.

Record Industry Duel: Disc Duos
Plans to sell new hybrid CD/DVDs have hit legal and licensing snags that threaten to scuttle a mass rollout that the hard-hit music industry had been counting on to aid its recovery, people familiar with the matter said this week. T he labels also have spurred sales by packaging "bonus" DVDs with CDs. In February, several began test marketing the new hybrid discs -- CD on one side and DVD on the other. They see these DualDiscs as a next generation product that marries the booming market for DVDs with declining CDs.

Slacker Dead On Arrival?
After much fanfare, and then several major delays, the Slacker music player and subscription service finally debuted. Unfortunately, the company’s sales appear to be lifeless at best, and it could be just a matter of time before the company is pushing daisies. The company is only seeding reviewers who will give the player at least some love, but the reality is that the device has come up wanting in several categories that even the most biased reviewers have to acknowledge. Although the device contains a large 4″display, it is unwieldy with poorly placed controls. In addition, the player has a serious noise floor issue that is immediately noticeable, even to individuals who are not demanding about quality.

As Music 2.0 Gains Traction, How Do Artists Get Paid?
A plethora of new and re-tooled sites are offering free ad supported music via streaming and download. Spiral Frog, Qtrax, imeem, We7, iLike, YouTube and others each offer their own platforms to listen to almost any song or video on demand and sometimes to even download it. But how much of that money will find its way to the artist and how many of these new deals conform with existing label and publishing contracts or the statutory rate legally due songwriters? I don't know of a single artist contract that mentions stock options or ad revenue as acceptable compensation.

Technology turns music videos into shopping portals
View music videos and shop at the same time. That's the premise behind an innovative advertising and entertainment branding program launched by GET Interactive. By way of GET Interactive's Ad-Venture technology, viewers watching a video on the Internet or a mobile phone will be offered the option of opening a new window to browse through still images and shop for products tagged with a GET Shop Spot.

The technology goes live in March with Knockout Entertainment/DEJA34/Koch artist Ray J's "Sexy Can I" video. Winston-Salem, N.C.-based GET Interactive has signed content deals with Universal Music Group and Sega of America. The company is also in discussions with Epic Records.

MP3 vs AAC vs FLAC vs CD
Although they are universally described in the mainstream press as being of "CD quality," MP3s and their lossy-compressed ilk do not offer sufficient audio quality for serious music listening. This is not true of lossless-compressed formats such as FLAC, ALC, and WMA lossless—in fact, it was the release of iTunes 4.5, in late 2003, which allowed iPods to play lossless files, that led us to welcome the ubiquitous Apple player to the world of high-end audio. But lossy files achieve their conveniently small size by discarding too much of the music to be worth considering.

So to us at Stereophile, the question of which lossy codec is "the best" is moot. We recommend that, for serious listening, our readers use uncompressed audio file formats, such as WAV or AIF—or, if file size is an issue because of limited hard-drive space, use a lossless format such as FLAC or ALC. These will be audibly transparent to all listeners at all times with all kinds of music through all systems.

Beatles on iTunes by end of the year?
The Beatles' back catalog should finally appear in digital form by the end of the year, claims a British tabloid. The deal will reportedly see the music come to the iTunes Store, with albums including the likes of Help!, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and possibly more. The deal is said to worth as much as £200 ($402.5) million, and has allegedly been sanctioned by lead Beatle Paul McCartney as means to help pay for his divorce from Heather Mills.

Paramount making movie clips available as Facebook messages
Paramount Pictures will become the first major studio to make clips from thousands of its movies available for use on the Internet. The unit of Viacom Inc. is teaming with Los Angeles-based developer FanRocket to launch the VooZoo application Monday on Facebook. The service gives Facebook users access to footage from thousands of movies, ranging from "The Ten Commandments" to "Forrest Gump," to send to others on the popular social networking site.

Games That Launched the Band
Epic Records credits Madden 2003 as being instrumental in the breaking of Good Charlotte. Avril Lavigne was first introduced to European audiences through FIFA 2003. Fabolous was first introduced in America via NBA Live, and went on to sell over 2 million albums here. JET got their American iPod commercial based on exposure in Madden 2004. Avenged Sevenfold were an unsigned act when we featured them in Madden 2004. In the weeks following the game's release, their independent album sold tens of thousands of copies without radio airplay, and they were signed to a major label soon after. Our FIFA 2005 soundtrack featured the earliest appearances of Franz Ferdinand, Marcelo D2, and Scissor Sisters. Sony Records credits Madden 2005 as being instrumental in the breaking of Franz Ferdinand in North America. Ozomatli, a band that has existed for years with minimal sales and exposure, got an iPod commercial, a career-changing sales jump, and a Grammy nomination based on their exposure in Madden 2005. Def Jam Vendetta single-handedly created a new global market for hip-hop.

Within the past two years, we've seen major international breakthroughs from acts that include Robyn, Mando Diao, Arctic Monkeys, Klaxons, Bloc Party, LCD Soundsystem, DĂșnĂ©, Tribalista, Go Team, Bullet for My Valentine, The Caesars, Kasabian, Lupe Fiasco, MIA, Wolfmother, Hawthorne Heights, and others. That's just a small sampling of what we've helped make happen. It's all real and exciting proof that video games are a critical component of the new industry paradigm.

Amazon: What are you hiding?
Amazon shipped its Kindle e-Book reader way back in November of last year. Since then, the company has tried to paint a picture of runaway success by suggesting that the incredible popularity of the device prevents the company from keeping up with orders. Is the Amazon Kindle really a secret failure?

Why is Bezos so aggressively hiding the actual numbers. Have they shipped millions? Thousands? Dozens? Has Amazon sold ten times as many Kindles as Sony has the PRS-500 Reader? Or one-tenth as many? We have no idea. None! Is Amazon really working hard to ramp up production? Or is the company artificially creating a perception of high demand by playing games with production? If not, why hasn't it been able to fix the problem in four months? And since Amazon can't keep up with demand, why does it devote the very top center of the home page -- the most valuable real estate on the entire site -- to the creation of MORE demand?

iLike Scores Exclusives R.E.M. Album Debut
WMG's R.E.M. and iLike announced today that "Accelerate", the band’s 14th studio album, will stream in its entirety exclusively on iLike and its syndicates beginning Monday, March 24th. The iLike "Worldwide Listening Party" will continue through March 26th prior to the album’s North American release on April 1st. R.E.M. will also record an exclusive video and discussing the album that will be available via iLike.

In addition to being available on iLike, this promotion extends to the iLike Sidebar desktop plugin for iTunes and Windows Media Player as well as via iLike’s applications on Facebook, Bebo, hi5 and the iPhone. The band already uses iLike's Artist Dashboard to post content across multiple syndication channels via iLike's "Post Once, Publish Everywhere" platform. The album will also be available for pre-order via iLike’s retail links to iTunes and