Opinion » Cybernaut


Digital music sales triple


The good news for the recording industry is that more people than ever are paying for digital music – $1.1 billion in sales in 2005 compared to $380 million for 2004. That’s the equivalent of 420 million songs, or 20 times the legal volume reported only two years ago when iTunes Music Store hit the market and Napster re-emerged as a pay to play service. The iTunes store is particularly successful – about 14 per cent of all active web surfers are buying music and video content through this service.

The growth trend is expected to continue this year, and with Google getting into the digital downloading game along with Microsoft, Yahoo, and just about every other media company in the biz, prices are destined to come down.

The bad news is that people who steal music through peer-to-peer file sharing programs are continuing to steal, prompting the International Federation of Phonographic Industry (love those phonographs) to announce that they are stepping up their campaign of "legal deterrents" – e.g. suing people and appealing to governments to make and enforce new copyright laws. Right now there are about 20,000 legal actions pending in about 17 countries related to digital music theft.

The Recording Industry Association of America and Motion Picture Association of America are even proposing a new law that would essentially halt the progress of consumer electronics and digital media – no new hardware, software or distribution technology could be licensed without the approval of both organizations. In other words, after being caught with their pants completely down with the advent of MP3s, P2P services and broadband Internet, the major music and movie associations are tired of playing catch-up, and are looking for a do-over.

One significant component of the recent explosion in digital downloads is the sale of ringtones. In Japan alone, people spent $211 million on ringtones. In other countries, ringtones accounted for about 40 per cent of record company revenues from digital distribution.

Annoying and profitable.

The next format war

While Toshiba and Sony prepare to go head-to-head marketing the next generation of high definition disk players, two other industry associations declared a format war of their own this past week.

At a meeting in Hawaii, the UWB Forum (Universal Wideband) and the WiMedia Alliance scuttled a working group that would have created a standard wide broadband protocol for all devices.

The UWB Forum includes Motorola Corp. subsidiary Freescale Semiconductor and the WiMedia Alliance includes Samsung Electronics, Intel and Texas Instruments.

UWB technology will allow homes and offices to go completely wireless, including wireless high definition television signals, and all but eliminating the need for any wires at all to connect devices like DVD players, televisions, computers, computer peripherals, networks, and other technologies as long as you’re within a certain broadcast range of your hub.

Some researchers even predict that one day UWB will replace the need for all disk media – just carry a portable UWB-enabled hard drive around to rent movies, buy music, buy games, pick up digital photos, and so on.

Download speeds are between 40 and 50 megabits a second, and could eventually reach one gigabit per second. At top speeds you could download an entire high definition movie, two hours worth, in about eight seconds.

It’s not known what effect a format war would have on the consumer, but like other technology platforms having two competing technologies hit the market at the same time generally slows the rate of adoption as buyers wait to see who wins the battle. It also raises compatibility issues – some devices may work with only one UWB standard.

Flocking to Flock?

Although the world needs another Web browser like we need another billion people – we should probably stop while we’re ahead – one new browser is turning a few heads. Designed for the Web 2.0 generation – people who do everything on the web – Flock is a browser with several built-in devices that make your browser much more than just another portal to the Internet. For example, bloggers are loving the built-in blog publishing tools and a clipboard device called "The Shelf" that lets you copy items and links for future blog editions.

Another 2.0 device is the star tool – when you click it, it automatically puts that link in your shared favourites on your blog or blogs, and in an online shared favourites folder which will make it easier to search for and find unique sites.

Flock also makes it easy to search your favourites and history folders, to cache and access RSS feeds, and do customizable searches.

If you’re concerned about security, you can subscribe to an announcement service that will let you know if any issues are detected and how to download the patch, but so far it seems pretty safe – of course they said the same thing about Mozilla’s Firefox in the beginning, months before several critical flaws were detected.

To download your trail of Flock, visit www.flock.com. Be sure to take the tour to learn how to use all of Flock’s different tools.