The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Entries for 'eoghan'

16

Suffering from how-Radiohead-have-utterly-changed-the-music-industry fatigue yet? Yeah, me too. Despite this I have one final blog entry relating to the release of 'In Rainbows'. It'll be the last one from me, I swear.

Packet Exchange I wrapped up my 'Radiohead in smooth download shocker' blog entry last week hoping that techie details of how Radiohead delivered the album would be released so that other acts in a similar position could at least go about a similar venture in an informed way. The details I was hoping for? They are at last out.

This weekend some fascinating (well, fascinating to a saddo wanna-be geek like me) information emerged about the infrastructure used to deliver 'In Rainbows' last week. If you downloaded it on its release date you probably saw the MP3s, despite my fears of a meltdown, coming at you really, really fast. To be honest I was baffled at how they managed to do it, but there was no denying they had pulled it off in style. Now we know how.

Cutting to the chase Radiohead - as I hoped - brought in some proper guns to help deliver the album. They tapped the services of PacketExchange, a UK-based company who basically have a global infrastructure in place that allowed Radiohead to (wait for it - we are concentrating aren't we?) bypass the public internet.

It took me a while to wrap my head around this but basically it means that when you clicked on the link to download 'In Rainbows' your request was sent over the internet to Radiohead's server but (still concentrating?) the ZIP file containing the MP3s was not sent back to you via the internet. If it had been sent via the internet the ZIP file would, in order to get to you, have been routed through any number of 'routers' on the public internet that direct traffic to its final destination. In the developed world these routers (imagine them as traffic lights at a junction) are usually quite robust and nifty but they can get 'clogged' with extreme surge events (such as 10s of thousands of fans suddenly trying to simultaneously download a 48 MB ZIP file from a single server). To overcome this potential meltdown-of-part-of-the-public-internet scenario Radiohead did a very smart thing: they bypassed the whole damn internet. As you do, like.

In real terms the full 'journey' of the ZIP file from Radiohead to fans took place on an extremely fast, private global network owned / managed by these PacketExchange guys (see it as a dedicated highway with traffic going in only one direction and with no junctions). Only at the last possible moment (i.e. when the 48MB file was within relative spitting distance of your internet connection) did the ZIP file leave the private network and hop on the internet to complete the last virtual mile of its journey to your PC. Yes, yes, I have simplified it all a bit but, in essence this is what happened. A simple idea, but very, very smart.

It is only now clear to me that what happened last week - very fast, problem free, digital delivery of a brand new album by a major artist to 100s of thousands of fans on a single day without any record company support - was not a once off. There is now no doubt that any established act in a similar contract-free position as Radiohead (stand up Trent Reznor and, er, Oasis) now have no excuses to digitally distribute their future recordings - and to do so competently - with all this knowledge on the table.

May they just tip their hats to Radiohead in recognition of their mother-of-all proof-of-concepts for music downloading. They have turned into reality something that probably started out as nothing more than an idea scribbled on the back of a beer mat.


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10

Looks like Radiohead's back room tshirt sales team geek team got their proverbial finger out. Despite their server crash last week and my fears for a meltdown today, I managed to download a copy of 'In Rainbows' from their (t-shirt shop hosted) web server this a.m without any problems. And it was downloaded in a matter of seconds.

Radiohead In Rainbows DownloadI would not have been surprised if - after their website problems last week - Radiohead had used a specialist third party service to host their digital music files, but they appear to have kept it all in-house. The link they sent out for the download pointed to a new domain name the band has not previously used or announced (inrainbows.co.uk is where the MP3 files are hosted, before now inrainbows.com was used by the band but only for taking orders for the album) and a quick check on Netcraft.com shows that this domain is also hosted by Radiohead's favourite tshirt shop Sandbag.

I am going to presume my download experience this a.m. is in line with that of others who stumped up for the download so - as far as I am concerned - it's hats off to the Radiohead team in making this happen without a technical hitch. Excellent work.

In the comments section of my previous blog entry about this release 'Carl' mentioned that he heard download links would  be sent out in the order in which they were ordered, which would have staggered the demand over a few hours. It doesn't look like they did that as I ordered my download 5 days after they started taking orders and my customised download arrived this a.m. at 7:21a.m GMT.

