Wednesday, August 20, 2008

snapshot 8/20/08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

snapshot 8/19/08

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

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

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

Monday, August 18, 2008

snapshot 8/18/08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 15, 2008

snapshot 8/15/08

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

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

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

Thursday, August 14, 2008

snapshot 8/14/08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

snapshot 8/13/08

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

snapshot 8/12/08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 11, 2008

snapshot 8/11/08

Microsoft's Zune player seeking Hollywood stardom
Microsoft executives have been making the rounds at talent agencies and production companies in recent months in hopes of licensing exclusive original video programming for the portable media player, which has struggled to gain traction in the marketplace.

While Microsoft has denied persistent rumors that Zune would expand into communications a la Apple's iPhone, the company confirmed being in an "exploratory phase" regarding supplementing the TV content it already licenses from studios with Zune-only fare.

Citigroup sees better Amazon Kindle sales
Citigroup said on Monday that Inc's Kindle electronic reader appears to be selling much better than expected and could double a previous estimate for units sold this year, sending shares in the online retailer up 7 percent.

Music site dials up volume of traffic
Months after striking unprecedented deals with four major record labels, San Francisco social network Imeem has found itself on the forefront of the music industry's frantic experiment with free, ad-supported music sites. Armed with an expansive music and video catalog, which offers on-demand streaming of major record artists and independent bands, Imeem has attracted millions of users worldwide, in July becoming the No. 1 streaming music site in the United States, according to Web analytics company Compete.

With a wealth of data about its users' musical preferences, the company has attracted big-name advertisers, such as Apple, Nokia, Toyota and Sony, which flock to the site hoping to tap into Imeem's young demographic. The company is also experimenting with the e-commerce model - users can download songs they like on iTunes or, and later this year they will be able to purchase ring tones and merchandise. Meanwhile, Imeem's digital music wholesaler, Snocap, helps indie bands sell their music online.

Slippery Quarter: Napster Revenues, Profits, Subscribers Notch Down
Napster suffered a difficult second quarter, despite the recent shift towards MP3s. For the fiscal first quarter ending June 30th, the company witnessed drops across revenues, income, and subscribers, three critical metrics.

Specifically, revenues slowed to $30.3 million, down from $32.3 million during the year-ago quarter. Earnings also soured, slipping to $4.4 million, down from $4.2 million previously. And subscribers? Napster reported a total of 708,000 subscribers, down from 760,000 at the start of the period. The downer quarter raises questions about the impact of the DRM-free catalog, triggered on May 19th. During the call, Napster chief Chris Gorog pointed to "positive trends for Napster with increases to visitation and user engagement," though broader gains appear missing.

Blockbuster Online Download Store Screenshot Tour
Blockbuster's just expanded their movie store beta test to an audience size that includes me, so here's a screenshot walkthrough of what you're going to see on their service. First, it's really quite similar to their rental pages except for the fact that you'll see prices and labels next to everything. Renting costs anywhere between $0 to $3.99ish, and purchases go all the way up to $19.99. There is one lone $29.99 one but we're assuming that it's a typo. You'll have to use the MovieLink player to download and watch films, so no real luck if you were hoping that it was a WMV file you could stream to your Xbox 360.

Friday, August 8, 2008

snapshot 8/08/08

Kid Rock's Hot Summer; No iTunes Required
Since Rock has long refused to sell his music as digital downloads, fans who want to get "All Summer Long" — legally, at least — have to buy the album. (Other prominent digital holdouts include AC/DC, who have an album coming out this fall, and the Beatles.) "I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel here," says Rock. "Good music just doesn't go out of style, and if you hear a great song that moves you, you'll obtain it — by any means necessary."

As the record industry struggles with weak album sales, Kid Rock's success has execs considering a new strategy. "It's definitely interesting that he's the only artist that's not available on iTunes with a monster hit right now, and we're seeing that kind of a growth," says Livia Tortella, general manager of Atlantic, who acknowledges that the company is considering keeping other artists' singles off iTunes in hopes of building album sales. "It's certainly spurring a lot of debate in our company."

