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Net's power intimidates. (On the Net).

They charge for daily newspapers. Most community papers are free and so are radio broadcasts. Television off-air is free but we pay for delivery services such as cable and satellite. The Internet is basically no-charge but some news and research services require users to pay fees for their information. Software from the Net comes in three forms; freeware, shareware and full-price commercial. Net-distributed music used to be free and some still is, but recent successful lawsuits against companies like the famous (or infamous, depending on your commercial affiliation) Napster have plugged the download pipe.

Napster ran afoul of Big Music Business and international copyright laws when it went live in 1999 with its system of unique software and file-sharing. Consumers digitized songs from legally-purchased music CDs and swapped them through the Napster Web site with like-minded music seekers. The personal electronics industry, sensing the consumer switch from CD-ROM and portable CD players, was quick off the mark with new equipment designed to play digital song files downloaded from the Net. In its heyday, Napster was the vehicle for millions of song swaps and, by all reports, was still growing when the long arm of the law slid its mouse across the URL and clicked it closed.

Big music companies and their captive artists rose up in righteous indignation over the losses in fees and profits the Napster system was inflicting, not to mention the decline in retail sales of recorded CD music. But BMG Entertainment, EMI Records and the Warner Music Group perceived and understood the digital message on the wall. The music business would never again be the same and they had better find the means to own the Internet distribution of their products, or lose control. Their only problem was the company they were so busy suing had the best technology for distributing digital song files in the popular MP3 format.

Even while they were in court, the music moguls were telling Napster to get it right. "Come up with a fee-charging service," they said, "protect our music copyrights, pay us lots and lots of dollars and we'll open the doors to our music vaults."

Out of this mess has grown a new Web-based entity, MusicNet which went "live" Dec. 4. "Napster, in conjunction with RealNetworks and America Online is focused on providing a platform that will help consumers who are now used to the Napster experience to find, acquire and enjoy music in a manner that's legal, reliable, secure and supportive of artists and rights holders." opined Rob Glaser, board chairman and interim CEO of the new company. Market analysts were quick to point out that this new business model was so immature nobody could predict how it would go.

When I checked the MnsicNet site, a few days after its launch, there was nothing to indicate how it would work. For the moment, its operators seem content to show news and reviews for pop music and movies.

Some say the site will charge a monthly fee approximately equivalent to the retail price for one music CD. For that payment, participants will have the right to load a certain number of songs culled from immense libraries into a personal folder. Failing to pay the fee for the subsequent month means their folder will be wiped out.

The company is counting on its huge library of tunes as well as the high audio quality of the Real Player technology to win customers. They're also touting Web site security as well as their virus-free environment. They further profess faith in something they call the Napster "community" which purports to mean feelings of togetherness bonding people who crave music fixes.

I think the whole thing's a pile of bull feathers. Kids flocked to Napster because they could grab free tunes, not because they felt warm and fuzzy in the ersatz digital environment.

But I'm predicting this is one new e-bnsiness paradigm that ain't gonna fly, Wilbur. Big Music Business is only getting into this thing out of fear. They are scared to death by the awesome market power of the Internet. They are having nightmares featuring their cherished cash-cow artists cutting their next tunes on their own and posting them for download-sale to their fans from their own Web sites.

We must remember the Internet did not emerge the same time as the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is barely a 10-year-old phenomenon and even old-time users have not been surfing much more than five years. A few commercial Internet players, like eBay got their business plan right the first time but, for every winner there are thousands, maybe more, who have packed up their keyboards and left "gone fishing" signs on their Internet doors.

John Milne is owner and proprietor of All Outdoors Productions in North Bay.
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Author:Milne, John
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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