fabulous Russian music- download Web site AllofMP3.com may
be soon down for the count, at least as it’s presently configured.
Most of the major record companies in the world have been
leaning on their pliant governments to lean on Russia to shut
the site down. It appears that the Russian government’s shuttering
the site has been made a quid pro quo of Russia’s joining
the World Trade Organization. (Poisoning spies and subverting
neighboring countries’ democracies is apparently OK, but allowing
a renegade music-download Web site to exist? Nyet, nyet, Vladimir!)
Reportedly the Russians have agreed to force the site to shut
down; meantime AllofMP3 claims that it follows all relevant
laws, and if the laws change, it will change its practices
accordingly. (As of Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 8 AM, the site was
still up and running.)
The demise of AllofMP3 was inevitable, really. The site has
been selling songs for between 8 and 25 cents each, depending
on the length of the song and the nature of the file containing
it. The company claims to pay proper royalties to a Russian
music-royalty organization that isn’t recognized by most of
its counterpart organizations elsewhere in the world. It appears
highly unlikely that any of the money coming in to AllofMP3
ever gets to any record labels and songwriters.
Notwithstanding the pricing and royalty issues, the site does
demonstrate how a music-download site ought to be run. The
consumer has some choices, like what digital format the song
will come in, and the quality of the file, from small, standard-issue
128bps files to large, pure CD files. Consumers are charged
by bandwidth, not by the number of songs ordered, so higher
quality files cost more, which makes perfect sense. And songs
are delivered unencumbered by DRM restrictions, so music can
be shared with friends and moved from device to device, and
your music won’t disappear and your computer won’t blow up.
These factors, as much as the low pricing, were responsible
for AllofMP3’s runaway popularity.
And whether you’re bemoaning or celebrating AllofMP3’s near-certain
demise, consider this: If the record labels were paid 5 cents
for every track currently being downloaded on the P2P sites
for free, the labels’ gross revenues would triple.
Wanna talk price points? As they say, information doesn’t
want to be 99 cents.
Another cool thing about AllofMP3: It’s about the only reliable
place online to get Beatles digital tracks. All of ’em. Beatles
bootlegs, too—alternative takes, discarded mixes, isolated
vocal tracks, studio chatter, et cetera and so on. You name
it, it’s available for sale at AllofMP3 and nowhere else.
You see, the Fab Two—Yoko, and whoever’s in charge of George’s
stuff—have refused to allow any Beatles material to be sold
in any downloadable digital form by any of the “legitimate”
services. AllofMP3 fills the void.
But the rumor mill is screaming that’s about to change. Last
week music blogs were abuzz about the imminent release of
re-mastered Beatles tracks on the Internet. And the smart
money was on the stuff being available on iTunes—and only
on iTunes. This is profoundly weird and disturbing for a couple
of reasons. First, Apple Corps, the company that manages all
things Beatle, and Apple Computers, Inc., the proprietor of
the iTunes store, have been suing the bejesus out of each
other over the use of the trademark “Apple” for, oh, about
35 years now. The other thing is the outrageously unctuous
idea of having one of the most precious musical canons available
from only one place, from one vendor. Sounds to me like an
antitrust enforcement action waiting to happen, if anyone
in government cares. We’ll see.
If this happens, one thing that will come out of it will be
a custom iPod, preloaded with the entire Beatles catalog.
Apple did it for U2, and you can bet your ass they’ll do it
for the Beatles if they can. Those recalcitrant boomers who
haven’t caught the iPod bug yet are gonna get thoroughly and
irreversibly infected with the Apple flu.
Or maybe Apple will do this: put the Beatles catalog only
into the new Apple iPhone. Ohhhhh, watch out! Last week, lawyers
for Apple filed an application in the United States Patent
and Trademark Office for a device that is both a cell phone
and a music player. As there are already a multitude of cell
phone-music players on the market, it’s hard to imagine exactly
what new thing Apple’s going to patent, but this much is clear:
The long-rumored iPhone is coming.
The cell-phone market has always been remarkably unstable,
with zillions of phones, a pile of manufacturers, and no clear
dominant leader of the pack, no standard bearer. The closest
to this was probably the Motorola Razr, but the bloom is off
that rose; the Razr’s old news. Even the pink one.
Which opens up a golden opportunity for Apple to jump in,
and possibly (if not probably) dominate the vast cell-phone
market just like it does the digital-music market. And what
a more devastating way to launch the iPhone than to have it
exclusively pre-loaded with the most desired, most iconic
artist catalog in the history of music? I know many people—people
my age who should know better—who would gladly line up outside
some shopping-mall store early in the evening and spend the
night ignobly freezing on the tarmac, all just to get their
hands on a Beatles-stuffed iPhone in the morning.
Maybe it won’t happen. This is all conjecture based on speculation
borne from calculated guesses. We’ll see soon, as the wind
whispers January for this stuff. Meantime it’s all making
my head hurt. Beep-beep beep-beep yeah!