The Record Industry’s Digital Distribution Plan (TotalMusic) Comes Back From the Dead
The music industry’s attempts to create its own digital distribution business is like a bad horror movie. It just keeps coming back no matter how badly bludgeoned it gets. Back in 2001 in response to Napster, the music labels launched two competing music download sites, PressPlay and MusicNet (the latter became a white-label music service called MediaNet. Meanwhile, Pressplay was bought by Roxio, and formed the basis for the current version of Napster). Both were utter failures.

Then in 2007, in response to iTunes, Doug Morris at Universal Music had the brilliant idea of bundling music subscriptions into the price of digital music players. The effort was called TotalMusic, and the idea was to get all the record labels on board, until the Department of Justice launched an antitrust investigation that killed the idea. Or so everyone thought.

Multiple sources in the Web music industry (including two CEOs and another executive) have told us that the music labels are mulling over another attempt at creating their own digital distribution business, or at least one they can control. Details are sketchy, but the buzz is increasing around a project to create a free, advertising-supported streaming service that would be licensed or white-labeled to other Websites. Each stream would link directly to a paid digital download. Some believe that a revived TotalMusic and this project are one and the same.

Nokia Music Store goes live in Nokia Music PC Client
Integration between the Nokia Music PC Client (available via Beta Labs) and the Nokia Music Store has now gone live. This means you can browse and buy music, from the Nokia Music Store, within the Nokia Music PC Client application. This gives Nokia a seamless music experience, akin to Apple's iTunes, for discovering, purchasing, downloading and transferring music to a mobile device. Nokia Music PC Client has been available for some time. Previously, however, only the music library and transfer functions were available. The integration with the Music Store has now been activated.

08.08.08: Auspicious Beginnings For People’s Music Store
The concept is simple and enticing: you sign up to create your own online music shop at The People’s Music Store. Then you personalize your shopfront and search the MP3 database for the products that you would like to sell. The developers have thought of everything; you can arrange and rearrange various playlists and compilations, keep a back catalogue, write commentary on individual tracks and albums, and there’s even a shoutbox!

Once your shopfront is up and running and the sidewalk outside is swept, the punters come in and purchase music from you. The more music you sell, the more points are added to your account and the more DRM free music you can buy from other shops on the site. Every time you buy from someone else, they earn points with which to buy music and you leave a little flyer in their shop window, letting their patrons know about you.

Free Software Turns the iPhone Into an E-Book Reader
Now, though, a free version of the Mac ebook reading software, Stanza, has found its way into the store, and it rocks. Here's a quick rundown of how it works, and just how to turn your iPhone into a mini-Kindle.

New Video helps indies get access to iTunes
For independent filmmakers and suppliers, getting access to market-dominating movie download service Apple iTunes can be even more difficult than landing prime shelf space at Wal-Mart. Because Apple only works with a limited number of companies, more and more independent filmmakers have found the easiest and sometimes only path onto iTunes is through aggregators such as New Video, which is quietly becoming one of the largest digital distributors of independent content thanks to its deal with Apple.

Over the last 18 months, New Video, which distributes DVDs for Docurama Films, A&E, NASCAR and others, has amassed 5,000 hours of TV and movie programming for digital distribution, and it hopes to double that by year-end.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

snapshot 8/7/08

Libraries step into the age of iPod
Hoping to draw back readers, libraries have vastly expanded their lists of digital books, music, and movies that can be downloaded by their patrons to a computer or MP3 player -- and it doesn't cost a cent, unlike, say, media from Apple Inc's iTunes or Inc.

Apple looking to patent remote iTunes streaming?
Apple handhelds may in the future be able to stream content from a remote iTunes library, a newly-published patent application indicates. Titled Remote access of media items, the filing describes a system in which handheld owners would be able to access audio, video and photos over a network. Unlike the current iTunes sharing scheme, however, people would also be able to access games, and reach everything over the Internet, whether through wired, Wi-Fi or cellular networks.

