once you’ve made the sale, you take the money

I’ll tell you how I know that the magnificently insane yet ballsy new download store at Lala.com is not going to make it. I fell in love with an album (“album”? “compilation”? what do we call these things in their online iteration?) via their wonderful free sample site, and I would gladly fork over the stupidly expensive $13.78 they are asking, but they won’t sell me anything I can play, because their downloads will only work on an iPod.

They won’t work in iTunes, they definitely won’t work in a Unix shell window, and they would fucking come alive and laugh at me if I tried to get them to play on my cell phone. “hahahahahahahahahah” say the little downloads. “You’re going out of business,” says the grumpy blogger.

It’s like selling bread which only toasts in one brand of toaster. Or butter which can only be spread with a Land O’ Lakes ® brand knife. You can call these B Read and spUtter or whatever else strikes your fancy, but they aren’t bread and butter.

The album, by the way, is Mambo Sinuendo by Ry Cooder and Manuel Galban. Check it out — Lala makes it easy to *play*, but good luck *paying*.

music sharing as core functionality for social networking

Ning, the social networking web app for making social networking web apps, has released a module for adding music sharing to your social networking app. It’s very nicely done, and the care they took with it is instructive. Here’s the feature list from their announcement:

Music Player Features

Your social network now comes standard with:

  • One very sweet music player for your network’s Main page and each of your Members’ profile pages. It’s added automatically when you choose Music from the Features page
  • MP3 playback (we’ll be adding support for other file types soon)
  • Upload, edit, and order your tracks right in the player
  • Embed your music player and playlist on any blog or MySpace page.
  • Decide if you want songs to autoplay or not. (It defaults to no autoplay)
  • Upload music and podcasts directly to your network or import them from an URL off your network
  • Share and rate tracks
  • Add tracks from other members’ music players with one click (the Add to Mine button that you’ll see when the person enables it)
  • Display highest rated or most recent tracks from across the network on the Main page. (Feature specific tracks coming soon)
  • Edit track information: track title, artist, artwork (displayed on the player), album name, genre, year, label, artist website, host website (for external tracks), label site, license (including copyright or any of the most popular creative commons options), explicit lyrics flag
  • Choose the option to display MP3 download links to other members
  • Add external hosted playlists via RSS (podcast), XSPF, and M3U.

What is significant about this from my perspective is that it makes music sharing a core feature of any social network. This makes so much sense that I wonder why it took so long to happen — of course groups like a beer can collectors guild would want to be able to share relevant music (like singalongs about cone tops) and talk (like interviews with beverage historians).

(I would paste in their Flash screencast here, but my blog host (wordpress.com) blocks out most third party widgets. So go check out the screencast on Ning.com).

(Full disclosure: I consulted for Ning a couple years ago).

I forgot to be an internet addict today. It’s 8:42 PM and I’m just getting around to checking Twitter, Bloglines, Gmail, and Memeorandum.

portable song IDs and music influencer networks

Mike Love said:

We all agreed that there is the potential to sell a lot more music through influence networks than through radio, but the burden of distribution and copyright infringement currently rests on the recommender or the recommender’s platform.

He proposed separating the recommendation from distribution of the actual song – either by referencing an audio fingerprint or some other unique id (CDDB?). Then each listener can choose a hierarchy of how they would like to find the audio: find the mp3s on the web, last.fm, amazon samples, purchase the songs, etc. This would involve the creation of some standardized XML style format for playlists, and we talked about how Songbird seems like a good open platform for receiving these playlists and then using a diversity of networks to find the audio or at least a sample.

Paul Lamere replied:

We need universal song id and a standard playlist format. The latter already exists. There is a XML playlist format called XSPF (pronounced ‘spiff’) that captures all the information needed for portable playlists. […]
As for SongID, there are many commercial audio fingerprinting systems out there that can derive a unique (or nearly unique) ID just based upon the audio. The problem, however, is that they all cost money to license, and because of that no system has become the standard (defacto or otherwise). The MusicDNS system probably has the best chance, since it is very low cost (essentially free for all but the biggest users), and it ties in with the public domain music metadata being created by the MusicBrainz folk. Still, the problem with a songID system is that unless it is universally used, it is not too useful. Companies like Apple have little incentive to use such a system, since they already own the market.

About portable song IDs, the problem is not so much technical as it is economic. No major content provider has an incentive to use anybody else’s song IDs. Maybe if there was a huge installed base of playlists that used Musicbrainz song IDs or iTunes IDs then it would make sense for Rhapsody to resolve these IDs to their own catalog, but until that point Rhapsody would be unilaterally disarming by allowing a third party to define the namespace.  This market is just getting established, and we’re currently at the point where the major players are competing to own the identifiers.

XSPF tries to address this issue by redefining the concept of portable song identifiers as query strings. For now, anyway, that hasn’t hit a sweet spot in anybody’s business model.

Listening/hackery

Listening: (grabbit the rabbit) (nibbling on) (Mike Relm’s mixes).

Grabb.it is a major rewrite of that site. It includes a lot of stellar XSPF work, and Chris Anderson, one of the grabb.it makers, posted this announcement to the XSPF list:

===
Grabb.it
  An online music player that will create playlists for any web page
that links to music files. You can remember, download, and share the
songs you find.
===

Thanks!

And an informal api announcement:

Grabb.it can now directly output xspf for any web page that links to
mp3s (...I know I wish 95% of browsers could play ogg... and there's
no reason we won't support ogg in the future.)

The API call is designed to be compatible with the standard xspf flash
player (it has not query params, so it can be passed into the
playlist_url param to the xspf_player.swf), and it is super simple to
use.

http://grabb.it/api/grab.xspf/my.domain.com/path/to/page.html will
output an xspf file of http://my.domain.com/path/to/page.html

We can also generate rss and jspf.

