The music industry is taking the first small, yet irrevocable, step toward changing how you listen to and share digital music. After years of teeth-gnashing and spitting in the wind, all the major record labels have finally gotten serious about their digital music initiatives, namely by entering into agreements to sell the best stuff from their top artists, including new releases, on the Internet. In fact, the services may be up and running by early fall.
Big deal, you may be thinking. After all, no one is going to come and take away the 40GB of music you have stored on your computer's hard drive, or magically wave a wand and make your portable MP3 player start looking for copyright information before playing songs. Plus, none of the attempts to make people pay to download or listen to music on the Internet in the years since the introduction of the first portable MP3 player in 1998 has met with anything like overwhelming success.
But take a moment to consider what the record labels are doing. Sony Music Entertainment and Vivendi Universal have teamed up to provide music and video subscription services through a venture called Pressplay. AOL Time Warner (which owns Popular Science), EMI Recorded Music, and Bertelsmann have joined forces with the Internet media delivery company RealNetworks to do the same, calling their enterprise MusicNet. In addition to the big five, many of the independent labels have also signed on with Pressplay or MusicNet. And if that weren't telling enough, the music licensing arrangements aren't exclusive to either service. So there's the potential for both services to provide music from all labels.
Admit it now: Despite your brave denials, you knew that it was just a matter of time before you'd have to start saying goodbye to those carefree days of ripping songs from your collection of CDs and swapping MP3 files on the Internet. So let's face the music: What are MusicNet and Pressplay and how will they work?
Essentially, they are middlemen that provide music licenses and content, plus all the technology necessary to deliver digital music. They don't provide the service directly to you, the consumer. You'll get a service offered by RealNetworks, Napster, or America Online, and powered by MusicNet's technology. It's comparable to computers with the "Intel inside" logo, as Richard Wolpert, a strategic consultant for MusicNet and RealNetworks, puts it. The Pressplay service will initially be available through Yahoo.