Wednesday, April 30, 2008

snapshot 4/30/08

Nokia confident free music downloads will profit
Offering unlimited music downloads to phone buyers will make money for Nokia as well as record labels, the handset maker said, dismissing talk the move would come at the expense of profits. The new music offering from Nokia, the first cellphone maker to push heavily into content, would differ from any other package on the market as users can keep all the music they have downloaded during the 12 months.

eMusic Launches In Canada
eMusic launches its subscription music and audio book service in Canada today. The company's catalog of 3.5 million tracks includes such Canadian indie labels as Nettwerk, Arts & Crafts, Justin Time, Secret City, Mint and Paper Bag. Canadian pricing is a bit higher than in the US. After 50 free downloads and 2 free audio book at sign-up:

Watchdog demands MSN Music mea culpa
This morning, the San Francisco-based tech watchdog floated an open letter (PDF) to the hulking Microsoft CEO, criticizing the company's recent decision to unplug its MSN Music DRM servers. Without these servers - due to die at the end of August - users can't migrate their MSN tunes to new OSes or new machines unless they start burning CDs.

"Microsoft’s only suggestion for its customers — that they export the music to a CD and then copy it onto their new computers — is woefully insufficient to redress the problem," EFF executive director Shari Steele writes to Ballmer. "Microsoft is asking its customers to invest more time, labor and money in order to continue to enjoy the music for which they have already paid. In fact, Microsoft’s best customers will be the most heavily burdened — the more music they bought, the more work they’ll have to do."

Cheaper Songs, More Expensive Albums
As of Monday, the iTunes store is five years old. The CPI numbers aren't out yet for April, but for the five-year period ending in February 2008, the annualized inflation rate was 2.91%, with total cummulative inflation of 15.44%. That translates into a current single-song iTunes price of 86 cents in April 2003 dollars. And, if inflation rates over the next five years are similar, iTunes customers in 2013 will be paying an inflation-adjusted equivalent of just 74 cents a track, assuming the 99-cent price remains:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

snapshot 4/29/08

CinemaNow to offer movie orders via cell phone
Privately held digital entertainment provider CinemaNow said on Tuesday that U.S. consumers would be able to use their cell phones to view movie trailers and order full-length movies to watch on their home television or computer through its mobile website. The service, offered on Web-capable phones at, would let U.S. consumers immediately buy or rent a movie when they hear about a new offering while they are out with friends.

Record companies sue Project Playlist on copyright
Nine major record labels filed suit against an online music provider on Monday, accusing Project Playlist Inc of a "massive infringement" of their copyrights to the songs of artists such as U2 and Gwen Stefani. Project Playlist ( enables its users to easily find, play and share music with others for free, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The website compiles a vast index of songs on the Internet and users can "quickly and easily search the index for recordings by their favorite artists. At the click of a mouse, Project Playlist instantly streams a digital performance of the selected recording to the user, who can listen to it on his or her computer or mobile device," the lawsuit said.

The Incredibly Discounted CD: Now at Wal-Mart
Want cheap CDs? Wal-Mart has been pressuring major label groups to lower wholesale pricing for quite some time. And the results of those efforts are now being felt. Currently on, fresh titles from Michael Buble, Josh Groban, and Blake Shelton are available for $5, and other titles are available sub-$10.

Cheaper discs are now available both online and in-store, part of an aggressive downward trend. In fact, a large percentage of CDs are expected to carry the basement tags in the near term. "I think this will have the most impact on the music industry this year," said David Pakman, chief executive of eMusic, during a discussion at MusEXPO in Los Angeles on Monday.

Record labels fund music discovery site MOG
Some of the early music discovery startups, like Imeem, Pandora, and iLike, now have many millions of people using their services every month. MOG, a desktop music player plugin and music fan site perhaps most similar to social network-focused iLike, isn’t too far behind — it has around a million unique users a month, it says. So maybe the record labels investing in MOG will figure out some interesting ways to help it pull forward. Universal Music Investments and Sony BMG Music Investments, along with The Angels Forum 74, have just put $2.8 million into the Berkeley, Calif. company. That’s on top of the $3.2 million it already raised through two angel rounds.

Karaoke to become a keynote beta feature of MySpace
Today marks the launch of the first public beta of MySpace Karaoke, a service that enables members to sing along with instrumental tracks and share the results with other members. MySpace Karaoke is powered by kSolo, a well known online karaoke service that was purchased by MySpace's parent company, Fox Interactive Media, in April 2006. After that time, its service was continually delayed due to licensing issues related to its catalog of 2,000 to 3,000 songs. MySpace officials had an increasingly difficult time trying to wade through legal issues for songs owned by foreign record companies.

ILike (and its apps) show results: It really is helping musicians reach fans across the web
ILike is an emerging leader in this competitive but still relatively young marketplace of “music discovery” services that help musicians build fan bases. We’ve been tracking the Seattle, Wash. company for years, and at this point it appears to have become a significant component of how music will be shared in the future. Both new and existing acts are using it to help advertise album releases, and iLike is starting to have a big impact.

Digital Hits 23 Percent of US-Based Revenues, RIAA
Digital formats now account for 23 percent of US-based recording revenues, according to figures published by the RIAA. The percentage was packaged into a larger breakdown of shipments and revenues in 2007, an report now available at

The digital percentage represents a serious bump from year-ago figures of 16.1 percent - and 9 percent in 2005. Part of that gain comes from increased sales of assets like iTunes downloads, though a meltdown in CD sales is naturally ramping digital percentage gains. For the period, CD shipments dropped 17.5 percent to 511.1 million units, or $7.45 billion in revenues. In terms of revenues, the CD-based drop represents a 20.5 percent slide.

Subscriptions Plateau In 2007; Revenues Start Declining
Subscription-based platforms enjoyed little growth in 2007, at least according to US-based data recently published by the RIAA. The label group pointed to a total of 1.8 million subscribers by the end of last year, up from 1.7 million in 2006. That is a mere 0.7 percent gain, though accompanying revenues actually slipped 2.6 percent. Specifically, the RIAA pointed to revenues of 200.9 million in 2007, down from 206.2 million during 2006.

Meanwhile, the number of companies within the space continues to shrink. Just recently, MTV merged its Urge offering with RealNetworks' Rhapsody. And Yahoo Music announced that it would farm its Unlimited offering to RealNetworks in February. - High Resolution Online Music Store - Launches, a high resolution, digital music site offering DRM-free music in multiple formats, as well as cover art and complete liner notes, has launched. Created by David and Norman Chesky, HDtracks offers the highest quality file formats for any platform or media player. Consumers can choose the file type that best suits their needs: AIFF, FLAC (both CD quality), or 320 kbps MP3. In the near future, select titles will be offered as DVD-Audio quality 96/24 FLAC files.

Monday, April 28, 2008

snapshot 4/28/08

iTunes Turns 6 - Much To Celebrate, But Danger Ahead
iTunes celebrates its 6th birthday today. With an estimated 70% of the worldwide music download market, Steve Jobs & Co. have much to be proud of. A new InStat survey predicts that 25% of the overall worldwide music market for iTunes by 2012. But to maintain its dominant position, iTunes has much work to do and some tricky competitive waters to navigate. As DRM free music spreads to more stores and new services, iTunes will find that it has more than just Amazon to compete with. MySpace Music, Nokia's Comes With Music, imeem, WE7, SpiralFrog, Rhapsody and Napster, niche players and services not yet imagined each have the potential to whittle away at Itune's market share.

Then there's the slow rate of digital music adoption. 85% or more of music is still sold via physical formats. Some consumers are unwilling to give up their home stereos and their autos don't have compatible docks. So, for many, the CD still feels like a more portable product. RIAA lawsuits, label embedded copy-protection and Apple's insistence on its own proprietary DRM have all led to consumer confusion and among younger buyers deep cynicism.