So while there's plenty of good news it's not all rosy this morning for fans expecting a download of excellent audio quality because (wait for it...) the MP3s are encoded at 160kbs. I repeat: 160 kbs. That really steals the cherry from the cake. 160kbs is a miserable bit rate (and you can hear it, especially on the cymbals). When I chose last Friday to stump up GBP 3.45 for this download I (wrongly) assumed that Radiohead would not dare dump anything less that 256kbs on their fans (they never announced what the bit rate would be, and now I know why). I wouldn't have paid what I did if I knew they were going to chance their arm with 160kbs MP3 files. Caveat Emptor and all that, I know. But I do feel cheated.

Back to the specifics of the event. And it is an event. I hope Radiohead release details of the technical arrangements they had in place (server spec, internet backbone connection arrangement, etc) to make this happen. Sharing that sort of info would be very helpful to other contract-free artists interested in doing something similar.


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10

Trent ReznorTrent Reznor is stirring up a good bit of commentary today having just announced (via his website) that is finally free of the contractual shackles of his label (Interscope) and looks forward to having what he calls a "direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate".

There are many comparing it to Radiohead's announcement last week (releasing their next album via their own website and inviting fans to pay what they want for it) but it's not really in the same boat. Trent Reznor now finds himself exactly where Radiohead found themselves way back in 2003 when their contract with EMI drew to a close.

Trent says he'll have more "announcements" in 2008 on what he might do. But unless he has a whole bunch of unreleased material already recorded and mastered that doesn't fall under the contractual clutches of Interscope, then it could well be some time before he gets to release some new music à la Radiohead on his fan base. Especially if his intention is to make money from these recordings. Fans would be wise to not hold their breath as it is no cake walk to put in place what is required to digitally distribute new music directly to the fan (as Trent desires) while making money from it. Not impossible, just far from easy unless you rope in the services of a third party to make it happen (and who will want their slice of the cake). All the skills required won't be found in his entourage today, he may find he has to compromise on the 'direct' part of his goal.

What is also going to be interesting is to see what he means by 'audience' when he talks of a "direct relationship with the audience". Does his definition of an audience stop at those who get their music by downloading? Or does he care about the fans who - holy batman - still like to actually buy a CD? A diminishing - but still significant - number of fans fall into this latter category and they are hardly going to drop off the edge of the earth in the next two or so years. Laggards they may be in adopting the latest technologies, but laggards with money in their pocket. My bet is he will soon be knocking back on the door of major labels to see about leveraging their distribution channels for distributing CDs of his future recordings to retail outlets (on- and off-line) where, despite the rise of downloads, significant numbers of CDs are still sold. In 2008 there will still be too many fans outside the narrow (but expanding world) of download-ville for Trent to ignore.

Congrats to Trent on his newly found freedom. But the opportunity of such independence brings with it a whole new set of challenges. Once in a while it might even hurt. (Immediate apologies to the tasteful among you for descending to such depths of bad pun-dom).


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04

In April 2006 I saw Jane Siberry do a gig in Brussels. I won't labour you with the details but suffice to say she was – at least that night – away with the fairies. It was a terrible, toe-curling fest of an evening, certainly the worst gig of 2006 that I'd seen. But one thing about the night was very memorable. About half way into her set Jane (who was then, and still is, without a record contract) announced she'd be selling copies of her albums after the gig but – and this is where it got memorable - she had no pricelist as she was leaving it to us to decide what we wanted to pay for each CD. Now that was something I'd never heard of before, or since.

Radiohead In Rainbows Until this week that is.

This week saw Radiohead pull a Jane Siberry, with their announcement that their new album "In Rainbows" is coming out on October 10th and they too are letting fans decide what they want to pay for a download. It's one thing for a briefly acclaimed, bare-footed, earth-loving, new age Canadian chanteuse to do this, it is quite another thing for of the most established bands in the world to do so.

