Journal: News & Comment

Monday, October 07, 2002
# 9:29:00 AM:


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Bill Dobie links to a discussion of how record companies let Napster die instead of trying to use it to make money. Jason Kottke, in examining the myriad limitations of current file-sharing software, imagines a list of things Napster (or its not-exclusively-MP3 cousins like Kazaa) could have done:

  • Download the rest of the songs from current track's album.
  • Download the top 20 Billboard singles as a collection or separately.
  • Download new tracks by artists I've downloaded before.
  • A list of Amazon's best sellers, with each track downloadable.
  • The top 10 movies in America in digital format.
  • Links to the applications Adobe makes.
  • A list of the titles on the New York Times Bestseller List, downloadable as audiobooks in MP3 format.
  • For files not currently available, a wish list that downloads items as soon as they are.
  • One-click downloads, just like Amazon's one-click shopping.

Kottke uses the list as features programs would have if they were really properly designed for stealing. But what if there was a payment mechanism built in? A survey during Napster's heyday indicated that people would have been willing to pay between $5 and $20 a month for the very basic (but successful) service even as it existed then -- potentially bringing in more money than the current CD industry by getting more money on average from music buyers. I'd gladly pay more than that for something with the features listed above -- and how about cover art, exclusive deals on T-shirts and other merchandise, tour information and discounts, and so on?

Had the recording industry worked to make that happen -- technically, it was possible then and still is -- they would have had a huge head start on the "bootleg" peer-to-peer community, which still hasn't created file-sharing software that's actually any good at finding files. But they sued instead, and "won." Yet they haven't really made any moves to find a new business model, even though the old one is still doomed to die eventually.

The music and movie industries could have kicked other peer-to-peer systems' butts in the marketplace, and made more money too. Too bad they didn't try.


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