title: Forgettable songs?


by: Scott Bradner


With great fanfare the first of two record-label-sponsored on-line music services debuted on December 4th.  I may not be the best judge of the high-falutin' world of marketing research but it sure seems to me that MusicNet was designed looking into a mirror -- at every major decision point they decided to take exactly the wrong path. 


After spending a few years lobbing lawyers at Napster at least some people in the music industry seem to have started to wonder if there was more to this on-line music phenomena than just the lure of free music.  This was not easy for them to do -- it can be hard for light to penetrate through twisted tunnel vision.  Now as an author I am not one of those 'data wants to be free' folks. I do not support ripping off other people's copyrighted material.  I own all of the CDs that make up the 2 and a half days worth of music I recently put on my PowerBook.  But, my first reaction to the Napster explosion was that it should be telling the industry to reexamine its business models.  In contrast, that seems to have been the last thing the music industry thought of.


But, they did eventually figure out that there might be a business lurking somewhere. (The approach reminds me of a joke whose punch line is "there has to be a pony in here somewhere".)  The first of their major efforts was announced early this month and it does seem to be developed in a vacuum by someone stuck in a logic-reversal space warp.


MusicNet, like a soon to be announced competitor called Pressplay, is a music subscription service.  For a monthly fee, customers can listen to streaming audio and download songs to their computers.  The fee is $9.95, about the cost of a low-end CD, per month for the basic MusicNet "RealOneMusic" service which permits downloading 100 songs and listening to but not storing 100 more. Ten dollars more per month gets you more songs and some on-line news, sports and entertainment channels.  This all sounds reasonable but reason soon ends.


From a customer point of view there are a pile of things wrong with MusicNet.  For example, you are only renting the songs, if you stop making the monthly payment the songs get into Mission Impossible-mode and self-destruct.  You can not download the songs into a portable MP3 player.  MusicNet and Pressplay are incompatible, music downloaded with one is not playable on the other.  So if you do not want to play music in your car or when walking, do not want music from many vendors, and do not like the music enough to want to keep it -- MusicNet is the service for you. 


It may just be me, but this seems like a rather impotent weapon in the fight against the growing number of ways you can get music for free over the net.  But who knows, if it stays in business long enough you might be able to keep the songs you pay for and like someday.


disclaimer:  You get to keep your expensive Harvard education so Harvard has no opinion on the transient songs of MusicNet.