Radiohead have however gone one step further and also provided fans the alternative of buying a 'disc box' (containing the album on both CD and on 2 x vinyl records, lyric booklets and an extra CD containing new songs). The disc box is being sold for UK£40 (approx 58 euros). There's no record label in the loop, this is Radiohead offering the new album – download and disc box versions - direct to their fans with infrastructures they are putting in place themselves.

On many levels this is just the sort of major industry-shaking move I was previously expecting from Radiohead. On the surface they have really delivered – a major established act free of record label contractual chains choosing to allow access to downloads of their new music for whatever a fan is prepared to pay, and backing it up with a pricy deluxe "disc box" for those prepared to dip deeper into their pockets. There are a few important unknowns about the download offering that despite all the brou-hah this week still, as far as I know, need to be cleared up. I'm talking about:

  • Are the downloads DRM-free?
  • Are they in MP3 format?
  • What bit rate will the files be encoded with?

I could find no details on www.inrainbows.com on these points. Nonetheless, for the moment it is one-nil to Radiohead, something though I think could easily change…

See, I've been doing a bit of rummaging about the venture and the more I dig out the more doubts start to rise. Hear me out. The digital component of this release, while not a new idea, has just grown hugely in its potential because of the simple fact that - finally - an act with massive reach have embraced it. However it is not the embracing of an idea that needs to be judged but its execution. And I think there are grounds to fear that the execution of this idea will not go all swimmingly.

To make this happen the most vital thing Radiohead need to ensure is that the www.inrainbows.com website they have set up for fans to download the album / buy the disc box is hosted by a world class (I repeat: world class) hosting company, someone who has the experience and hardneck infrastructure required to run a high profile, intensely trafficked transactional website capable of dealing simultaneously with sudden traffic surges, thousands of visitors and the serving up of potentially tens of thousands of downloads in any given moment. And to do so without a hitch. Without such infrastructure behind it there could be a major meltdown of the website, especially on October 10th when people start downloading the album. And a server meltdown, if it were to happen, would quickly become the story, drowning out the 'shaking-the-music-industry-at-its-roots' line currently all over the blogosphere (and about to infiltrate Mondeo-man's world via this weekend's Sunday newspapers no doubt). If precautions are not taken place this could all backfire spectacularly for Radiohead (in a similar fashion, if not more so, to how in the past U2 got lambasted by fans for website oversights).

So in light of such risks Radiohead will have gone and roped in a world class web hosting company for this, right? Wrong. See, Radiohead have instead decided to give the job to a t-shirt shop.

Okay I'm being facetious. But just a bit.

The www.inrainbows.com website is being hosted by www.sandbag.uk.com, who are principally an online seller of t-shirts for various third parties. Reading between the lines of their 'About us' page Sandbag seems to be a spin off of W.A.S.T.E. (who have been selling Radiohead's merchandise for about 10 years).

Sandbag's main line of business today is setting up and managing similar online merchandise (including ticketing) services for other bands such as Keane, REM and Supergrass. They now also do bit of business on the side in providing basic web hosting services targeted at bands. Now, I've done plenty of research into web hosting companies over the years (with a view to finding the best home for this darned CLUAS site) and I can confidently say there is nothing special in their hosting services. What is clear is that Sandbag's core business is helping bands sell t-shirts and other merchandise online and overseeing the shipping of them to customers. Web hosting is NOT their core business (and not, by extension, their core competency).

Maybe I am wrong and Sandbag have what it takes in terms of infrastructure and employ a battle-hardened dream team of geeks to oversee it. But so far it's not looking good.

How about that Sandbag hosting infrastructure? Well within a day of Radiohead's announcement the www.inrainbows.com site had its first meltdown. And the traffic that caused the meltdown was people just looking for standard web pages with text and pictures and submitting credit card details, not people trying to download weighty MP3s, as they will try to do in their tens of thousands at a time on the site come Oct 10th. Had they done no stress-testing of the server before its launch? You can be sure that such a high profile web site, if it had been hosted with a world class outfit, would have stress-tested it before letting the world know about it.

How about the Sandbag geek team overseeing www.inrainbows.com? They must know what they're doing, even if the infrastructure is not the most robust? Here I also have my serious doubts. Try this for size: at the time of writing (and constantly over the last two days) inrainbows.com as a website does not exist. I repeat: it does not exist. I am serious. Try it out yourself. See what I mean?

