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Cybernaut

Quantity over quality?

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Music industry contemplates nickel downloads

In the last two years iTunes, the popular music organizing and download service from Apple, has sold an amazing 300 million songs for the average price of about a dollar. No other music download service has come close, although it’s hard to compare when new services like Napster are allowing unlimited downloads to subscribers – if your subscription slides, your music expires shortly afterwards.

Despite the ease of use and popularity of these services, and a crackdown on illegal music swapping south of the border, the industry still hasn’t made a dent in the peer-to-peer swapping of songs – last year the swappers made about 25 billion illegal downloads.

A few mavericks in the recording industry, including former Clash producer Sandy Pearlman, believe that most people would pay for the music if it was cheaper. A lot cheaper, as a matter of fact. At a Canadian Music Week conference last week he suggested that services make music available for five cents a song, after giving the artists and labels a few months lead time to sell their CDs through conventional means. A typical album would go for about 60 cents compared to $12 at iTunes, but if that price puts an end to illegal swapping the recording industry as a whole will still stand to make more money: 300 million songs at a dollar a song is $300 million, while 25 billion songs at five cents is $1.25 billion. That doesn’t take volume into account, but at a nickel a tune, Pearlman believes most people would go nuts downloading music.

The premise is that most swappers recognize that what they’re doing is illegal, however they justify it. The songs are not of the highest quality, or of a consistent quality, and there’s the constant fear that one day you’ll be hauled into court and fined thousands of dollars for what realistically amounts to bootlegging and copyright theft. To top it off, peer-to-peer services can cost people if their Internet service provider is tracking their monthly usage, while sucking up bandwith.

Personally, given the choice of downloading the same music at a guaranteed high quality, owning it legally, and keeping my peers out of my hard drive, I would gladly pay a nickel a song.

Apple is listening to this idea, but so far the recording industry is opposed to the idea. Pearlman acknowledges that this is to be expected – the industry completely missed the digital revolution and is struggling to play catchup. Right now that consists of inking deals with a growing number of download services and suing the pants off the people they catch downloading copyrighted music.

Other speed bumps on the way to nickel downloads are existing copyright laws and intellectual property agreements, every recording studio in the world that would have to survive on a share of five cents a song, and the artists, who would be making pennies where they used to make dollars. With those kinds of margins, the recording industry couldn’t afford to invest in new acts, or produce the kinds of albums that the public wants to buy.

Whatever the outcome, the days of a dollar a song are probably numbered. Exactly what that number will be is still up in the air.

Less spam in 2004

Threats that 95 per cent of our incoming mail would be spam solicitations appear to be groundless, with a new poll suggesting that Canadians received less spam in their inboxes last year. According to the Ipsos-Reid poll, Canadians received at average of 177 e-mails a week, half of which were spam. In 2003, the average was 197 e-mails a week, 68 per cent spam.

The use of filters, blockers and online services that aggressively target spam are credited with the lower spam count. About 77 per cent of Canadians are currently using filters.

New laws in Canada and the U.S. that make it mandatory for spammers to include real business addresses and links to let people opt out of receiving future messages are also having an impact.

Internet service providers, concerned by the impact of spam on bandwith use and customer service, are the final piece of the puzzle.

Apple goes Blu-Ray

The battle to choose a successor to DVDs took an interesting turn last week with Apple backing the Blu-Ray format already favoured by Sony, Dell and Hewlett Packard, among others.

There are currently two formats battling for supremacy. Blu-ray disks will hold about 50 GB of information, compared to 8.5 GB for a DVD, allowing them to store long high-definition movies and other information. HD-DVDs will hold about 30 GB, but will be cheaper to manufacture and will be backwards compatible with DVDs.

The entertainment industry is also divided on which technology to embrace, and with next generation of Xbox and Playstation consoles expected to be released at the end of this year, the industry is facing another unproductive Beta vs. VHS-type squabble where only one technology will prevail.

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