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Music industry discovers the value of free

In a time where the most common activity in the music industry is recognizing and stopping piracy, a new player comes to the table with a bold new concept. Free.

In a time where the most common activity in the music industry is recognizing and stopping piracy, a new player comes to the table with a bold new concept. Free.

This is a new and abrupt change for a business that has been desperately fighting against a steady erosion in overall sales of recorded music. 2007 saw an estimated 10% decline over the slumped sales of 2006 to reach an anemic total of $17.6 billion globally. This is compared to a healthy $38 billion in 1998.

In the midst of demands for free music, a new player has arrived on the scene.

Qtrax made its debut on Jan. 27, complete with rap stars and invitation-only concerts. It defines itself as “the world’s first free and legal peer-to-peer music service.” The catch is that the tracks, while legal, will have some form of restriction that limit their usefulness to the consumer.

From the International Herald Tribune:

Outside of the Apple ecosystem of digital music, which ties purchased songs to its brand of player, the choice for consumers seems to be coming down to music that is free of monetary cost but restricted, or music for a set price that can be played on any device.

A year ago, many in the record business were dismissive and downright suspicious of letting their music loose on the Web in the plain-vanilla MP3 format without being controlled by a set of digital locks and keys, known as digital rights management, or DRM.

But in just the past seven months, all four of the major recording companies have agreed to allow DRM-free licensing of their catalogs of music. Earlier this month, Amazon MP3, the online retailer's new music store, signed up Sony BMG's unrestricted catalog, with individual tracks for sale at 89 cents each.

While this is a change in the industry stance until now, there are still questions. Qtrax will not disclose details about the DRM that accompanies each track. Furthermore, the songs will not be portable until Feb. 29, Mac-compatible until mid-March, or playable on an iPod until April 15.

Still, for its shortcomings at the near term, the industry seems to be solidly behind the Qtrax effort. It allows them the opportunity to do what file sharing has been doing for some time -- examine the business model of free music and potentially move to a model that's more open than iTunes.

What do you think that the impact of free, downloadable music will be? Or will you still not touch it because of the DRM payload?

More information:

Qtrax aims to offer iPod-friendly tracks (MSNBC)

The music industry appears to see sense! (Geek News Central)

15 comments
Tig2
Tig2

Qtrax is already running into snags with their proposed site. Evidently, the labels that they said are signed up and ready to go are only in negotiation to participate. This means that the library of music available is limited. Associated Press and Reuters who both ran the story have already released updates to correct the original reports.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

The RIAA has to ride the gravy train somewhere.

brian.mills
brian.mills

I say they'll fail before the end of the year, possibly sooner. People really don't want DRM, even if it makes the tracks free.

Tig2
Tig2

The music industry is taking its first cautious steps toward a business model that TechRepublic readers have supported in discussion after discussion- free. But this free has its own brand of DRM. Is Qtrax a site that you will visit for legal, virus free music downloads? Or is this something that you'll pass on?

brian.mills
brian.mills

I think I'll pass on this site. I try to keep my music as DRM-free as possible, so that no matter how I try to play it, it'll work. I'd rather pay a few dollars for my music and have no restrictions on how I use it than to get it for free and be tied to a particular device or computer.

jdclyde
jdclyde

In order for a business to STAY in business, they need to turn a profit. It depends on HOW they turn that profit that will make or break them. If they have advertisers, like radio, things will take off like a bat out of hell. If they put on restrictions or adware, it may not be as openly received. Guess we will have to wait and see exactly what the restrictions will be. I like free. Of course, I am one of the people CAUSING the decline in CD sales. When Napster was at it's prime I would download all night long, delete what I didn't like, and go out and purchase on CD the one's that I did. After the crack down, I completely stopped buying music for a while. To many CD's are crap not to be able to check them out before buying them. How many other products out there do you have NO idea the quality of the product before purchasing?

JCitizen
JCitizen

did the P2P out of security concerns. The good ol days when you could buy an entire album and know you were going to like it without reviewing it are over. And until they put the videos with the sound tracks I won't buy it then; I'm spoiled on the old MTV.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

She was a little hottie, wasn't she? "I want my MTV!"

jdclyde
jdclyde

You remember a time when the "M" in MTV stood for Music? :0 I was so in love with Martha...... :x

brian.mills
brian.mills

I usually have an idea of the quality of any CDs that I purchase before buying it. Between listening to the radio, having previous CDs from a band or artist, and listening to songs on Myspace and Purevolume, I have a pretty good idea that I'll enjoy a particular CD. I tend to not buy a CD until I've heard a few songs from that artist/band, so I don't often run into the "only one good song on the album" problem.

seanferd
seanferd

Gretchen Goes To Nebraska.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

for anything. I've been in this burg for near 30 years and for near 30 years radio has just flat out sucked. For music I like to listen to, it's Internet radio for sure. edit typo those damn thetans follow me everywhere

brian.mills
brian.mills

In actuality, most of the music I really like doesn't get much radio play around here, but that's mainly because mainstream radio doesn't give Christian music the time of day, especially the louder, more obnoxious genres. I mainly use Myspace and recommendations from friends to find new music, and then go purchase it from iTunes, unless I can get the CD for cheap, or a friend already owns it and feels generous. I try to purchase most of my music these days, though. It's just difficult when your musical tastes are as diverse as mine are, though.

jdclyde
jdclyde

the songs that make the radio are rarely the ones I like.