In Rainbows Nameserver issueWhat is happening - as I run the risk of going all abstract - is that to access inrainbows.com you must put the "www." before the domain name to access the site. If you don't, you get an error because, as far as the internet is concerned, inrainbows.com quite literally does not exist. And why? Because whoever is in charge of hosting the website (that'll be sandbag) forgot to make the most elementary of configuration settings to what is called the 'NameServer' (a 'Nameserver' is responsible for directing all domain name requests typed into browsers to the right IP number of the domain, it's like the telephone directory of domain names). This is a very basic thing to do, one that any wannabee web geek will know. Nonetheless the sandbag guys forgot (or did not know?) to do it. Are they really ready for what is about come their way? Such an 'amateur hour' oversight does not raise my confidence.

What it boils down to is that Radiohead - by declining the option of getting a world class, experienced web hosting company to provide the vital infrastructure required for a venture as bold as this - are greatly increasing the risk of scuppering the whole thing.

Putting it another way, www.inrainbows.com is a dam at genuine risk of bursting on October 10th. Adequate preparation for such a possibility would mean Radiohead having more than a few loosely packed sandbags at their disposal. Excuse me as I stick with the whole dam theme, but - inverting the Dutch legend of Hans Brink who saved Haarlem from a leaking dam with a single digit - Radiohead would do well to get their finger out over the coming week.


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30

On the record blogSeptember 29th marked the six month anniversary of the launch of the Irish Times blog section. The first of their blogs to go live was Jim Carroll's On The Record (the first entry of which was posted on March 29th). The Present Tense, Pricewatch and Correspondant blogs soon followed, although the latter of these was only active until shortly after the General Election.

Thankfully, from the off, the decision was taken to not lock the blogs up behind the 'Premium content' wall that cuts off most of the Irish Times website. If they had been, the blogs certainly would not have seen the success nor secured the extensive visibility they have in the Irish blogosphere. On the Record in particular has made its mark as a must visit blog for anyone in Ireland with a healthy interest in the music scene and industry.

The success of these blogs however is not just reflected in the number and quality of informative blog entries (and it must be said equally informative comments left on the blogs) but also in the raw numbers of links the blogs have attracted in this short space of time. When it comes to the interweb it is the links your site (or blog) manages to attract from others that plays a vital role in making or breaking your site. So how can you measure the number of links a site (or an individual page on a site) has received? Yahoo's "Site Explorer" tool is widely accepted by those with an interest in such matters as being the most accurate tool to do so. At the time of writing this tool throws up the following number of links from other websites ("Inlinks") that each Irish Times blog has attracted:

This adds up to total of 73,307 inlinks, an impressive enough figure on its own. But even more so when you consider that, over its 8 or so year life, the entire Ireland.com website has managed to attract a total of 525,745 inlinks. In a nutshell the blogs, in the space of six months, now attract over 14% of all links to Ireland.com.

All this new 'link love' is going to have a consequence for the blogs, and for the other freely accessible, non-premium parts of the site. I'm over-simplifying here but, in effect, thanks to this 'link love' pages on these blogs can expect to rank more highly on search engines for relevant key word searches than many other similar pages recieving less link love. In addition the 'link love' will be seen by the search engines to 'leak' to other (non-premium parts) of the Ireland.com site raising the potential of those pages to rank more highly in search engine result pages.

The consequence of this? Well for one, an increase in the number of visits referred to Ireland.com by the search engines. I'll stick my head out a bit and venture that the Ireland.com backroom geek team - if they have their eye on the ball - is already seeing this happen. And in 2007 more visits from the search engines mean you can serve up more advertisements, meaning more moolah to be made.

It is this exact cycle that recently made the NY Times realise that charging for access to certain parts of their website meant they were actually losing money. Big time. Hence their decision to drop their premium pay-to-read sections. Their entire site – including their archives – is now totally now free to browse.

Ireland.com however seems to be going in the other direction. They don't just continue to insist you pay to access the vast majority of articles (EUR 79 a year to access the last 10 years of articles), but they have also gone and introduced a new 'Premium Plus' subscription (for a whopping EUR 395 a year) to access their full archive dating back to 1859.