The RIAA releases in depth sales figures for 2007. via Hypbot
No surprises, but interesting reading if you want to understand the stats behind the pain. (pdf)

According To NPD, 58% Of Music Acquired By Consumers Is Pilfered
According to NPD’s Internet Use Annual Survey, 58% of music acquired by consumers is stolen not paid for…

· Paid downloads increased from 7% in 2006 to 10% in 2007
· CD Sales dropped from 41% in 2006 to 32% in 2007
· Music acquired from P2P Networks increased from 14% in 2006 to 19% in 2007

Five companies that sold customers down the DRM-filled river
The news last week that Microsoft plans to turn off its verification servers for its now-defunct MSN Music store, is a stark reminder of the potential pitfalls customers face whenever they purchase content crippled by Digital Rights Management (DRM) software. Any digital store that sells or loans you content in a copy-protected format makes you a hostage to that store or format’s commercial success. The Microsoft example, however, is just one of many. Here are five cases where companies have sold their customers down the DRM-filled river.

Friday, April 25, 2008

snapshot 4/25/08

Starbucks’ Hear Music Fading Out
Starbucks has handed Ken Lombard, President of Starbucks Entertainment, a pink slip and has handed over day-to-day operations of their Hear Music record label to the Concord Music Group.

Chris Bruzzo, chief technology officer, has been promoted to senior VP and will assume the leadership helm of the Entertainment category as part of his responsibilities. The company said the move was part of a strategic overhaul to examine all aspects of its business that are not directly related to its core. However, the reality is that Hear Music, after much fanfare, failed to meet expectations, and the company will most likely faze the initiative to black by the end of 2008, and replace it with a deeper relationship with Apple’s iTunes.

Lars Ulrich: "We've Always Been Fiercely Independent and Controlling"
You know, this is our last record under contract with Warner, so we're looking at how we can embrace everything. We want to be as free a players as possible. We've been observing Radiohead and Trent Reznor and in twenty-seven years or however long it takes for the next record, we'll be looking forward to everything in terms of possibilities with the Internet.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

snapshot 4/24/08

New social network targets older music fans
GetBack Media, a social network targeted at people over age 35, is set to launch Wednesday stocked with music and TV content. The site ( focuses on pop culture from 1968-90, and includes a timeline loaded with news and trivia for each year.

The site features movie trailers through an agreement with ScreenPlay, a service that has deals with all the major studios, and the pages feature 30-second samples of 750,000 songs through an agreement with All Media Guide. In addition, GetBack will present options to buy music through Apple's iTunes and Amazon as well as rent films through Netflix. The company will get an affiliate fee from sales of the media through iTunes and Amazon and a bounty fee from Netflix if a user signs up through the service.

Some car-stereo makers see drivers ditching CDs for iPods
First eight-track players slid off into history. Then that unruly stack of cassette tapes disappeared from glove compartments. Now, car-stereo makers are marketing units that threaten to boot compact discs into the auto audio graveyard. On Wednesday, Blaupunkt announced it's shipping a second-generation, $160 stereo and AM/FM radio that ditches the CD player in favor of ports for other digital music technologies including Apple iPods and other MP3 players, thumb drives or other USB devices or SD memory cards.

Other makers have competing units that began appearing last year. All are aimed at the growing segment of music-loving auto enthusiasts who carry their tunes in their pockets. "We're very close to an age when we're not going to have to carry around a bunch of discs anymore," says Ben Oh, editor of Car Audio & ElectronicsMagazine. Units "are starting to gain some popularity."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

snapshot 4/23/08

eMusic Adds Classical Labels
eMusic announced a number of larger ndependent classical label signings including UK-based Chandos Records, Telarc, and Harmonia Mundi. Other classical labels recently added include Na├»ve, Vox, Lyrita, Hungaraton, Supraphon, and CSO Resound, the Chicago Symphony’s in-house recording label. These additions will be available on the website both in the US and worldwide. eMusic says that more than half of its subscribers who downloaded one of two recent free classical music samplers went on to purchase additional classical music. Of those, nearly one third had never downloaded a classical track before.

Slow Slog for Amazon's Digital Media (requires subscription)
Jeetil Patel, who tracks the company for Deutsche Bank, estimates Amazon has invested $300 million in the [digital-media] initiatives over the past three years. But he puts the annual revenue they have produced so far at less than $100 million, a fraction of Amazon's $14.8 billion total.

The Amazon efforts attracted wide attention initially, but signs of success have been scant. The company's Unbox download service of TV shows and movies has attracted a very small audience, analysts say. Its other new digital businesses, including the Kindle e-book reader and the literary-shorts program, remain fledgling businesses at best. Amazon in February sold its European online DVD rental business to LoveFilm International, though it is now the biggest shareholder in LoveFilm.

Recent data are more promising. In February, the single month for which NPD data are available, Amazon's MP3 store was in second place, ahead of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and behind iTunes. NPD discloses only where companies rank, not specific sales figures or market-share percentages.

Interview: Microsoft's Rob Bennett defends DRM decision
Bennett is the Microsoft executive who notified former customers of the now defunct MSN Music service on Tuesday that the company would no longer issue DRM keys for their songs after August 31. This means that, while former customers can listen to their music on authorized computers for as long as the hardware lasts, they won't be able to transfer songs to a new PC after that deadline.

The reason for shutting down the DRM-licensing servers was "every time there is an OS upgrade, the DRM equation gets complex very quickly," said Bennett, general manager of entertainment, video, and sports for MSN. "Every time, you saw support issues. People would call in because they couldn't download licenses. We had to write new code, new configurations each time...We really believe that, going forward, the best thing to do is focus exclusively on Zune."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

snapshot 4/22/08

Nokia signs Sony BMG for free music offering
Nokia will offer free 12-month access to music from artists of Sony BMG, the world's second-biggest label, to buyers of its particular music phones, the world's top cellphone maker said on Tuesday. "Comes With Music is expected to launch in the second half of 2008 on a range of Nokia devices in selected markets," Nokia said in a statement. Nokia gave no financial details.

Netflix, consumer electronics partnerships near
U.S. online DVD rental company Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) on Monday said it expects to soon announce three partnerships, similar to its set-top box alliance with LG Electronics Inc (066570.KS), that will let subscribers watch films streamed directly from the Web to TVs. "We have LG plus three additional partners actively working on integrating our technology into their products," Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings said on a conference call with analysts.

Creative ZENs to use Internet music storage?
Creative's upcoming ZEN X-Fi media player may hinge on Internet-based storage as a selling point, says a new tip sent to epiZENter. While the player is already anticipated to offer local sharing between users, a "reliable" source indicates that Creative wants to use the device's Wi-Fi for accessing a remote collection; users would subscribe to a service that offers a multi-gigabyte Internet storage space for holding music; users could then access songs they can't fit on the player simply by streaming them wirelessly.

The information doesn't include any specific price plans or whether there would be any limitations in the format or content. Details are more likely to appear on the ZEN's official release later in spring, which is expected to include a US version of the as yet unconfirmed device and capacities up to at least 32GB of flash memory.

Hastings Improves Profits, Will Reduce Music Inventories
Entertainment retailer Hastings reported improved Q4 earnings and slightly lower revenue for fiscal 2007. (Read 10-K filing.) Comp-store music revenue was down 15.3% in fiscal 2007 (compared to a 9.3% decline in fiscal 2006 and 2.9% decline is fiscal 2005). In fact, music was the only one of the top eight product categories to decline in fiscal 2007.

The bad news for labels is that falling CD sales will result in fewer titles being stocked -- a painful double whammy -- that will result in even lower CD sales. For fiscal 2008, the company has budgeted $5.3 million to reformat 35 stores to reduce the retail space dedicated to music by 15-20%.

Sonific Goes Dark. Blames Major Labels.
Sonific, creators of the SongSpot widget that enabled bloggers and others to embed a single song player anywhere with ease is going offline May 1st. Co-founded by music futurist Gerd Leonhard, Sonific sited unreasonable label demands as a primary reason for the shut down.

"When we approached the major record label decision makers in order to obtain licenses...we have routinely faced demands for very large cash advances and fixed per-stream minimum payments, pressure to give them 'free' company equity, and requirements of utterly bizarre usage restrictions. It seems that the industry's major stakeholders still prefer this turf to remain unlicensed rather than to allow real-life, workable and market-based solutions to emerge..."

Full-length shows, even movies, growing on cellular
Forget short clips and "mobisodes." Cellphone providers are ramping up their full-episode TV offerings, from Lost to The Office, and even movies. Today, only about 7% of mobile subscribers (cell and data) watch video on their phones, he says. But the industry is poised for major growth: Mobile video revenues at domestic carriers jumped to $308 million in the last three months of 2007 from $112 million in the same period a year earlier, according to Nielsen Mobile.

