After hearing StreamCast Networks, makers of the file-sharing software Morpheus, and a couple of record labels go at it for the Nth time at the Music 2.0 conference yesterday, I despair of there ever having a meeting of the minds. That's bad news for the vast majority of us who love music but haven't seen a compelling reason to fully join the digital revolution.
Oh, execs from Warner and Sony BMG mouthed platitudes about embracing digital music. "We love peer-to-peer, we think it's wonderful," gushed Thomas Hesse, president of Sony BMG Digital Entertainment's Global Digital Business. That was just after he complained about how much "piracy" there is and vowing that 100% of Sony BMG's CDs would carry copy protection by the start of next year.
At the same time, StreamCast CEO Michael Weiss, while making the reasonable argument that labels ought to try to co-opt the file-sharing networks rather than continue a futile attempt to shut them down, still insisted that there's really nothing he can do to stop illegal trading of copyrighted material. That's too big a shrug for a service that expects to work with the owners of that content, if you ask me.
I came away wondering why, after years fighting it out in the courts, neither side has moved much closer to helping customers get what they really want--and will pay for: music when and where they want it for a reasonable price. "I'm saying a lot of the same things today" as five years ago, Eric Garland, CEO of the online media measurement firm Big Champagne, said ruefully today.
There are some rays of hope: A lot of folks such as Shared Media Licensing's Weed and PassAlong Networks, are working on technologies that combine file-sharing with paid music services in interesting new ways. But for now, they seem hamstrung by industry powers that still aren't embracing the full potential of the new technologies.
As a result, we have very limited choices. We can get song downloads for 99 cents that, using an iPod and Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store, produce a great but rather too expensive experience unless you get music from your own CDs or from free file-sharing networks. Or we can get subscriptions for $5 and up a month, but you can't put those songs on an iPod without ridiculous gyrations. It's no wonder that a panel of teens and 20somethings at the conference today rely on illicit file-sharing networks for the bulk of their music.
The upshot: If you're looking for that perfect combination of a great music player and a great digital music service, pull up a chair. It's going to be awhile.