Asking your readers to pay to access content is soooo 2001. It is simply no longer a growth industry. The growth curve now lies with online advertising which is becoming (if it is not already) the primary source of potential revenues for non e-commerce websites. And if you choose to lock up 99% of your content behind pay-walls (as Ireland.com do) you are also making an active choice to restrict your ability to pull in the (growing) online advertising revenues out there.

Ireland.com traffic levels via Alexa.comMy guess is that in recent years Ireland.com was not seeing much growth in their basic subscription revenues and they did the opposite of what they should have - they introduced yet another premium service (the 359 euro a year 'Premium Plus' product) in the hope it would grow their income and get them out of the loss making situation they are in (EUR 180,000 loss in 2006). Indeed publicly available tools for measuring the popularity of websites (such as Alexa.com or Compete) show that over the last 12 months the full Ireland.com site (see Alexa data in the first graph, Compete.com data in second graph below) has not been a period of explosive growth. The success of the blogs has itself not been enough to reverse the tide (yes, yes, I am fully aware that these tools are not perfectly accurate, but for the purposes of this discussion they, together, can be taken as a strong indication of traffic trends).

Ireland.com traffic levels via Compete.comThankfully for Ireland.com they also decided to try out a bit of blogging outside of their 'pay wall'. In doing so they managed - as we have seen - to attract a huge number of links, not just attracting a new set of visitors to the blogs but also, I am sure, increasing the ranking of of Ireland.com pages (but only the 1 or so % of pages that are 'non-premium') in search engine result pages. In the right hands this translates into potentially very serious increased revenues. Imagine however the links (i.e. traffic, hence ad revenue) they could generate if all their content - not just 1% - was free to access?

Bottom line? Ireland.com has more to benefit by going subscription-free than it does hiding behind a pay wall. My guess? The wall will be dismantled within 6 months. Hopefully Hotpress.com will also see the light and drop their insistence on paying to access hotpress.com content.


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26

Amazon MP3 StoreAmazon's MP3 store went live yesterday (well, it opened its doors as a public beta) on the US Amazon site. At a quick glance it is an impressive offering for a Beta:

  • All MP3s they sell are without any form of copy-protection.
  • About 2 million songs are available for purchase which, for a freshly launched public beta service, compares favourably to eMusic and Apple (who claim 2.7 million and three million tracks respectively).
  • Half of the songs are priced at US $0.89, the rest at US $0.99. This is cheaper than iTunes DRM-free MP3s ($1.29 each), but eMusic still offers a better deal to US downloaders
  • Prices for complete album downloads are in the US $6-$10 range.
  • Unlike many other online music stores you don't need iTunes or Windows Media player to download, play or manage the tracks, even so…
  •  …Amazon offer an application (for Macs and PCs) that you can download that automatically adds Amazon MP3s to your iTunes or Windows Media Player music library.
  • Downloaded tracks can be played on any PC, portable MP3 players or mobile phones that support MP3.
  • The MP3s are encoded towards the higher end of MP3's sonic capabilities (256 kbs) and using the (somewhat) more efficient Variable Bit Rate format.
  • Of the major labels EMI & Universal have provided the store with (some of) their catalogues.
  • Smaller labels at launch include Righteous Babe, HighTone, Madacy Entertainment, Sanctuary, Trojan, Rounder, Sugar Hill and Alligator.
  • Radiohead MP3s are being sold by Amazon, the first MP3 store to do so). But no individual tracks, only full Radiohead albums can be bought.

On the downside for the Amazon store:

  • Warner and Sony BMG artists are absent. And a large swath of Universal's catalogue is not yet in the store.
  • There is no word yet on when Amazon.co.uk will start offering downloads.
  • Each MP3 has a 'digital watermark'. However Amazon confirmed that this only contains data indicating that the MP3 was purchased on Amazon. It does not have a unique signature that can identify the purchaser (in other words, it doesn't represent a threat to privacy).
  • There is no indication that Amazon plan to deploy the very innovative MP3 pricing model of Amie Street, the small MP3 store they recently acquired (with their pricing model MP3s are initally totally free to download but as more people start to download the song the price rises, up to a predetermined maximum, previously 98 US cents).
  • Only customers with US addresses can purchase MP3s.