From Bricks and Mortar to Digital Music Master
The Internet has steamrolled music retailers (, 10/10/07). As consumers fill their iPods with digital downloads—legal and otherwise—the ranks of CD buyers have dwindled. One in four U.S. record stores around in 2002 was gone by 2005, according to U.S. Census data—a net loss of 1,900 stores. But the data suggest that small retailers fared better than large ones. The number of stores with fewer than 100 employees shrank by 18.6% in that period, compared with 34.3% for stores with 100 or more workers.

Sony Buys Media Metadata And Tech Firm Gracenote For $260 Million Plus
So it has finally happened: Gracenote, the media metadata and tech firm which has been around since 1998, has been bought by Sony Corp of America, for about $260 million and more depending on earnout. The deal is expected to close in May. Gracenote’s existing business will continue to operate separately, and will continue to develop new technologies in existing as well as new areas of operation, the companies said. The senior management team will remain with the company. The company’s tech and services are used in Apple iTunes, Winamp, Panasonic, Philips and Sony, and on the mobile music side by players such as from Samsung, Sony Ericsson and others. Thus ends the era of any independents in the traditional music metadata space. AMG was bought by Macrovision late last year; Muze is owned by VC/PE firm Enterprise Partners Venture Capital.

DRM sucks redux: Microsoft to nuke MSN Music DRM keys
Customers who have purchased music from Microsoft's now-defunct MSN Music store are now facing a decision they never anticipated making: commit to which computers (and OS) they want to authorize forever, or give up access to the music they paid for. Why? Because Microsoft has decided that it's done supporting the service and will be turning off the MSN Music license servers by the end of this summer.

MSN Entertainment and Video Services general manager Rob Bennett sent out an e-mail this afternoon to customers, advising them to make any and all authorizations or deauthorizations before August 31. "As of August 31, 2008, we will no longer be able to support the retrieval of license keys for the songs you purchased from MSN Music or the authorization of additional computers," reads the e-mail seen by Ars. "You will need to obtain a license key for each of your songs downloaded from MSN Music on any new computer, and you must do so before August 31, 2008. If you attempt to transfer your songs to additional computers after August 31, 2008, those songs will not successfully play."

Monday, April 21, 2008

snapshot 4/21/08

Social networks prepare own music services
What helped the widget trade to boom in the first place was that MySpace and Facebook didn't offer such services to artists and fans directly. But now that MySpace is readying a full-featured music service of its own, and Facebook is rumored to be working on something similar, what happens to all these widgets that filled that void? So if MySpace doesn't block overlapping services, what happens then? Here's a quick snapshot of the main services MySpace Music plans to offer, the existing providers of the same and how this might shake out in the months to come.

How to save the album
Artists, producers, songwriters and A&R folks: Rise up to the challenge and make your album so good that fans will want to buy the whole thing. I realize every album can't have six or seven top 10 singles, like Michael Jackson and I were blessed with on "Thriller" and "Bad," but you've got to try. If it's good enough, the fans will buy it. Maybe they'll want to whet their appetite by only buying a track or two at first, but if you keep coming out with good tracks and pique their interest, they'll be back.

Music Web site Buzznet expands online portfolio
Not content to let MySpace, iLike and Facebook take all the online music thunder, Buzznet is roaring into the Music 2.0 market with a vengeance. According to GM of music Scott Boyd, this flurry of activity is all focused on a single goal: create an online music destination for the fan, by the fan and of the fan.

"There's a void out there," he says. "You see music fans jumping from site to site to piece all the information they want together . . . Our goal is to put that all together into one place and have an experience that is largely programmed by the users of the community. Not just user-generated content, but really creating the whole experience."

Madonna Album ‘Hard Candy’ Leaked
… Seven songs from her upcoming album have been leaked… Listen to Madonna Hard Candy.

Microsoft Zune To Get Audible Technology?
Sources are confirming that the Microsoft Zune digital media player will receive an update in the near future allowing them to view Audible digital books. Although, this feature will certainly help Amazon more than it will help Microsoft, it still gives Ballmer something to rant about…

Second Life Slowly Turning into a Record Store
Keiko Takamura has figured out a way to sell her music inside the Second Life virtual world. Using a rough approximation of an iPod that she calls the myPod, Takamura allows Second Life citizens to preview her music and buy songs in the MP3 format using Linden dollars. The transaction happens entirely within Second Life, but the customer walks away with an MP3 that can be played outside the game. For artists who want to try this but don't want to put together their own myPod, SecondTunes offers a similar service to anyone who wants to sell music in Second Life.

2 for 1: Digital coupons on mobile devices are coming
Well, coupons are now poised to enter the digital age. Advertisers are beginning to invest in mobile coupons, according to The New York Times. The idea is to have discounts sent to consumers via text messages or other means (more on this below), which the consumers would opt-in to receiving.

French Supermarket Giant Carrefour Plans Movie Download Store
Latest to launch a movie download store - and the latest amongst the supermarkets to try their hand - is France’s Carrefour. The world’s second largest retail group after Wal-Mart is to offer download-to-own and download-to-rent films and TV shows in France, Spain, Belgium and Italy. President Christophe Geoffroy (via THR): “It’s very important for Carrefour to have more than one point of sale. We have to be in contact with the consumer in their homes as well as in-store. We know full well that the market forecast for VOD is low at the moment, but we are convinced that it will develop over the coming years and we want to provide a legal solution for customers to see the best possible content.” In the UK, Tesco plans to begin offering movie downloads, but it’s not yet clear whether supermarkets can replicate their impulse in-store DVD purchases in to specific online sales.

Beta Records: Not So Beta Anymore
Enter Beta Records (, a Hollywood-based outfit that just overhauled itself. The company first started in 2004, recording and signing independent artists while touring the United States in a mobile recording studio. More recently, Beta has been rather low-profile, though the company is now pushing an ambitious version 3. So what's the model? On the content side, the company has aggregated roughly 100,000 independent and unsigned artist profiles, complete with recordings, ringtones, photos, and various other assets. "That's more content than ReverbNation," chief experience officer Chris Harper told Digital Music News.

Friday, April 18, 2008

snapshot 4/18/08

U.S. video game sales rise 57 percent in March
U.S. sales of video game hardware and software rose 57 percent in March from a year earlier, industry data showed on Thursday, evidence that the industry has so far been immune to wider economic woes.

MTV's "Rock Band" to launch full-album downloads
MTV said on Friday it will start selling full albums that can be downloaded and played in its "Rock Band" video game, with the first title coming next week from classic metal act Judas Priest.

More Amazon mp3 and iTunes
In a comment about my first comparison of the two stores, Frank Hecker observed that anyone visiting the iTunes store is there to purchase digital downloads. Over at, the option of purchasing an mp3 album is presented to shoppers for music in the CD format (for most releases, at least). Given that the mp3 albums are almost always less expensive -- and offer immediate delivery -- it seems obvious that some of those customers will opt for the mp3 version, even those who have never purchased downloads before.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

snapshot 4/17/08

Amazon Gains Share of Shrinking Paid Music Market
NPD’s annual survey of Internet users, which is some 80 percent of the population these days, found that 10 percent of the music they acquired last year came from paid downloads. That is a big increase from 7 percent in 2006. But since the number of physical CDs they bought plummeted, the overall share of music they paid for fell to 42 percent from 48 percent.

The NPD data for February show that so far Amazon has had a strong start, although it is still tiny. It now has one tenth the market share of Apple in the United States. Since Apple has largely dominated the per-track download sales, that makes Amazon the distant No.2 in the market, said Russ Crupnick, who runs NPD’s music service. That would give Amazon’s digital store an overall share of the American music market of about 2 percent.

Major label artists become paid bloggers?
LA-based social media site Buzznet, which provides audio, video, blogs and editorial content about the popular music scene, has just received an equity investment from major label Universal Music Group. Terms and conditions of the deal were not disclosed, but some are estimating the value of the transaction to be as high as $25 million, with both companies equally sharing revenue drawn from UMG's content on the site.

Universal is offering not only downloadable media to Buzznet, but also lending its artists as bloggers and editorialists. Artists will be guest posters on the site, providing exclusive original content that users can comment on and share with others.

