April 19, 2007
Why the Zune has wi-fi
Microsoft is in the business of manufacturing monopolies. Ever since the deal with IBM that launched Microsoft as we know it today -- the deal where Microsoft sold PC-DOS to IBM but could also sell a fully compatible MS-DOS to other manufacturers -- their prime focus has been on that one task. Why do you own Word? If you're like most people, it's not because Word is the greatest word processor in the world for the money, it's so that you can exchange documents with the rest of the world. Everybody has Word primarily because everybody has Word.
Now imagine a world in which everybody had Zunes. You could exchange songs via wi-fi with anybody you want (OK, only for 3 days/3 plays). In that world, if you were the one person without a Zune, there's a good chance you'd want to have one. The lock-in is not as great as it is for Word, but it's the same idea.
Of course, today, the Zune's wi-fi is almost completely worthless because there is no local density of Zunes. But Microsoft is looking ahead to the time that they already have a critical mass of Zune owners. Then wi-fi will be the ether through which user interaction supports their monopoly, just as document exchange plays the same role for Word.
Of course, this all depends on the Zune getting to critical mass. My bet is that it will never happen, because there is little reason to choose Zune over various competitors today. While Microsoft's patented monopoly-machine thinking is clearly visible, in this case it seems more like wishful thinking.
April 13, 2007
Goombah Free Music Player
You, too, can make a Radio Free Goombah player and add it to your blog, email it to someone, or just listen to it yourself. Pick the free tracks you like best and load 'em in. When a track the listener particularly enjoys comes up, she can click the Keep button and it's saved to her hard disk. No DRM -- play it anywhere.
While I'm at it, I might as well make some comments about these particular tracks!
Allen Shadow is an old friend of mine. I love his music. It's not mainstream -- the lyrics are intense and attention-demanding (probably the single closest comparison is to Lou Reed) and the music is not the usual pablum. It's not background music, and it's a kind of music that's hard to mass-market, despite the well-deserved, uniformly great reviews it's received. Check out, for example, the beautiful half-step drop on the words "forty-second street" in Crossroads Of America.
There is an audience for this music, and one of the things in my mind as the ideas and technology for Goombah came together over a number of years was to enable him, and others like him, to reach their audiences. The Internet has provided the raw technological materials for quite some time, but only now is the problem really being solved.
Gunnar Madsen is an artist Goombah recommended to me. He's my favorite new artist discovery in quite some time. Unusual and interesting lyrics; compelling music. If your tastes are like mine you'll love his track "Something Special."
Girlyman is a group I'd heard of but never paid attention to before Goombah recommended it. Viola is a gorgeous track.
Ani Difranco's 2 Little Girls is a longtime favorite of mine. She does a great job in this live version. And a very energetic one too!
Al Di Meola is a truly great jazz guitarist. As far as I know his first recordings were with Chick Corea's Return To Forever band in the 1970's but he quickly went off on his own. Double Concerto is a beautiful track.
Morcheeba -- what can I say. It's not in a genre that I would normally listen to -- "Lighten Up" is very much a pop track. But Goombah recommended it to me so I gave it a try, and I think the music is great and I like the positive lyrics. Even though Morcheeba is a fairly well-known group, due to my personal listening habits there's no way I would have run across them without Goombah. Probably it won't be a track I'll be playing in 10 years, but it's really great to hear it five, or maybe ten, times. And if your tastes are like mine, you'll feel the same way.
This phenomenon -- getting a track just to hear and enjoy it a few times -- is something largely new in my musical experience. In the past I've tended to stick to certain beloved artists only because finding new ones has been so difficult for me -- most recordings out there consist of music I simply don't like, and I don't have the time to wade through them. Goombah eliminates that difficulty, thereby enabling me to have one night stands mixed with my usual long-term artist relationships. This is a good thing and really fun.
You may be wondering how you can make a Radio Free Goombah player with tracks that you choose. You can do it either from the Goombah application or on the web. On the web, go to our tracks page, check the checkboxes next to some of the tracks you like the most, then click the Make Radio button. A Goombah Free Music Radio will appear. Click the Widget button there. HTML will appear that you can paste into a blog. Or, click the Share button and an email will be created with a URL that links to a radio.
I encourage you to drop me a line and let me know what you think.
April 03, 2007
The Apple/EMI Deal
I once wrote that one reason iTunes doesn't support a subscription model is for the sake of iPod lock-in: once you've bought a bunch of tracks with Apple's DRM, you can't switch to a non-Apple player without losing that money.
I also wrote that I have continued to buy most of my music from Amazon rather than iTunes because of the low bit-rate of iTunes downloads. I can tell the difference between an iTunes 128kbs download and a CD and it's significant to me.
It looks like the Apple/EMI deal does away with both of those objections to buying from iTunes, at least when I buy EMI tracks. They may now be purchased without DRM and at double the bit-rate -- basically good enough that I have not been able to reliably discern a loss in sound quality. In fact it's the bit-rate I use when ripping CD's.
I still think lock-in was part of Apple's strategy. But since it's turning out that only 3% of the music on iPods comes from the iTunes Music Store, the hoped-for lock-in is just not occurring. Apple will do better by giving users a better experience, and that means getting rid of DRM.
I predict that now that EMI has made the first move, other labels will follow suit, akin to the way other airlines tend to follow when one makes a major change in fares. As long as everyone is doing the same thing, things can go on as they are. But then when one makes the inevitable shift, the others must follow to remain competitive.
But it is not as inevitable in this case as it often is with airline pricing, because music buyers can't just switch over to EMI. They want the albums they want, and those are available only from the labels that make them. The general switch to non-DRM'd downloads may take quite some time. Other labels appear to be betting that they can maintain DRM until CD's go the way of vinyl, at which point, they appear to be assuming, DRM will actually help them rather than merely be a nuisance to consumers. (DRM doesn't help them now because most recordings are still purchased on CD without DRM.) But CD's appear to have a fair number of years left in them, so my prediction is that that's a bad bet.