This last point is obviously a major stickler for those of us over here in Europe but I found that Amazon doesn't enforce this too strictly. Or not yet at least. I discovered that if you have a US address among your shipping addresses you are allowed to purchase a song, even if your billing address is outside of the US. How long this will be allowed remains to be seen but I, with a US shipping address among my registered addresses and a European billing address, had no problems purchasing an MP3. With the current strong Euro against the dollar these downloads represent a fair price to European-based music fans.

With Amazon's announcement, copy protected MP3s are clearly on the way out. Here is one area where Apple is not leading marketplace innovation. But more worrying to Apple must be the fact that the Amazon MP3 store - with its considerable reach to mainstream consumers - represents the most serious competition yet to iTunes.


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25

In recent months there has been growing talk of services that would allow music fans to download legal MP3s for free, thanks to the support of ads. While a number of services are already seeing the light of day the bad news is that not all of them can be used by music fans outside of the USA or Canada.

Spiral Frog MP3 downloadTake Spiral Frog. Launched last week (6 months after they originally planned) they describe themselves as a "Web-based, ad-supported music experience, combining music discovery with the free acquisition of audio and music video files". Right. Boiling it down to brass tacks, they currently have 800,000 tracks licensed from Universal Music and several independent labels that you can download for free, all supported by ads. Unfortunately though if you're based outside the US or Canada you can't sign up for their service so I haven't been able to check how intrusive their ads are. The word however is that users will have to put up with a 90 second advert before a track can be downloaded (advertisers signed up include Chevrolet, Colgate and Burger King). That translates to about 15 minutes of ads if you want to download a 10 track album… As of yet there's no indication if an advertisement will also be embedded into each file.

WE7We7.com on the other hand offers a similar service but a) they allow music fans outside North America to sign up for their service and b) you do not have to watch an ad before being allowed to download a track. Instead up to 10 seconds of an ad is embedded at the start of the MP3. Launched last April, WE7 has Peter Gabriel behind it and V2 records are on board. I gave it a test run and it does pretty much what it says on the tin. It looks like they haven't yet filled their ad inventory as tracks I downloaded had a short generic WE7 ad 'grafted' onto the beginning of the MP3 (192 kbs bit rate BTW), but then again they are still in Beta. Whether a short embedded ad that you will hear each time the track is played is going to be considered intrusive is really an individual call. No doubt though it'll only be a matter of time before some code monkey comes up with a separate tool that automatically cuts the 10 seconds of an ad out of your MP3s.

Qtrax MP3 downloadQTrax, another ad-supported MP3 service, is due to launch later this year. They say they will give users legal access to 25 million tracks and do so using peer to peer technologies. No idea yet how they plan to integrate ads into their service, but considering it will be using P2P technolgies I guess the most likely scenario is that it has to be ads embedded in each MP3 file.

Do these sort of services have a future? Impossible to say with the sands shifting as music industry tries to find its digital feet. But it is encouraging to see - at long last - major labels embrace services that are free both in terms of cost and Digital Rights Management.


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24

Matt Cutts (a Google employee whose blog I dip into for nerdy hints on how Google's search engine works) last week posted, as a diversion from his usual geeky stuff, a blog entry about a fledgling business idea he had that touches directly on music and how it is consumed today.

His idea (which BTW he has no intention to follow up on) was for a company to provide a service of making someone's illegal MP3s legal. Something along the lines of allowing the company to scan your music collection for illegal file-shared MP3s and to convert them to legal MP3s (with high quality bitrates and maybe cover art, lyrics, etc). (Obviously there are privacy & trust concerns with letting a company scan your computer in such a way. But for the sake of exploration let's assume that a company offering such a hypothetical service is a) considered trustworthy by its targeted consumers and b) addresses privacy concerns.)