MySpace Music Sees Major Money in Free Tunes
MySpace Music, the major-label-backed online service slated for a summer rollout, has grand plans of delivering "all the music in the world" for free. Once that mission is accomplished, according to MySpace CEO and co-founder Chris DeWolfe, the cash will follow as music fans turn MySpace Music into a money-making machine with multiple revenue streams.

The new service will strip out band pages from the original MySpace site -- which just happens to be the world's most popular social-networking site -- and stream full-length songs and videos for free. MySpace Music will peddle DRM-free downloads, ringtones, concert tickets, T-shirts and more.

This DVD will self-destruct in 48 hours
A German company has introduced a disposable DVD that can be viewed for 48 hours, then thrown away. The DVDs will sell for just €3.99 ($6.44 /£3.20). So, it's about the same price as a new video rental in Europe - and it used to be about the same price as in US, until the Mighty Dollar turned into the Pygmy Dollar. But there are no late fees and no need to pop the disk in the post or return to the store. This opens up DVD distribution possibilities for new premium-priced movie releases - to petrol stations, convenience stores, coffee shops and the like, as well as online retailers - as there is no longer the need to book the DVDs back in. That's the idea. Will it work?

MyPlayList Combines Flickr And Online Music
MyPlayList , a bootstrapped startup from Agentbleu, a Englishman living in France, combines streamed music and Flickr for a free music service that delivers visual as well as musical abundance. MyPlayList uses the XSPF xml format to combine the images from the Flickr image sharing service, with music that is hosted across the internet, and similar to Seeqpod does not host or cache any of the music to avoid any copyright issues.

To use, users enter the name of any band or singer, and the system automatically compiles a Flickr - music combination, or suggests an existing playlist if one is already in the system. Registered users can create custom playlists and the site offers various embedable versions as well.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

snapshot 4/16/08

CinemaNow, Technicolor unveil new delivery platform
Digital entertainment company CinemaNow and Technicolor said on Tuesday they had developed a new digital movie delivery platform to sell to online retailers and hardware companies. The platform should make it easier for device makers and retailers to provide an online movie service and features functions like content encoding and encryption, digital rights management (DRM), ad management, order fulfillment across various consumer electronics categories.

Microsoft planning a Zune-centric entertainment store?
Microsoft may be putting together an "entertainment marketplace" tentatively named Zune VideoX, ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley reported Wednesday. In other words, it's yet another digital content store trying to take a bite out of Apple's iTunes.

Creating a solid digital download store is that Microsoft has tried repeatedly, and hasn't gotten right yet. Its Zune Marketplace hasn't exactly been a resounding success. There has also been chatter about something called "eLive," a marketplace of digital download content--music, video, games--for Zune digital media players, Windows-based PCs, Xbox gaming consoles, and Windows Mobile smartphones.

Sony VP promises in-game XMB, NA video download service, PlayStation Cards in '08
On the way this year, along with a video service that "separates the service from others you've seen or give you the TV, movies and gaming content you want," and expanded community features. Also in store are PlayStation Cards (in $20 and $50 denominations) for the credit card-less among us. The four pillars of Sony's plan (community, free online gaming, digital media download services, and original content) hint towards the reasons we won't let the shiny beast get quite as dusty this year.

Amazon MP3 Sells More Albums Than iTunes
From a Fortune profile of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos by Josh Quittner:
"One exec I know at a big label...says he's excited by one trend in particular: At Apple's iTunes store, two thirds of the music sold is single tracks and one third is albums. But at Amazon, two thirds of the music sold is albums and one third is tracks."

Grooveshark Launches Web Media Player
Music sharing and sales startup Grooveshark has launched Grooveshark Lite , a flash app that provides access to all the songs in Grooveshark’s library. For those unfamiliar with the company, Grooveshark allows users to upload and share their music collection with friends, but with a twist: every song uploaded can be purchased DRM-free with the uploader getting a cut of each sale (the rest goes to the record companies, and the service is 100% legal).

Fox, Paramount Testing New-Release Downloads At iTunes
Something unusual happened for iTunes users when Juno made its DVD debut this week: the Fox movie was also for sale as an iTunes download for $14.99 as the News Corp unit tests downloads of new releases. It’s not a wholesale change—Fox told Variety more movies are likely to follow but on a title-by-title basis and Juno won;t be available for iTunes rental until May 14.. Meanwhile, as Variety reports, Paramount is experimenting with new-release download sales on iTunes. Including Disney, that makes three studios willing to try new released on the Apple service, which has been pushing the ability to do downloads through Apple TV direct to the living room.

First look: PluggedIn brings HD music videos to the 'Net
PluggedIn Media has begun testing its high-quality music video site this morning, in hopes that both viewers and advertisers will be attracted to the professionally-produced content. At launch, features 10,000 music videos licensed from three of the Big Four music labels: Universal, EMI, and Sony BMG. The fourth, Warner Music, is apparently sitting this round out for now, although PluggedIn says that it has managed to obtain rights to a handful of Warner's videos for the time being. There are also videos available from a number of independent labels, and videos range from "broadcast quality" all the way up to HD. We took a spin around the site to see how it compares to other video sites on the 'Net, and whether it lives up to its promises.

Tim McGraw Offers Limited Edition of Hits Package
Tim McGraw becomes the latest artist to join the Wal-Mart-only crowd. He will release an limited edition combo pack of both his greatest hits CDs on April 29, available only at Wal-Mart...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

snapshot 4/15/08

Motley Crue to release single on Rock Band game
In a nod to the ascendancy of video games, rock 'n' roll bad boys Motley Crue will become the first group to release a new single through Rock Band, the developer of the wildly popular game said on Monday. "Saints of Los Angeles," the first single from the group's upcoming album, will be available for download for 99 cents on Tuesday via Microsoft Corp's Xbox Live Marketplace and on Thursday via Sony Corp's PlayStation store, said Viacom Inc's MTV Games.

The Filter's mission: Refine music, video and movie tastes
Peter Gabriel's latest venture isn't a new album but a better way to serve up music and other entertainment on the Internet. The Filter ( is the latest entry in a growing lineup of online recommendation engines that suggest new music based on your current favorites.

At its simplest, The Filter uses proprietary artificial intelligence to suggest works that are similar to ones already identified as favorites, using a database of more than 4.5 million songs and 330,000 movies. The database will account for users' changing tastes and grow as more users join during the private beta-testing period, beginning today (request access at

Apple & Starbucks Launch iTunes Pick of the Week Initiative
Apple and Starbucks have launched the iTunes Pick of the Week music initiative. The Pick of the Week will allow Starbucks customers to download a complimentary song or music video every Tuesday.

More than 7,000 company-operated Starbucks locations in the US will stock a new Pick of the Week download card redeemable on the iTunes Store for a free song or music video, from artists such as Carly Simon, Duffy, Counting Crows, Adele, Sia, Hilary McRae, and more. The first Pick of the Week, available starting today at participating locations, is the new song “Washington Square” by the Counting Crows. Customers will have 60 days from the date the cards are available to redeem them through the iTunes Store.

NPD: Amazon MP3 has no impact on iTunes
Amazon's highly-touted MP3 store has had little to no effect on the success of iTunes, according to a new analysis by The NPD Group. A study conducted by the group reveals that just 10 percent of all purchasers at Amazon MP3 are converts from Apple's service, with the rest either switching from other stores or else are new to direct-download music. This comparatively new audience is a "healthy indication" that other stores don't necessarily have to draw customers away from iTunes to grow, says NPD entertainment analyst Russ Crupnick.

Can Sony Trump iTunes With New PlayStation Store?
Two weeks ago, Sony froze the catalog of its online PlayStation Store—the central hub it uses to offer downloadable content for its PlayStation 3 console—and announced that it would be performing an extensive makeover in two weeks. This morning, the new PlayStation Store launched globally, and it’s a major improvement over the prior version, offering a simplified interface for browsing and downloading games and videos.

To go one step further, it looks like Sony finally has an online store interface that outdoes the one on Apple TV—now, the PlayStation 3’s only challenges are to populate the store with similar content, and get enough hardware out there to make a real impact on the digital marketplace. More photos and details are available by clicking on the headline above, or the read more link below.

TuneCore Pays $1M In January Fueled By Indie Artists
MNany digital distributors are still trying to find their footing, but one outfit seems to have found its own indie sweet spot. artists and labels earned more than $1 Million in January marking a new peak for the flat fee discount digital distribution service. TuneCore says customers have now earned a total of over seven million dollars from digital sales of their music. Tunecores revenue growth is in part being fueled by big names like Bjork, Nine Inch Nails, Keith Richards and Jay-Z, But according to the distributor unsigned artists are earning the majority of the revenue generated.

