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Update – I may have given the RI too much credit (i.e. any credit at all) for showing some intelligence. The music industry is backing away from the service and the whole thing might die before it starts. Lets hope sense prevails. Thanks to Mario for the techdirt find
TechDirt
Financial Times
MTV

If this article from The Times is completely accurate a new service backed by EMI, Universal and Warner called QTrax will launch in the next 24 hrs that may show that the music industry have been taking at least some of the criticism leveled at them seriously.

While the website is already active the service relies on a custom application that is not yet available for download.  This application seems to be a customised version of the Mozilla browser that will allow users to connect to the QTrax website and download and play from a catalog of 25 million songs.  The tracks are protected by DRM but are in an MP3 format.  There is no details yet on exactly what the MP3 player compatibility and availability is, but presumably the DRM will make this limited.  The service will also be supported by ad revenue.  The distribution of files is via P2P although the exact form this takes is unclear.

There are a number of reasons why this is a potentially brilliant move.

  • This is finally recognition that music is art.  As such its value is not diminished by its consumption unless it is bad.  The consumption of good art actually increases its value and should therefore be encouraged.
  • The inclusion of rare, live and unreleased tracks in the service allows fans to engage more with their favorite bands.  It allows them to find and sample material they were not previously aware of and they consequently become more attached to the band.
  • P2P technology means that the record companies don’t have to pay the bandwidth bill for free listening and imposes at least a minimal cost to the consumer.  It also makes it a more social environment, you can only get your music for free if you help other people do the same thing.
  • Unbelievably this is a use of DRM I can support.  The point of DRM in this instance is to link you to the player which allows the music industry to receive the advertising revenue, collect good stats, and limit our use of the music.  This is absolutely justifiable when there is no charge.  It has never been my contention that music should be free, just that there should be a method to interact with it freely.  If you want to listen to anything for free use the service and pay with ad revenue and stats.  If you want to do anything extra, like put it on an MP3 player, burn it to a CD or listen to it in better quality, buy it.
  • It removes any justification for any person that can use this service to use any other method to get unauthorised copies of music.  If there is a method that you can listen to the song free of charge any other use must be paid for.  Removing the justifications people use in their own minds when they pirate will reduce this activity.  The availability of this service will also mend a large proportion of the ill-will a lot of the music consuming public has to the commercial side of the music industry as well.
  • It exposes the consumers to the back catalog which is the most underutilised resource in the whole music world.  While the top 100 makes the most visible money to the RIAA members, the older releases could be a much greater source of revenue for them.

I am looking forward to seeing, and reporting on what the reality of this service is, but on paper it is very impressive.  QTrax has the potential to significantly increase the sales of music.  It is an absolute fact that the more music a person listens to, the more they buy.  By allowing people to listen to huge amounts of music they will increase sales.