Now with the CLUAS faithful being a law-abiding lot, you're not going to have such illegal MP3s scattered across your digital devices. But if you did, would you be prepared to pay to make them legal? If so what's the most you'd be prepared to pay per MP3? In his blog post Cutts floats scenarios where the cost to the consumer could be kept low (and potentially even free) by, for example:

  • anonymizing the data and licensing the anonymised data to various businesses;
  • Making ancillary revenues by getting people to sign up with other music services (Pandora, Last.fm, or Rhapsody, etc);
  • Not even making money on it. Using such as service as a way to build brand recognition or positive karma.

An idea like this that was knocked up quickly is going to be full of holes, some of which could be plugged, others which perhaps can't. Leaving that aside for the moment, the truth is there is a pretty big potential market out there. I don't know if anyone has ever estimated the number of illegal MP3s that have been downloaded from the interweb, but we have to be talking multiple billions, and I hazard a guess that more people than you'd imagine would be keen to clear their conscience by "legalising" their illegal downloads.

So would you pony up to make illegal MP3s legal? And if so how much? Or maybe you couldn't care less. Answers on a postcard. Or, failing that, in the comments section below.


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21

Hot PressThe New York Times annonced this week that they were going to stop charging for access to parts of their website (they had been charging $49.95 a year for online access to the work of its columnists and its archives). Despite persuading 227,000 readers to pony up the money (and netting about a tidy little 10 million dollars a year) they have done the sums and realised that, if they open up their website to everyone and run ads on each page, they can actually make even more money.

Indeed, subscription-based models for accessing web content are slowly - but surely - dying. All thanks in the main to the rise of the new targeted advertising models for the web, available to any website - big or small - through services such as Google's Adsense program (which CLUAS uses).

Close to home there are a number of websites that, perplexingly for me, continue to charge for access to their content. For Irish music fans Hotpress.com is the notable example: they continue to insist on a payment of 20 Euros to read their articles online. I'll sidestep any temptation to discuss the value proposition of that offer (or the objectivity of their published reviews for that matter, others have already done so), but surely the time has arrived for Hot Press to smell the online-ad coffee and allow access to their content to anyone on the interweb who wants to access it, and give them that access free of charge?

They have a huge volume of content in their 30 years of archives, content which could attract many, many more eyeballs than they do today. Such attention from a larger readership could then be 'monetised' via targeted online ads. Ultimately they could, as the NY Times eventually discovered, earn more money than charging for access to content. Yes, I know Hot Press like to dangle the carrot of 'free access to our web archives' for those who subscribe to the printed version of the magazine and, thus, drive some revenue via offline channels. But, how much of a 'deal closer' is such a carrot? I have my doubts.

CLUAS.comAccording to Alexa.com’s imperfect (but good enough for the purposes of this article) website traffic measuring service, Hotpress.com has over the last year been receiving more or less the same level of traffic as CLUAS.com (see graph). The truth is, with their 30 year old archive they should be blowing us out of the water. So, come on Hot Press, open up your website and give CLUAS a bit of real local competition. We need it.

And while I’m at it, there is that other Irish website charging for access to 99% its content, The Irish Times. Their web publication division iTronics made a loss of 180,000 euros in 2006. Time too that their bean counters also slapped out a calculator and did the right thing.


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24

Blogging will be light from me until early September. In meantime here's a few links that caught my eye recently:

  • It turns out that YouTube's Terms & Conditions state that it can license any content uploaded to its servers as it sees fit. CNET have the details. Any independent bands uploading, for example, DIY videos of their music to Youtube should sit up and take note. A similar broo-ha hit the interweb last year for MySpace but a campaign - spearheaded by Billy Bragg - got them to dilute down their terms. Will YouTube, like MySpace before them, soon do the decent thing?
  • Major US ISP throttle Bit Torrent: if such policies become more widespread among ISPs could it reduce the usefullness and efficiencies of the Bit Torrent protocol? Maybe the time if ripe for the long awaited version of BitTorrent that that is capable of using a secure protocol...
  • Is interest in hip hop collapsing? So asks Time magazine. Sales are down, big time. And not just because of this interweb thing putting downward pressure on CD sales...

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Nuggets from our archive

2007 - REM live in the Olympia, by Michael O'Hara. Possibly the definitive review of any of REM's performances during their 2007 Olympia residency. Even the official REM website linked to it.