Monday, April 14, 2008

snapshot 4/14/08

Growth in ringback tones energizes mobile market
As the cash cow that was the ringtones market slowly heads to pasture, the music industry is turning to a new mobile stud -- ringback tones. Ringbacks -- the music you hear when you call someone -- represent the only area of significant growth for mobile music-related applications in the last year. The number of mobile subscribers who reported purchasing a ringback tone increased 69% from February 2007 to February 2008, according to data from M:Metrics. By comparison, neither ringtones nor wallpaper images could keep pace with the overall market growth, increasing by only 4.3% and 6.2%, respectively, in the same time frame.

Blockbuster Offers to Buy Circuit City
Blockbuster Inc. said Monday it has offered to pay more than $1 billion for struggling Circuit City Stores Inc., but the nation's second biggest consumer electronics chain questioned whether the movie-rental company can finance the deal.

eMusic Tops 200M Downloads, Strengthens EU Team
eMusic today announced that it has sold more than 200 million downloads since establishing its subscription model 11/03. The total includes downloads sold in the U.S. and E.U., where eMusic has been available 10/06. The company says it is now delivered more than 7 million tracks a month across all territories to subscribers.

Penguin to Launch Ebooks Alongside Regular Releases
The international publisher, Penguin, has decided to hop onto the ebook bandwagon, by promising regular book launches to be held in conjunction with their ebook counterparts. Unfortunately, the prices will not be lowered for the ebook varieties, but Penguin will offer direct downloads from their website.

Report: Unlimited iTunes subscription a myth
Talk of unlimited subscriptions at the iTunes Store is largely unfounded, a new report claims. Yesterday, the Financial Times suggested that Apple has been shopping around the concept of a premium on iPods and iPhones, which would grant users unlimited access to iTunes music; in turn, revenue would be distributed appropriately amongst record labels. Apple is further said to be angling for a $20 premium, while a record label executive has said the amount could go as high as $100, based on research of public opinion.

According to sources cited by Business Week, however, no negotiations are underway. An Apple spokesman has declined to comment, and "insiders at major music labels" have effectively dismissed any rumors. One source does acknowledge that the concept of a subscription plan has been "kicked around" for approximately a year, but that "no meaningful discussions" have taken place so far.

Microsoft plans mobile Zune store, third-gen player
Microsoft is planning to launch a mobile Zune portal sometime in 2009, according to the French newspaper Les Echos. The site would extend the reach of the company's iTunes rival, the Zune Marketplace, and allow users to download games and music directly to various platforms, including computers, Windows Mobile devices and for the first time, Zune players themselves. While Zunes have always come equipped with a Wi-Fi module, they have never had Internet access, a prominent feature on Apple's competing iPod touch.

Puretracks hits DRM-free mobile music fray
Puretracks, with labels Universal, Sony BMG, Warner, EMI, and various independents under its belt, is offering a new DRM-free mobile music store and service for BlackBerry smartphones from Research In Motion (RIM). As the latest company to take a stab at Apple's music download dominance, the new music service competes directly with Apple's WiFi iTunes store for the iPhone and iPod Touch and will work with the BlackBerry Pearl, BlackBerry Curve and BlackBerry 8800 series smartphones. Using compressed DRM-free AAC/AAC+ file formats, Puretracks Mobile Edition will be unveiled March 12 at the South By Southwest (SXSW) event in Austin, Texas. A full version of the mobile music service is expected to launch at CTIA Wireless April 1.

The new mobile music store, which will debut in the United States with future roll-out plans slated for Canada and other markets, will feature a "broad selection of songs from top mainstream and independent artists." The company says it is planning to implement support for Wi-Fi capable handsets, enabling BlackBerry smartphone users to download MP3 files over Wi-Fi connections, in the future.

Friday, April 11, 2008

snapshot 4/11/08

IDJ, J. Dupree & Body Spray Form Label
Island Def Jam and Procter & Gamble's TAG men's body spray have formed a new hip-hop record label, TAG Records to be led Jermaine Dupri. TAG Record's first artist will be announced in May.

In addition to an album release, the TAG Brand will showcase TAG Record's artist and Jermaine Dupri across various TAG brand advertising and marketing initiatives throughout 2008. The partnership was brokered by the New York based ACME Brand Content Company. (press release)

Besieged by web, music stores go digital, sort of
This has become an increasingly quaint experience, as brick-and-mortar retail space for CDs continues to evaporate. But music sellers have come up with an item that may provide some middle ground between consuming music via the internet and shopping for it in person: digital album cards. These products -- marketed by top digital music seller iTunes and major record company Sony-BMG, with other major labels and perhaps Wal-Mart to follow -- manage to be both physical and digital. Selling for the price of a CD (usually $12.99), the glossy cards give purchasers a code that enables them to download the album's songs, a booklet and such extras as videos and bonus tracks not available on CD.

While the digital album cards may turn out to be neither-fish-nor-fowl ephemera, they don't take up as much costly inventory space as CDs, making them easy to merchandise in multiple spots. The Sony-BMG line debuted in January, with the iTunes cards appearing last fall. Neither company will reveal sales figures for their cards, but Sony-BMG reports an exponential spike around Valentine's Day and Easter, suggesting that the cards could be a hit as a gift item.

The iTunes album cards are problematic for traditional music stores -- the site's virtual record shop is killer competition, after all. Trans World Entertainment -- which operates 30 music outlets in New Jersey (including 26 FYE shops) -- sells dollar-amount iTunes gift cards as a sort of necessary evil. But the firm draws the line at the Apple's album cards, says Ish Cuebas, Trans World's vice president of music and merchandising operations. But Cuebas is bullish about these products from the major labels, saying, "The Sony-BMG album cards haven't been a runaway success, and the profit margins are lower than with CDs, but we've definitely seen some incremental sales. They're not going to replace CDs for us, but they fill a need -- we'll try anything."

Add Music Here, Get it There, and Listen Everywhere
MP3tunes has launched AutoSync, new technology that makes it possible for people to automatically move their digital music between their own computers, without having to connect cables or portable drives or even burn CDs. Included with every MP3tunes Music Locker, AutoSync provides the music fan with a powerful, yet easy-to-use, tool for managing their digital music collection. For instance, with AutoSync it's now possible for consumers to buy MP3s from Amazon while at work and have the new music available for immediate listening on the family computers when they get home. AutoSync works by first automatically detecting when a person has added new music to their computer, whether singles, albums or even playlists. After the music is backed-up to their password-protected MP3tunes Locker, it's then instantly synced from the Locker to any other PC specified by the consumer.

In-Stat Predicts Ramping Digital; Modest Top-Line Increases
On Tuesday, In-Stat offered a more optimistic assessment, one sprinkled with reasonable levels of caution. The Scottsdale, Arizona-based group predicted that global, top-line recording industry revenues would reach $37 billion by 2012. Of that total, In-Stat projected that 40 percent ($14.8 billion) would come from digital formats.

That represents a boost from a year-2007 estimate of $30.5 billion, and a digital contribution of 10 percent. Sounds reasonable enough, though plunging physical sales raise questions on the upward direction of the forecast. And whether mobile-based revenues will offer a life raft also remains speculative, though In-Stat predicted mobile-based, full-track revenues of $4.2 billion, measured globally.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

snapshot 4/10/08

Blockbuster eyes streaming to TVs
Apple TV is getting some competition from Blockbuster. The home video giant is developing a set-top device for streaming films directly to TV sets and is expected to announce the offering sometime this month.

The device would join a growing roster of devices that aim to bring broadband video to the living room, including Apple TV, which hasn't quite seen sales match the hype surrounding the product. Blockbuster rival Netflix also has indicated that it will compete in this market with a similar device being created with LG Electronics. The product would be an offshoot of Movielink, the online film service Blockbuster acquired last year that allows consumers to watch films licensed from the major studios on their PCs.

Strait Speeds Past R.E.M. To Debut At No. 1
For the fourth time in his career, country vet George Strait earns the No. 1 spot on The Billboard 200 with "Troubadour." According to Nielsen SoundScan, the MCA Nashville album moved 166,000 copies, more than enough to push him to the summit of the Top Country Albums tally, his 22nd No. 1 there. The Billboard 200 has hosted at least one new entry from Strait every year since 1984.