Best Buy Grabs Exclusive Police Concert Set
Wal-Mart isn't the only big box retailer grabbing major music exclusives. On Wednesday, Best Buy disclosed an exclusive offering involving the Police, part of a broader tour tie-in. The live concert video package, Certifiable: Live in Buenos Aires, comes from the recent reunion tour that stretched multiple continents. The package comes in both DVD and Blu-ray configurations, though both include bonus CDs. The product will grace the aisles of Best Buy starting October 7th, though fans can pre-order the collection. The price point is $24.99, according to early data. Incidentally, a third configuration features three, 180-gram vinyl LPs with an MP3 file key, a nod to lovers of the platter.

Y Combinator’s Popcuts Pays You To Find Good New Music
Popcuts , a Y Combinator -funded music store that launches today in public beta, is looking to reward these early adopters by paying store credit to the first people who buy a song that later goes on to become popular. When an artist signs on to the store, they allocate a certain portion of the revenue generated by their songs to go back to their fans. This money is then distributed according to how early each user purchased a song (the earlier you buy, the more you make). For example, the band My First Earthquake has decided to pay out 30% of its revenues to its fans. The earliest adopters (say, the first dozen people to buy the song) will break even after the song has been purchased by around 25 other people. Fans buying the song later on will still earn credit, but it will be earned at a much slower rate (the site will tell you how quickly you’ll be earning credit before you buy a song).

Online Music Sales Muddle Royalties, Lawyers Say
The current system for getting royalty payments to musicians in the United States is seriously hampering the introduction of new, innovative music distribution models, and that problem is not going to get any better in the era of the digital download, leading music experts said Thursday.

As consumers abandon CDs for Internet-based downloads, the industry is filling the gap with new licensing models, but many of the most innovative models are being done internationally, like ISPs abroad bundling unlimited music downloads in with Internet service, Cary Sherman, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), said during a panel at the American Bar Association's annual meeting.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

snapshot 8/05/08

Sony goes solo as Sony BMG disbands
Sony Corp has agreed to purchase Bertelsmann's 50 percent stake in their Sony BMG music joint venture for around $900 million, ending a four-year venture that never lived up to its promise. Sony said in a statement on Tuesday that Bertelsmann will also get $300 million of the cash on Sony BMG's balance sheet, valuing the deal at around $1.2 billion.

New Metallica Album To Arrive On A Friday
Like its predecessor "St. Anger," the new Metallica album, "Death Magnetic," will be released worldwide off-cycle on Friday Sept. 12 via Warner Bros. No reason was given for the switch from a traditional Monday/Tuesday release; in 2003, the group's label claimed Friday was chosen to prevent pirated copies of "St. Anger" from entering the marketplace.

iTunes maintains stranglehold on US music sales
Apple's chief competition is Wal-Mart, which has traditionally sold a high volume of CDs through its big-box retail chain, and has branched into both physical and digital online sales. The same is true of third-place contender Best Buy, but online-only vendor Amazon has risen from fifth place to fourth, based largely on its popular MP3 store. NPD also notes that while online CD sales are in decline, demand remains greater than for retail purchases.

Disc Makers Acquires CD Baby
I chose Disc Makers as the new owner because their president Tony Van Veen has been one of my favorite people for years, and I always felt they’d do a better job of running CD Baby than I would. The CD Baby staff, location, name, and everything else will stay the same, but I think you’ll start to notice more attention given to improvements that help you sell more music.

Disc Makers is a a full-service CD replicator with locations in nine locations in the U.S. and one in Puerto Rico.

CEA mulls standards for MP3 players, more
The Consumer Electronics Association is considering implementing technical standards for handhelds and other home electronics, according to an announcement late yesterday. The organization says it has formed a discussion group that would gauge interest in a cross-platform standard that would ensure digital cameras, GPS navigators, MP3 players, and video screens all obey a certain minimum standard for integrating with other devices in the home.

DVD manufacturing-on-demand rollout delayed
Despite expectations of large-scale pilot tests and a commercial rollout this year of kiosks that would save retailers aisles of shelf space while offering thousands of movies and TV shows on demand, technical and economic challenges have led to a shakeup among DVD manufacturing-on-demand players that is likely to push most retail launches back into 2009. Walgreen’s, which was expected to do a large pilot test at stores this year, has been forced to delay those tests until 2009 after TitleMatch, the kiosk company it was working with, essentially shut down.