So for those of you that want to convert xspf to jspf, you can do it
with a line like this

http://grabb.it/api/grab.jspf/mfdz.com/jchris.xspf

or for rss, it is like this

http://grabb.it/api/grab.rss/mfdz.com/jchris.xspf

One caveat is that this API uses the internal grabb.it processing, so
the mp3 links returned are all @ grabb.it and redirect to the original
sources - this is so we can add content resolver features to provide
redundancy among urls. The other idiosyncracy is that if you are
requesting that Grabb.it parse a page it hasn't seen before the first
response will not be xspf. Once the page is parsed, it will be useful.
So if you are using the API to embed a flash player on your blog, it
won't work right away, but once the pump has been primed it should be
reliable.

The "official" announcement is here: http://grabbit.tumblr.com/post/1777237

$.99 is not the market rate for downloads

Some of the major indies are complaining about the per-piece rate they get for sales on eMusic vs sales on iTunes music store (iTMS). Per Reuters:

After factoring in distribution costs and other expenses, some labels receive as little as 12 cents per song in profit, sources say — far less than the 60 cents to 65 cents per track received from iTunes.

These labels are complaining that the market rate for paid downloads is the $1 price at the iTunes Music Store. And this isn’t the only place for the idea that the going rate is $1. The recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board to quadruple the rates paid by webcasters also used the iTMS price as the marker:

The Board concluded that the rapidly escalating rate was justified as it brought the statutory services closer to the interactive services as the advertising market grows over the next few years.

But here’s the problem: people who use the iTunes Music Store don’t use it enough for their purchases there to count. They get their music by ripping CDs and by filesharing. The actual price for these users is not what iTMS charges — they don’t really use iTMS. The actual price is free, because they have opted out of the paid download market completely. If iTMS is setting the market rate, the market rate is $0.

eMusic users, on the other hand, are real customers. They spend three times more on downloads in their first paid month than iTMS customers spend in the lifetime of their device, and they probably own tens or hundreds of times more paid downloads than iTMS customers. iTMS customers spend about $3 per device, which lasts a couple years at least, and own about 3 paid downloads. eMusic users spend at least $10 a month, for which they can have 30 downloads. Over the course of ten months an eMusic subscriber has paid for 1000 times more downloads than most iPod owners will pay for over the lifetime of their device.

It’s true that iTMS supplies the vast majority of paid downloads, but their customers don’t take their product seriously, because $1 is the wrong price. eMusic’s customers, on the other hand, use the service for a large portion of their music acquisition. iTMS’ customers pay far less than $1 for music, because they hardly ever pay for music at all. eMusic’s customers spend at least $10 a month; given that they don’t download their maximum every month this comes out to an average download price a little north of $.50.

The market rate for paid downloads, then, is $.50.

“Recording Industry vs The People” is a good blog

Ty Rogers and Ray Beckerman

I am a compulsive reader of a legal blog called Recording Industry vs The People, which describes itself as a blog devoted to the RIAA’s lawsuits of intimidation brought against ordinary working people. It is about the law as it relates to the Napsterization crisis, mainly in the small scale cases of filesharing lawsuits brought by the RIAA.

I love this blog because of how much I learn about law as it relates to Napsterization. Even though this blog is clearly advocacy, it is more truthful and informative than any other source I know of.

Most of the posts are dry reports on minute developments in one case or another, like this one:

Magistrate Levy has appointed Eli Uncyk, a Manhattan attorney, as guardian ad litem for the defendant Rae J Schwartz, in Elektra v. Schwartz. The appointment was made necessary by conditions arising from Ms. Schwartz’s Multiple Sclerosis.

It’s painfully dry sometimes, but in a way similar to sports scores. You are supposed to be able to place the raw data in the context of some story. The story in this blog is always about a filesharing lawsuit where the specifics of the law are being explored in real time.

I think that the narrative behind this posting is about the limits of who can be considered competent, or maybe its about painting the RIAA member labels as heartless bastards. Ray Beckerman, the blogger, keeps coming back to these posts about guardians being appointed, as part of a general theme of responsibility — what obligations does a person who owns an internet-connected computer have? Should you keep it locked up and tightly controlled? Are you responsible if somebody uses your computer for filesharing?

The reason that this approach to blogging is valuable is that very few court cases related to filesharing have gone all the way through. They get settled out of court because the cost of losing a case could be extreme, and as a result most of what we think we know about the law as it relates to filesharing is no more than a guess. Internet law overall still has a lot of unknown territory, and until case law is established through actual rulings much of the consensus reality on filesharing will be based on bluster and gullibility. In these court cases the reality is being discovered.

Most tech bloggers write regularly about copyright, the RIAA, and Napsterization, but don’t have much to say except that they’re mad as hell. This guy adds light to the conversation as well as heat.

why not peer to peer?

Remember those hypey days of 2000-2001, when peer to peer was going to sweep the world of internet software development? What happened? Why is the current hype *web* 2.0 rather than p2p 2.0? Why is hip software these days written for the browser rather than for client-based P2P? What were P2P’s technical shortcomings that led to the LAMP stack becoming dominant in its place?

The [decentralization] list, which was a home for p2p discussion during the hype bubble, briefly revived from its long deep sleep this week when, as Phil Wolff put it in a blog post titled Skype Journal: The decline of P2P and Decentralisation,

Ecademy’s Julian Bond kicked the decentralization mailing list to life with a post asking about The decline of P2P and Decentralisation.

Phil did a great job summarizing the conversation, so don’t read me, read him.