R.E.M. scores its highest sales and charting week in nearly 12 years with the Warner Bros. set "Accelerate," which debuts at No. 2 with 115,000. "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" also started at No. 2 in September 1996. Album sales this week are down 3.5% compared to last week at 7.99 million and down 24.5% against the same week in 2007.

At EMI, could digital music kill the 'record' promo?
She [Yelle ] is unwittingly helping The EMI Group, one of the four largest music companies, to push CDs further into the shadows. Already a star in her own country and a growing nightclub favorite in the U.S., Yelle was being promoted until recently in this country exclusively through digital means.

As part of the digital-only promotion, EMI didn't seek radio airplay for Yelle's music and didn't buy banner or print ads in traditional music magazines like Rolling Stone or Blender. Instead, executives took to MySpace, music widgets, and powerful music blogs like Pitchfork. The label started digital and stayed digital until it reached a critical mass. On April 1, EMI finally released a CD version of Yelle's album, Pop Up.

Study: 66% have no interest in mobile music
A combination of disinterest and unnecessary hurdles is discouraging most cellphone users from using mobile music downloads, says a new Jupiter Research study (pay only). Although many Western carriers heavily promote their direct-to-phone services, approximately two thirds (66 percent) of the more than 1,800 respondents to the study say that nothing is likely to spur them into paying for music on a phone; 28 percent are interested in ringtones, while only 14 percent are interested in full tracks, according to the results.

Most users cite the price of downloads as the primary barrier and are looking for songs available for near the same 99-cent price as with music stores accessed from home, Jupiter says. With the exception of the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store and Sprint's Music Store, most cellular providers and phone store operators often charge a significant premium for wireless downloads, often claiming the need to offset the extra network bandwidth costs. This insistence is effectively driving customers to more traditional stores where they can either sideload music to the phone afterwards or else are confined to dedicated portable media players.

Radiohead's 'Nude' May Have Charted by Releasing Tracks on iTunes
Radiohead's "Nude" made the Billboard Hot 100 this week at no. 37 -- their first appearance on the chart since "High & Dry" in 1996. I had been wondering why Radiohead picked iTunes to release the remix stems, rather than using their own website as they had with other aspects of In Rainbows' digital release. Richard Bradley thinks he knows the answer.

"In a nutshell, [Radiohead] kind of scammed people into buying the single five times over." His theory is that iTunes' sales numbers for "Nude" were misleading because Apple included sales of the song as well as the individual stems for guitar, drums, bass, voice and strings/effects in the same sales figure.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

snapshot 4/9/08

Adobe launches Adobe Media Player
Adobe has officially launched its Adobe Media Player application which has been in public beta since last year. Adobe Media Player is a desktop application built on Adobe AIR that lets users watch streaming and downloaded web videos from content partners including CBS, PBS, MTV, Revision3, and

Zune Goes Latin
Zune today announced a collaboration with MSN Latino and partnership with to be the exclusive music sponsor for each site. The new co-branded online platform will launch on April 15. The arrangement with MSN Latino gives Zune the exclusive naming rights to MSN Latino's music channel, which will be rebranded as Zune Musica through 2009 and include links to Zune Marketplace to buy music. is a network of bilingual sites showcasing local Latino and Latin American cultures. Launched in New York City in 2006, Remezcla is expanding nationwide including Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco, and will partner with other online and social networking sites like MySpace Latino. Zune will become the network's exclusive online music store through 2009.

Full Text Of Orchard MySpace Letter To Labels
· If news reports are true, it is unclear whether and how the equity the participating major labels received will be shared by them with their artists, or with the independent labels they simply distribute (yet count in their overall market share, and whose music they presumably intend to include in the MySpace service
· To our understanding, independents have not been offered any equity. However, we will make a strong and unequivocal commitment to you: very simply, if we negotiate for and receive equity, we will share it with you
· Digital retail is fairer than physical brick-and-mortar retail ever was. iTunes led by example and helped to shift music industry dynamics towards a more level playing field for all industry participants (for example, in their continued efforts to further standardize pricing, and their reasonably democratic way of dealing with placements on the site). In that light, if reports are true, the apparent MySpace licensing approach is troubling. It hearkens back to a time none of us wants to revisit ... Where independent artists and labels were third-class citizens in the global music economy, instead of the second-class citizenship (with a good chance for an upgrade to first) that we enjoy today

In-Stat: digital 40% of all music in 4 years
Direct music downloads should make up a full 40 percent of all music sales in the space of four years, according to a new study by In-Stat. Research by the company suggests a blossoming of online purchases to the point that two out of every five legal music acquisitions in 2012 will have been made for an Internet-sourced copy instead of a physical copy. The anticipated surge is attributed to much more widespread access to high-speed Internet connections as well as a continued preference for single songs over whole albums and digital libraries that more closely match what's available at retail.’s Free Music ‘Boosts Sales’; Unlimited Services ‘To Kick In By 2012’ claims its 12-week-old free, full-track music streams have resulted in 119 percent more CD and download sales through its click-through partnership. Some of that is attributable to an expected increase in site users following the new offering - but also claims those who were members prior to the launch have been purchasing 66 percent more albums and tracks than beforehand, thanks to the full new previews. Figures for’s 7Digital and iTunes affiliates weren’t disclosed.

Co-founder Martin Stiksel (via emailed release) offers the stats as evidence free music discovery can lead to dollars: “In just over two months, it’s become clear that people will buy CDs and downloads if they get access to the kind of service we offer.” That may help reassure some music execs that services like his, imeem and iLike can indeed aide sales.

Wal-Mart Stalemate Continues; Carey, Adams Campaigns Emerge
In the meantime, the retailing giant is aggressively pushing a pair of new releases across its digital and physical stores. The first involves Mariah Carey, currently signed with Island Def Jam (UMG). Carey is now preparing the release of E=MC2, a follow-up to The Emancipation of Mimi. Ahead of an April 15th street date, Wal-Mart is offering an in-studio Carey interview, and instantly delivering an MP3 of "Touch My Body" alongside an album pre-order. The interview is being layered into Wal-Mart's in-studio series, Soundcheck, sponsored by Degree.

Also on the list is Bryan Adams, who is planning an exclusive physical release across Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in the United States. The album, called 11, hits both mega-stores on May 13th, according to the Adams website. The album was unavailable for download Wednesday morning on

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

snapshot 4/8/08

Online music site Sellaband gets $5 mln investor
Dutch-based online music Web site said on Tuesday that European venture capital fund Prime Technology Ventures has invested $5 million in the company to help it expand in the United States. Sellaband, which allows fans to buy shares in unsigned bands to help fund recordings, will use the investment to boost marketing and development, particularly in the United States, co-founder and Chief Executive Johan Vosmeijer said.

Radio Index' Report: Radio Audience Remains Loyal
CHARLESTON, SC -- April 7, 2008: Seventy-two percent of American adults are listening to the radio about the same amount or more than they did five years ago, according to American Media Services' latest "Radio Index" survey. Seventy-three percent, meanwhile, still usually turn on the radio when they get in the car.

Thirty-three percent of respondents said they've listened to radio over the Internet, and 12 percent have heard an HD Radio broadcast. When they're listening to radio over the air, 53 percent said they stick with a station through commercial breaks, 35 percent change the station, and 8 percent turn off the radio. And those who change the station tend to do it quickly: Seventy-seven percent of those who tune away do it within 30 seconds after commercials begin.

Slacker Completes Deals With Top Music Publishers
Slacker, Inc. today announced it has entered into agreements with top music publishers, including EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group and Warner/Chappell Music. The new deals give Slacker the content rights to enable Personal Radio that can be played everywhere on Slacker Portable Radio Players.

With these publishing license agreements, Slacker users can transfer songs from the Slacker service and store the music on Slacker Portables giving listeners the best on-the-go personal radio experience available today. The agreements, completed prior to the availability of Slacker Portables, also enable Slacker Premium Service customers to save songs and replay them whenever they want.

Plan would tax music downloads
A Los Angeles-area lawmaker trying to help raise money to delete the state government's $8 billion shortfall thinks consumers should pay sales tax when buying from online music stores.

