2001 Flashback – Experts Believe MP3 Can Be Killed

Mp3_file_image Pho, an infamous music industry and technology e-mail listserv, unearthed a great WSJ article from 2001 the other day. It documents the uptake in interest in the MP3 several months before the first iPod launched.

The record industry wanted to make the MP3 obsolete, since it was an "unprotected" format, and it looked to the tech companies like Microsoft to help them do it.

Now, it's no surprise that the record industry resisted the MP3 and did anything in their power to stop it. The part where the piece gets interesting is where David Farber, a former chief technologist at the FCC, insisted that since the record industry doesn't want the MP3 to be pushed nor didi Microsoft or RealNetworks, the MP3 won't catch on. "The consumer is going to eat what he's given," he says. In Farber's defense, this is 2001 and something like that probably didn't sound that foolish to say back then. However, there's no denying the fact that the comment Farber made is very representative of how the record industry viewed consumers and still (sometimes) treats them to this very day. Ten years later, it's safe to say no – the consumer won't eat what he's given. If the industry doesn't abandon that mindset and actually give consumers something they want to eat, I'm afraid that the record industry – not the consumer – will be the one to starve.

Today, we're seeing the same mentality. The consumer is going to use the locker he's given. Why? It's what's most profitable. The market appears to be moving towards music streaming. And yet, the U.S. launch date for Spotify continues to escape them. Now, streaming does have negative implications, we've talked about them before. This time, let's not demand that the consumer should eat what they're given. Face it, a cloud locker is something consumers should've already had. It's a non-event. It's not the solution. Create a product that tastes delicious. Don't try to force feed them crap. It didn't work then. It won't work now.

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  1. 2001 was long AFTER MP3 had already caught on. Everyone into music had an MP3 ripper and player by 2001. What did they think Napster and P2P was all about? And the record industry had already tried to launch a protected format, SDMI but it was cracked in 2000 weeks after release. The WSJ was obviously somewhat behind the story on this one. And let’s not forget the RIAA case against Diamond Rio. Their antipathy to MP3 was old news.

  2. You raise a good point there, Kyle. That’s the same mentality.
    And while you on HypeBot advocate for independent artists to own their fan communication, own their merchandising, own their tribe, own their publishing, the music consumers still know very well that it’s better to own an album than to have to pay to a licensing fee for access to a locker or a stream.

  3. The mp3 is NOT the last music format, but it will continue to exist so long as the CD exists. Once the CD dies and everything goes digital, we may see music formats change to one that includes more software/interactive elements or server hosted music, and the mp3 may become irrelevant. But we’re not there yet.
    You’re right about lockers. The locker issue is one of those areas where Apple really dropped the ball. Way back when the ipod first came out, Apple could have made it possible to redownload any purchased product onto any device registered to an account. Everybody who’s lost a drive wants this feature for every piece of digital media they’ve ever bought – software, video, music, you name it, not to mention all your own stuff. Instead, companies want you to back up your own stuff or upgrade. A lot of the existing technology is just hard for computer illiterate to cope with so anyone who solves this problem well for the average Joe will be embraced.

  4. Streaming is the future … when it is free. As much as I dig my subscription to Napster, I’m the only person I know who pays for a music streaming subscription. I know Netflix subscribers, cable/satellite TV subscribers and satellite radio subscribers, but I haven’t met anyone who pays for an on line music subscription. On the other hand, anyone with a mobile device talks about how much they love Pandora, which of course, is free. Maybe Spotify will get people excited but so far, it’s more music die hards like me who are paying for these kinds of services.

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