Music HistoryMusic Industry

How much longer before we can’t buy digital music downloads?

[This was my column for GlobalNews.ca. – AC]

When Steve Jobs made the rounds of major record labels in 2000, he knew he had them over a barrel.

Music piracy, kicked into high gear by the original Napster the previous June, was a threat to the recorded music industry. The new frontier for music was online and the labels were completely ill-equipped to deal with the greatest shift in music distribution in a century. They had to get in on the business of selling music digitally, but how?

Oh, the labels tried to build their own download stores, but Pressplay (originally called Duet and owned by Universal and Sony) and Musicnet (all the other majors) were miserable failures. First, they were expensive. For $15 a month, fans could stream 500 songs each month, get 50 song downloads and the ability to burn each of those songs to CD 10 times.

Second, it was chaotic for the consumer. You needed to know what label a song or artist was on before. The terms of use were confusing and digital rights management (DRM) locks on the files made moving them around difficult and frustrating. It was much, much easier to just steal music.

Third, the labels couldn’t work together on a unified platform because that would have violated all kinds of anti-trust rules, a legal situation that also help scupper the labels’ proposed purchase of Napster.

The labels had all the digital products but no way to distribute and sell them. Apple’s iTunes offered a way out of this bind.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38293 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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