The proposal by Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-City of Industry, doesn't seek directly to tax music tracks, but instead would require the Board of Equalization to update a 75-year-old law that authorizes sales-tax collections on tangible personal property. Music, books and videos downloaded off the Internet aren't considered tangible goods.

Digitization Of Album Art Is About New Possibilities, Not Smaller Graphics
Graphic designers working in the music industry are facing a crossroads on par with anything the labels are dealing with. Now that album art is viewed at sizes of one-inch-by-one-inch and smaller, how can cover art add meaning to an album? And with people are finding out about shows online in addition to seeing flyers taped around town, how can bands, labels and designers apply their papering techniques to the online world?

Digital Narm 2008
The National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) has announced that this year's 2008 Convention will feature a two-day Digital conference on May 6 - 7 in San Francisco. Offering both results oriented info and networking, Digital NARM is designed to create discussion around the convergence of physical, digital, and mobile music fueled by rapid changes in technology. “Digital NARM will feature well-respected thought leaders from an array of industries involved with developing the future of digital music,” says NARM President Jim Donio. “This is an ideal, one-of-a-kind forum to share ideas, create partnerships across industries, and develop the future of digital music.”

Participating speakers include: Amazon, AT&T, eMusic, Facebook, My Space Records, Motorola, Napster, IODA, IRIS, The Orchard, Nokia, 9 Squared, Imeem and the four majors. Sessions will be moderated by analysts and journalists including staffers from the LA Times Gartner Research and Digital Music News.

Wal-Mart focuses on MP3, but without Sony BMG and Warner
Sony BMG and Warner's music is missing from Wal-Mart's online store, which has been recently redesigned to feature its catalog of DRM-free music. With the apparent full switch to MP3, it marks yet another former customer of Microsoft's PlaysForSure who let the DRM technology fall by the wayside. However, it appears that with the embrace of DRM-free music, some artists are not available, at least temporarily.

Despite the publicity of a recent upset from the number one position in digital music retail by iTunes, Wal-Mart seems happy about its progress in the online music front. "We've been pleased with the overall growth and customer response to our MP3 offering since our launch last August," Wal-Mart spokesperson Ravi Jariwala said. "We'll continue to work with our music partners to further grow our MP3 selection."

Over 340 Clear Channel Radio Stations Now Supporting iTunes Tagging
Clear Channel Radio has revealed that over 340 of its HD Radio stations are now compatible with iTunes Tagging. “Radio continues to be the number one way that people discover new music, and the HD Radio iTunes tagging capability lets listeners add songs to their iPod playlists with just a push of the button,” said John Hogan, President and CEO of Clear Channel Radio. “With the vast majority of our HD primary stations now offering this exciting feature, we’re demonstrating how radio’s collaboration with the iPod benefits consumers.”

Announced last fall, iTunes Tagging is a new HD Radio feature that allows radio listeners to Tag the currently playing song. The track is then automatically added to a Tagged Playlist on the connected iPod. The next time the iPod is synced with a computer, the tagged playlist appears in iTunes, making it easy to then purchase the songs.

Competition unable to take a big bite out of Apple's iTunes
iTunes is widening its lead in the digital music market at the expense of other top brands, according to a new report by Ipsos. In its annual TEMPO Digital Music Brandscape Study, the market research firm says that more people are aware of iTunes than ever before and regard it highly compared to other online music destinations. One brand in particular—MySpace—performed particularly poorly, which could mean bad news for the recently-launched MySpace Music.

"iTunes' steady gain as 'best' brand over the past three years does denote a threat to other digital music services, particularly due to the persistent lack of interoperability," Ipsos senior research manager Karl Joyce said in a statement. "While iTunes' growth in 2006 may have come at the expense of Napster, other brands have begun to feel its impact as well, including other top competitors such as Rhapsody and Yahoo! Music. Moreover, social networking's hope of overtaking the lead in mainstream digital music acquisition appears to have fallen short."

Teen iPhone share seen doubling as iPod, iTunes flatten
In the latest round of its semi-annual teen surveys, analyst group Piper Jaffray finds that ownership of Apple's iPhone has doubled in six months and is set to double again, though cooling iPod and iTunes use suggests a changing of the guard. Clouds loom over the news, however, and point to the iPhone potentially dulling the iPod's earlier success. While Apple's command of MP3 players has increased, actual demand for any MP3 player has dropped to its lowest amount in three years -- just 28 percent look to buy a new player in the next six months, while 47 percent did in fall 2007.

Moreover, while Apple's share of online music purchases is higher than in late 2007, it remains smaller than all-time highs of 89 and 91 percent set in fall 2007 and spring 2006 respectively. Munster and fellow analysts believe it may the result of more sites offering music without copy protection, permitting iPod owners to buy more of their digital music outside of iTunes.

Guitarati aims to make mood music into a business
On its main page, Guitarati lays out a series of colorful dots. Clicking on one of these takes you to a selection of music based around that color. This color/music link-up is set by what other users set as the color they feel best represents the feeling of the song while listening to it.

In terms of making the site profitable, the thought process is less outside-the-box — it charges users money. Still, it’s a somewhat unique combination of flat-fee downloading (usually 99 cents) and cheap streaming fees. A user pays 1 cent for every full length song they stream, but these cents are deducted from the purchase price of the song if they choose to buy it. Songs are all in DRM-free MP3 format with 192 Kbps encoding. Samples of all songs can be listened to for free. Artists and labels get paid for both downloads and streaming. They can dictate the price of their music and get back 75 percent of the earnings. There are no registration fees for those who want to spread their music via Guitarati.

Searching for swag: Music to fans' ears
Forget about MySpace. Music groups are now turning to branded search engines to reach their fans online. By using the special search engines, fans earn points that can be redeemed for band swag, like T-shirts, posters, and autographed guitars, as well as etched iPods and other electronics, movie tickets, music, and books.

Monday, April 7, 2008

snapshot 4/7/08

Digital music firms pay heavy price for labels' support
A stark truth facing any aspiring digital music service these days is that working with record labels is going to carry a hefty price. The last 18 months have seen the major music labels accept new technological and business models -- such as dropping digital rights management and allowing ad-supported free music -- that have given rise to a new generation of digital music services. But the flip side of this willingness to experiment is a demand for higher upfront advances for licensing music and in some cases a substantial equity stake in the company. beefs up Latin music store
Amazon relaunched its Latin music store Friday, with video content from top artists, more bilingual product descriptions and a selection that's grown by at least 10% in less than a year. The online retailer will also shortly introduce blogs by Latin artists on their product pages, as well as partner with them for video debuts and possible event sponsorships, music category manager Craig Pape says.

The company won't reveal how much its Latin music sales have grown over time, but says it increased its selection of Latin titles to 140,000 (not including individual digital tracks) after an analysis of its Latin category in mid-2007. Some of that increase was accomplished by re-directing international/world music titles to the Latin category, but the company says the Latin selection will grow another 15% in the coming year.

Social Net Imeem Buys Struggling Music Service Snocap
As had been rumored for a while, music-based social networking service Imeem has finally bought the assets of trouble digital music services firm Snocap. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. This deal bring in content identification technology and a digital registry for Imeem, besides the team. This will help Imeem offer commerce services to labels and artists. Imeem had previously been working with Snocap.

Snocap was founded by Napster founder Shawn Fanning, and had received about $10 million in funding from Morgenthaler Ventures, WaldenVC and other angels. The company laid off 60 percent of staff last October. It had changed tracks a few times: started an an music ID/registry for P2P distribution, and when the industry didn’t take off, move to a widget-based model to sell music through social networking sites and blogs. Meanwhile, Fanning has moved on, as he usually does after stirring the pot, and has launched Rupture, a virtual social community for online gamers.

Amazon Accelerates Its Move to Digital
“Digital is where the growth in music is, and other industries are likely to follow,” said Bill Rosenblatt, chief executive of GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies, a New York consulting firm. “Amazon needs to position itself to capture that.” Amazon does not release sales figures for its digital initiatives, so their initial success is difficult to gauge, although by all accounts the MP3 store has quickly become one of the top sellers of digital music.

The executives say they are happy with the service’s progress and are focusing on adding international music and expanding the service overseas. But they also say that most customers probably do not understand that songs bought in the MP3 format are more flexible and can be transferred to a greater number of devices.