Polar Frog Digital has pulled its kiosks from most retail locations after a year of pilot tests at airports, hardware stores and drugstores as it reworks its business model. The digital kiosk company has formed an exclusive partnership with technology company Nero for its liquid media technology. Nero’s technology will allow Polar Frog to make its kiosks one-stop shops where consumers can burn movies, TV, music and books to DVDs and CDs or download them to flash drives and USB devices, CEO Todd Rosenbaum said.

Data-mine Elvis: Yahoo opens music interface
Yahoo has released an API (application programming interface) that lets outside Web sites automatically extract information such as top 10 lists from the Yahoo Music site. For example, a programmer can use the service to search for the numeric ID that Yahoo gives a particular musician, then use that ID to retrieve all the albums by that artist or to retrieve a list of artists Yahoo deems similar, according to self-described Yahoo music nerd Jim Bumgardner on the Yahoo Developer Network blog. The item ID for a particular video can be used to retrieve a thumbnail image for the video or the video itself.

Escape iTunes With the TuneClone Audio Converter
TuneClone Audio Converter has come to the rescue! You can use this to move your library of M4P DRM protected music to the MP3 format that you can use on any player out there worth its salt. This is a useful tool for anyone looking to break their relationship with the iPod. This software does cost $34.95 to register but that price does give you what appears to be a full feature application. The best part is that it maintains all of the music file’s metadata. DigitalMediaOnline has a nice little tutorial that shows how it works.

Monday, August 4, 2008

snapshot 8/4/08

Social.FM is dead — 30+ music startups to go
Much more silently than it came into the world, music search and sharing site Social.FM has gone back out — leaving what users it had to retreat to Pandora, iLike or one of the other, more successful music sites on the Internet.

8tracks makes it easy to mix your own music play lists, and do it legally; 3,000 passes to early beta here
The music labels haven’t made it easy for unauthorized web sites to stream music on the web. But David Porter, the founder of 8tracks, has figured out a way around the copyright law obstacles to deliver a useful and legal sharing service to music fans.

New York-based 8tracks capitalizes on the same right that radio stations have to play live music over the air: it’s OK to stream recorded music over the web, as long as the user doesn’t know what song is coming next. 8Tracks uses this loophole, allowing users to create half-hour mixes of music and listen to streams of the music that they have created.

Yahoo offers coupons for music that stops working
Yahoo Inc. is offering coupons or refunds to users who find songs they bought inaccessible after Sept. 30, when the company shuts its music-download service. The company said Wednesday it is offering coupons on request for people to buy songs again through Yahoo's new partner, RealNetworks Inc.'s Rhapsody. Those songs will be in the MP3 format, free of copy protection. Refunds are available for users who "have serious problems with this arrangement," Yahoo said.

Country Star Says Industry's CD Outlook Has Improved
"Almost exactly a year ago, I was in some meetings where distributors were planning within five years, and not speculating, but planning to be out of the CD business," says Kix Brooks. "It felt like within five years we would be in a purely Internet download world and a lot of major companies were shifting their networks to prepare for that download world and getting into the download business. And now, in the last couple of months, I've started to hear some backpedaling on that.

"It may be CDs are a format that may last longer than first speculated. I'm not su
re where that slowdown came from because it seemed like a year ago everybody was all prepared. It was full steam ahead, CDs were obsolete, and obviously the Sam Goodys and the ma-and-pa distributors of the world were going out of business right and left. But now for some reason you're hearing that Best Buy and Wal-Mart have said maybe there is some longevity to the CD format."

eMusic Tops 4 Million Tracks
eMusic says its worldwide music catalog has now exceeded four million track from more than 40,000 record labels with the majority available worldwide. Recent additions include reissue label Ace Records, New World Music, Load Records, classical label Delos and What’s Your Rupture, specializing in small-run vinyl releases.

