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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

There's no such thing as a free song

Posted on Tue, Aug 29, 2006 at 3:34 PM

So Universal Music plans to offer its North American catalogue for free.

It's a "compliment" -- not competition -- to iTunes, which sells songs for 99 cents a pop, and which has taken over the music industry at a rate that alarms the dinosaurs still stomping around. Always slow to come around, major labels have been watching sales (and jobs) tank at a ridiculous rate. The days of a 25 million seller like Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill or a million in a week -- NSync's Pop -- are long over.

So this is Universal, the biggest of the four major labels, trying to compete. Or, compliment. You'll have to watch an ad to download, and you'll only be able to hear the song at the website, and the files will be in craptastic WMA so they won't play on your iPod.

This venture, scheduled to be test-marketed at the end of the year, will likely not work. It's supposed to circumvent illegal downloading, but what the label seems to be missing is that people download songs to put on their portable music players. Also as a soundtrack to MSN sessions and porn trolling, sure, but to leave out the iPod option completely misses the point of what Apple is doing. Also, the attention span of the average teenager will not tolerate a lame, hyper-edited web ad every time they want to hear "SexyBack."

Also let's not forget that Universal announced in 2003 that it would knock prices of all its albums to $13, $9.99 for new artists, as a way to encourage physical consumption. (A common defense of downloading is "CDs cost too damn much.) When it didn't work, the company started inching prices back up, but you probably didn't see a press release or a New York Times story about that.

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