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Major Label First: Unencrypted MP3 For Sale Online
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A., 23 May 2002 -- For apparently the first time ever, a major record-label subsidiary is releasing an unencrypted MP3 file onto the Internet, hoping fans will fork over 99 cents for the right to own and use the song without constraints.
Maverick Records and Vivendi Universal Net USA jointly announced today that a special dance remix of, "Earth," a track by bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, marks the first time a major-label artist has ever put a downloadable MP3 song up for sale on the Internet.
The song became available for download for 99 cents today at a number of VUNet USA sites, including MP3.com, Rollingstone.com, GetMusic.com and MP4.com. The 50,000 subscribers to the Emusic MP3 service also will be able to buy and download the tune.
"This is a case of the music labels seeing if the honor system is going to work online," said Steve Vonder Haar, an analyst with Interactive Media Strategies in Arlington, Texas.
Because the track is an unencrypted MP3, it will be possible for listeners to burn the song onto CD and to transfer it to portable players. And, like CD tracks that easily can be converted to MP3 files, the song inevitably will find its way onto the numerous illicit file-sharing networks.
Jonathan Lamy, spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), said his organization customarily declines to speak publicly about the business practices of its individual member labels, and he would not comment on Maverick's MP3 release.
"This is a bold step for Maverick Records and Meshell Ndegeocello," said Derrick Oien, president of VUNet USA's Music and Media Group, in a written statement. "They deserve recognition for giving digital music fans a simple way to collect and enjoy this previously-unreleased new song."
Better Late Than Never?
GartnerG2 music industry analysts P.J. McNeely said the move is one other labels probably will watch closely. But it's also an experiment, McNeely said, that was very late in coming.
Napster, the notorious MP3 swapping service that set the music industry on its ear only to be later sued into submission, launched the MP3-download phenomenon in late 1999.
"Unfortunately," McNeely said, "we didn't see this like two years ago. The labels are slow to embrace new distribution channels and marketing methods. The fact is this technology isn't new points at the lack of speed with which the labels have been moving."
Nonetheless, McNeely saluted the move as at least a step in the right direction for the music industry. "It's good news," he said. "Hopefully the rest of the labels are taking note, and have plans to do the same in the near term."
Brad Hill, a digital-music industry observer and author of a forthcoming book, "The Digital Song Stream," expressed doubts about the way Maverick Records is approaching its MP3 experiment.
"The overriding principle here," Hill said, "is that they're trying to sell a CD on the basis of a single. That's what bothers me the most. The fact that they're even charging for the single makes it worse in my mind."
Indeed, Maverick and VUNet USA used space in their press release to promote "Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape," Ndegeocello's latest CD, which is due out on June 4. The first single from the album is not "Earth," but instead a track called "Pocketbook." The original, unremixed version of "Earth" will be on the record, however.
Hill said that, despite what he considers the companies' market faux pas, the mere fact that a label finally has set at least one track free onto the Internet is at least marginally a good sign.
"I'm glad to see that," Hill said. "But it seems like such a tiny incremental release. Honestly, I'd just like to see something more bold. As far as the major labels are concerned and as far as the RIAA is concerned, they view the situation as panic in the streets a collapsing industry. Something like this, which really just supports older analog marketing models, is complete unhelpful to me."
Analyst Vonder Haar said the MP3 release is clever on several levels. It is a publicity ploy that will generate publicity and interest in a relatively unknown artist, he said. It is also a tentative attempt to use MP3s to tap into a new source of revenue, by making people pay for the chance to hear a portion of a product that they would then have to pay for again, in slightly different form, on CD.
And, he said, if the song generates more interest among pirates than buyers, it will provide ammunition labels can use to justify their attempts to squeeze the peer-to-peer pipe shut, Vonder Haar indicated.
"That's why it's a no-lose situation to try this on a very limited basis," he said. "If a lot of people come and buy it, then P.T. Barnum was right. If they don't come and buy, or if only a few copies get sold and it starts showing up on all the various music file-sharing services, then the record industry can collectively say, 'A-ha! I told you so!'"
Reported By Newsbytes.com, http://www.newsbytes.com
(20020523/WIRES TOP, ONLINE, BUSINESS, LEGAL/DIGMUSIC/PHOTO)
Reported by Newsbytes.com, http://www.newsbytes.com .
Kevin Featherly, a former managing editor at Washington Post Newsweek Interactive, is a Minnesota journalist who covers politics and technology. He has authored or contributed to five previous books, Guide to Building a Newsroom Web Site (1998), The Wired Journalist (1999), Elements of Language (2001), Pop Music and the Press (2002) and Encyclopedia of New Media (2003). His byline has appeared in Editor & Publisher, the San Francisco Chronicle, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Online Journalism Review and Minnesota Law and Politics, among other publications. In 2000, he was a media coordinator for Web, White & Blue, the first online presidential debates.
Copyright 2004, by Kevin Featherly