In So Many Words... Survey Shows Spotty Lyrics Landscape
Consumers want more lyrics layered into their music-related purchases, according to a recent survey. The study was conducted by the National Year of Reading, a campaign created by several literacy-focused companies in Britain. According to the consortium, 90 percent of music fans feel that lyrics provide a deeper appreciation of music, though 50 percent feel that less lyrics are easily accessible than five years ago.

But what about the massive collection of lyrics online? On that point, a strong majority of fans complained that most sites contain spotty or inaccurate lyrics listings. That is an issue being combated by players like Lyricfind, Gracenote, Yahoo, and RealNetworks, though the impact of those companies appeared limited amongst the survey participants.

Blockbuster Adds DVD Vending Kiosks; 50 Machine Pilot; Redbox Numbers
Blockbuster has expanded its earlier partnership with NCR, and will be deploying about 50 DVD rental kiosk machines in a pilot test...this expands on their earlier announced separate deal for download-only kiosks which are being tested in Dallas area. The DVD-rental only kiosks will start to appear in the third quarter, with full deployment by the end of 2008...down the line, these kiosks will add DVD buy and downloads as well, the companies said. “Looking beyond this initial deployment, our mutual goal is to have 10,000 kiosks installed within 18 months,” said Bill Nuti, NCR CEO said in the release. No details on locations or pricing was release for now, though I would think the locations won’t be BB stores, but malls or grocery stores.

Friday, August 1, 2008

snapshot 8/1/08

The State of the Compact Disc
In the compact disc – the CD – there is cause for concern and some optimism. As they have for most of the decade, U.S. CD sales are dropping and will continue to drop in the coming years. After a surge in store closings and reductions of shelf space, the CD’s rate of decline is expected to slow over the next four years. There is evidence that inventory reductions will not lead to a commensurate decrease in sales. Store closings and consumers’ migration to digital music, however, will continue to harm sales. Wholesale prices will come under greater scrutiny as pressure rises to prolong the CD’s useful life and further justify their place on retail shelves. Coolfer forecasts U.S. CD sales to drop 16% in 2008, 14% in 2009 and 12% in 2010, 20011 and 2012.

In spite of the decline in CD sales, its demise has been exaggerated. In the face of changes in the ways people acquire and listen to music, physical formats continue to be the preferred music vehicle. The format still represents the majority of all recorded music revenues and has a good deal of life left in it. One study found 41% of music buyers purchase only physical formats.

Nokia to make Zune Marketplace phone?
An alleged Microsoft source today claims that Nokia is developing phones that would be compatible with the Zune Marketplace. While the project isn't said to involve custom handset design, Nokia in the suggested plan would integrate its software with content from the Microsoft-run Zune store, which in protected format doesn't currently work outside of Zune portable media players. Whether this would involve direct access to the Zune Marketplace from the phones themselves or sync with PC-based Zune software is unknown.

Sony Pictures: Blu-ray discs to outsell DVDs by 2011
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment vice president for Asia-Pacific Tim Meade on Friday announced market reports that lead him to believe sales of Blu-ray movie discs will outnumber standard DVDs sometime in 2011. Meade went on to say global sales of movies on the two disc formats will be split around 60 percent in favor of the standard-definition DVD format by 2010, with the high-definition media eking out an advantage one year later.

By the end of 2008, Blu-ray movie disc sales will grow to 25 percent, up from 20 percent in mid-2008 and just 9 percent at the end of last year, Meade said. Not only is this due to the fact that the amount of movie titles released on Blu-ray discs keeps growing, but also thanks to the increasing sales of Blu-ray players, which is expected to account for 15 percent of the entire video player market by the end of 2008. Last year, Blu-ray players accounted for nearly 10 percent of the market, and sales in the US and Europe have grown by 400 and 600 percent, respectively, in the first half of 2008.

Can MP3s Save the Music Strategy at RealNetworks?
RealNetworks is now transitioning into an MP3-based catalog on Rhapsody, at least on a-la-carte downloads. But is that enough to save its music strategy? But the MP3s only started flowing after the quarter ended, and the transition towards DRM-free remains ongoing. Now, the question is whether consumers will substantially increase their a-la-carte downloading through Rhapsody, and in turn, migrate upward towards the subscription platform.