Wal-Mart Reaffirms Commitment to MP3s; Standoff Continues
Wal-Mart recently reaffirmed its commitment to an MP3-only download store, with or without the participation of Warner Music Group and Sony BMG. On Friday, Digital Music News discovered that tracks from Warner and Sony BMG were unavailable on Wal-Mart Music Downloads, the result of a licensing impasse related to DRM-free content. The majors declined comment on the matter, though Wal-Mart used the opportunity to reaffirm its DRM-free agenda. "We'll continue to work with our music partners to further grow our MP3 selection, however, we don't publicly share details of our ongoing discussions with these partners," a Wal-Mart representative disclosed.

The rest involves a simple process of filling in the blanks. Sources noted that Wal-Mart is now mirroring the hardline, MP3-only stance assumed by Amazon last year, one that ultimately resulted in DRM-free licenses from all four major labels. In August, majors EMI and Universal Music licensed their catalogs DRM-free to Wal-Mart, though insiders continue to point to onerous requirements from both Warner and Sony BMG.

Music Community mTraks Raises $550k From Angels
mTraks, a music community and marketplace, has raised another $550,000 from unidentified angel investors. The San Diego-based company raised the same amount last year, for a total raise of $1.1 million. The site offers a platform for independent artists to establish a basic web presence and sell MP3s or full albums directly to fans. It claims to get 100,000 unique visitors per month and to feature music from over 5,500 independent labels. Funding will be used to build out the direct-to-consumer functionality of the site. As MySpace Music is getting into the transactions side of the equation, it’s definitely a direct competitor, although smaller sites like mTraks may seek to play up the indie side.

Friday, April 4, 2008

snapshot 4/4/08

Universal extends music market share: report
Amy Winehouse and Mika helped Universal Music extend its dominance of the recorded music sector in 2007, taking its share of the market to almost 30 percent, according to new research. It grew its market share of the recorded music market to 28.8 percent from 25.7 in 2006. Sony BMG was second with 20.1 percent, ahead of Warner at 14.4 percent and EMI with 10.9.

It grew its market share of the recorded music market to 28.8 percent from 25.7 in 2006. Sony BMG was second with 20.1 percent, ahead of Warner at 14.4 percent and EMI with 10.9.

Movie download services bypass discs
Forget DVDs. Several services now let you download movies and play them right on your TV -- no disc needed. The services require you to shell out several hundred dollars for special hardware first; they also demand a bit of set-up, and rely on a fast Internet connection.

There is remarkable price uniformity among Apple TV, Xbox Live and Unbox. Newly released movies cost $4 to rent, with hi-def versions going for a dollar more.

Kindle boosts tiny e-book market
More than four months after released the Kindle, no one is sure whether the latest e-book reader is really hot — or not. But publishers believe that the Kindle has helped, if not revolutionized, the tiny electronic market.

Publishing officials are reluctant to discuss sales figures, but say that they have seen double digit increases in e-book sales since the Kindle's release, including renewed interest in downloads on the Sony Reader. Sales for the most popular books are in the hundreds, comparable to the number for the Sony, which came out in 2006.

Wal-Mart Pulls SonyBMG & WMG Downloads has gone mp3 only without product from SonyBMG and WMG. EMI and Universal catalog has been available DRM-free on the site since late summer.

Digital Music news first noticed the take-down last night and Hypebot confirmed that whether its a newcomer like Sean Kingston or a top selling icon like Madonna, artists from SonyBMG and WMG are only available on the mega-retailer's download site as part of compilations released by other labels. CD's form these labels are still on sale online and in stores.

Sources at other download retailers have told Hypebot for months that the majors are making unreasonable demands in exchange for going DRM-free. The mighty Wal-Mart, whose download store has never gained traction despite offering lower prices, apparently decided that enough was enough. Wal-Mart knows that what's good for the customer - in this case low priced DRM-free mp3's - is good for business.

CD Sales an Improper Proxy for Measuring Purchased Music Demand
Every now and then I see a commentary on the music industry that notes reduced CD sales (especially to young people), and then goes on to blame the RIAA’s attacks on Napster (NAPS), lawsuits against down loaders, etc, as the cause. The basic idea is that young people are so angry with the record companies that they’re refusing to buy CDs, and that the music industry dug its own grave by not embracing file sharing, suing people, etc. While I respect many of these commentators greatly, I think they’re missing the boat as they’re not considering how young people actually listen to music these days.

The problem with the above argument is that it basically assumes that CD/DVD players are the preferred music listening device amongst young people, or that the preferred method of acquiring music is via a CD. In truth: iPods/MP3 players, followed by personal computers, are the most popular listening devices. A lot of people my age don’t even own stand-alone stereo systems, as they listen to all of their music on their iPods or on their computers. Even if they own CDs, the bulk of them are burned from their digital music collections, as opposed to being pre-recorded.

Major players rewrite the music business
The song may remain the same, but a chorus of digital developments may be reshaping the struggling music industry's business model. On Thursday, News Corp.'s online social networking powerhouse MySpace launched a new competitor to iTunes with three major labels.

Earlier in the day, Apple said that its iTunes Store has surpassed Wal-Mart to become the No. 1 music retailer in the U.S. With more than 50 million customers, iTunes has sold more than 4 billion songs and features the world's largest music catalog of more than 6 million songs, Apple said. Napster also had positive news to share Thursday, saying that it expects to report fiscal fourth-quarter revenue of $31 million, beating Wall Street estimates and the $29.1 million recorded in the year-ago period. Napster also said that it had about 760,000 subscribers at the end of March.

The most significant development, however, involves Live Nation, which is taking its largest steps yet in its transformation from a concert promoter into a full-fledged music company. The firm is close to a broad-based $150 million deal with Jay-Z that would cover recordings and touring, it said. The deal would even be bigger than similar recent blockbuster agreements with Madonna and U2.

Something Important Is On The Horizon In The Music Business
Having ceded the file based music opportunity (mp3s and drm’d file formats) to Apple, the recorded labels are now getting hip to the much bigger opportunity, streaming music.
Here’s what we need. We need someone to create an easy to search streamable library of all the recorded music in the world. We need to be able to grab a track and embed it on our blog. We need to be able to see how many people played it. We need others to be able to crawl these user pages with the embedded music and create algorithms based on who posted it, how often it was played, and how often it was reblogged and linked to. The services that do all of that need to be able to play the music that flows out of these social algorithms in the same way. This all has to be licensed and legal and it has to result in money flowing to the artists. If you put the music on your blog, you should have two choices. Allow the ads to be served into your music or your page or both by the service you got the music from. Or deal with the monetization yourself and pay the royalties you owe. Most people will do the former but some will do that latter. mp3 vs. iTunes
When it first launched, direct comparisons of the mp3 store with Apple's iTunes store were difficult, largely because of major differences in their respective catalogs. (Amazon launched without any titles from Warner Music Group or Sony BMG.) Several months later, there's much more overlap between the two stores. Here's what the top-20 digital albums looked like for both stores on Wednesday morning, April 2nd:

It's a 50% overlap, with 10 titles appearing on both lists. Of the non-overlapping iTunes titles, all except the pre-order of Madonna's "Hard Candy" are available from mp3, while the NIN Ghosts release (#6 at isn't sold in iTunes. Hence, it seems likely that the major differences -- at least at the top of the digital album charts --- are more likely the result of customer habits, demographics, and prices, as opposed to product availability

As for prices, across the board, all 10 overlapping best sellers were cheaper at Nine of the albums are selling for $8.99 and one title is $9.99, for an average price of $9.09. Over at iTunes, the album prices range from $9.99 to $14.99, with an average iTunes price of $11.59 for these 10 albums.

The DRM-Free Drag... Why a Broader Rollout Remains Elusive
Major labels have now ditched DRM, right? Not exactly. Despite a number of high-profile deals over past year, the digital sales landscape remains a patchwork of protected and unprotected content. And the culprit appears to be a combination of politics, strategic gamesmanship and cautious observation, despite strong consumer disinterest in usage limitations and iPod incompatibility.

But according to one major label executive, the sluggishness is happening for a reason, one rooted in strategic competitive licensing. That means tilting the playing field more towards the benefit of labels, and targeting the attack against influential online retailer Apple. "Mostly they are just rewarding the 'comers'," the executive said. "Basically, those they think can make a real run at iTunes."