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Let’s Sell Recorded Music! Part1: Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

21st October 2008 @ 6:30 pm - 9:00 pm

Venue: The Basement, PRS for Music, Copyright House

TOPIC: Kicking off the series, we take a long hard look at what music consumers actually want and how this tallies with the status quo and raft of new services in various stages of development or launch.  Will we see monolithic music portals dispensing entertainment with all the charm of a Wal-Mart, or will they incorporate some of the sharing and word-of-mouth qualities that the internet does so well?  Will each ISP run its own service or will there be several operations each serving their own niche communities?  Which models are likely to be most compelling and hence fly with music fans?  And finally, what of the companies who have spent several years and fortunes building up legal download services – how can they adapt to a world where music is bundled to the consumer in a feels-like-free way?


POST-EVENT MUSICTANK SUMMARY: Sparks flew Tuesday night in the basement of the MCPS building as MusicTank kicked off its autumn series ‘Lets Sell Recorded Music’.  In a refreshing change from the usual platitudes and compromised positions prevalent at so many public discussions, there was genuine debate and disagreement between both the panelists and some members of the audience; debate that has since spilled out of the basement and taken on a life of its own in cyberspace.  Not that the session was one long rumble and in between the arguments there was much agreement between many present on the way things are heading and an overall upbeat assessment of the future of legal download services.

UK Music CEO Feargal Sharkey began the session with a typically polished presentation.  Reeling off an impressive selection of facts and figures he was able to back up his assertion that despite recent high profile losses in the recordings business, we are on the brink of developing services that will see those who download and share music illegally brought back into the legal fold.

Sharkey reserved his ire not so much for those who download the music but for those who have profited on the backs of the download boom but haven’t compensated the rights holders, highlighting the income (to the tune of several hundred million Euros) received by Thomson Consumer Electronics for licensing MP3 players to play the MP3 format, with an inference that some sort of blank media licence is an important part of an overall solution.  Feargal’s message was generally positive though, noting that every piece of research backed up the belief that music was still one of the most important things in many people’s lives and that with the ISPs finally sitting down at the table with the music industry a chance for real progress was within our grasp.

Following Feargal was music industry analyst Keith Jopling who provided a run down of the current services that are available and tipped us off to what he see’s as being the most likely winners out of the emerging services (Spotify, Nokia’s CWM and Sony’s Music Plus topped the list for those not running scared of the stock market at the moment). With the debate opened up to the panel, several things soon became clear.  Much of the panel agreed that the obsession with creating unlimited download services was something of a red herring, indeed most agreed that for those for whom downloading and hoarding files was not a pathological compulsion, a capped service, providing music in the quality they expect, without any kind of DRM and with a better level of service and a true consumer experience, may well prove a winning formula.

Of course not everyone backed this upbeat view, with some members of the audience and a couple of the panelists, most vocally Andrew Orlowski, believing that the panel was ignoring one small but ever so vital issue, file sharing.  Would any of these new services effectively compete with what already exists out there in the black market?  Would it not be better to develop a service that did something akin to licensing people’s behavior rather than trying to force people onto new, possibly inferior platforms?  Indeed EMRs research suggested that most of the 1 in 4 over 25s who fileshare do so because they are able to find content through P2P that they cannot find elsewhere, and would happily pay for it if it were available.

Keith Jopling’s response though was clear, rather than chasing after the habitual downloaders we should be focusing our efforts on those who would in the past have bought several CDs a year, provide them with a clean convenient option and they’ll embrace legal alternatives.  We think the debate may rumble on for some time on this one.

Which is handy for us as we still have at least three more think tanks to go on the subject.  Next week we have Noank’s Jim Gelcer flying over from Toronto specially to keynote on where technologically is heading, and what blue sky-models might offer the most compelling alternatives to unlicensed file sharing.  In the meantime the debate carries on and you can follow its various twists and turns here.


SERIES CONTEXT: Illegally downloaded any music recently?  Given that nearly two thirds of all internet traffic is made up of P2P activity these days, if you haven’t, then most young people you know are.  Since Napster first reared its head in the late nineties, the recorded music business has tried in vain to put the genie back in the bottle.  The result – some pr blunders and an estimated 20:1 illegal/legal download rate.

For music fans it’s been a golden age where hard to find and out of print releases have been readily available alongside the latest hits of the day, but with no way of monetising these streams the record labels have been forced to watch their profits dwindle while the world’s been moving online.

The UK government has taken notice and is overseeing a three-pronged initiative aimed at educating and developing awareness, dealing with the most serious infringers and facilitating legitimate offerings.

This series will focus on that third prong: effective legitimate alternatives.  Over the course of the four events we will review what people want, where technology is heading, what the most plausible new models are and how they might be licensed.

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