The digital music business has seen some crazy ideas over the last decade. I've searched the archives and come up with a list for you to vote on at the bottom. Here's the list in no particular order for your consideration.
Madison Project - IBM concocted a system called the Electronic Music Management System (EMMS) - code-named the Madison Project with the stated goal to put a set top type of box in every home where –from the comfort of your living room– you could order a CD for $20 which you would have to print yourself. The (then 5) major labels loved the idea of charging even more for CDs and not having to pay for manufacturing or distribution. A 1000 home trial was supposed to happen in San Diego, but never materialized and the project quietly dissolved.
Why it was crazy: Putting a set top box in every home is insanely expensive and home owners were already deploying their own CD burning machines called personal computers with CDRs. In addition, promoting $20 CD sales when you had to supply your own manufacturing supplies made little sense economically.
Secretly Installing Software (Root Kit) - Sony decided to put software on more than 100 audio CDs which when inserted into a PC would secretly install software to block users from sharing music files. In another situation a record label asked early P2P company Streamcast to plant worms in their P2P network to infiltrate user's computer. (A worm is a self-replicating software program designed to move to other hosts.) It's not clear what the worm would do but presumably it wouldn't congratulate the user. Streamcast rejected this idea.
Why it was crazy: Agreeing to surreptitiously install software as part of service will eventually be detected and publicly disclosed. This will undoubtedly incur user revolt and perhaps legal action both of which happened to Sony. They had CD recalls and class action lawsuits.
Suing To Outlaw Portable MP3 Players - The RIAA sued Diamond Multimedia to block the sale of the Rio - the first widely available portable MP3 player. The RIAA's claim was all MP3s were illegal copies and insisted the device should have copy protection. As CEO of MP3.com I supplied evidence to the court of thousands of indie bands who were making their content available in MP3 format. The Judge concluded the Rio was legal although a royalty of at least $1 would have to be paid for each device. The RIAA appealed and the higher court affirmed it was legal but concluded that no royalty whatsoever was required.
Why it was crazy: Suing MP3 manufacturers turned them from allies to enemies torpedoing any chance for partnerships. Claiming MP3s were all about piracy when people were ripping their own CDs and indie music was flourishing online was a highly consumer-unfriendly position. Finally, appealing the early court victory (where they were to receive $$ per unit) negated billions of dollars in royalties over the last decade they could have received for every player and mobile phone shipped with MP3 support.
DRM Wrapped P2P Services - Spiral Frog/Qtrax are two services which tried to capitalize on the P2P craze by offering tracks users could download. Instead of paying a per-track fee video, audio and graphic ads were embedded into the software required to access the files. Each company raised tens of millions of dollars selling the concept to investors and transferred large amounts of it to record labels in the form of advances and guarantees.
Why it was crazy: All the tracks in these services were locked with Microsoft DRM which made them unplayable in iTunes, most portable players and many software programs making them undesirable to consumers. To cover the royalties dozens of ads were crammed between the user and the desired song. Unsuspecting investors were the biggest losers because their money was used to build a DRM service which had no chance of succeeding with users. Note: Spiral Frog is gone, but Qtrax is limping along.
Embedding Credit Card Numbers in MP3 Files - The briefly available AnywhereCD service which allowed consumers to buy a CD and receive all the digital tracks immediately tried to get digital licenses from all the major labels. Only Warner Music Group ended up being part of the launch, but another major label (not WMG) asked the company to embed the credit card number of the purchaser in every file it sold. This was meant to act as a deterrent to sharing the file with others. AnywhereCD never agreed to this implementation.
Why it was crazy: Consumers wouldn't buy books from Barnes & Noble if they printed your credit card on every page. Penalizing customers who are/were still willing to buy a CD (the big cash cow) by exposing their personal information is counter productive. Besides probably being illegal in several US states once exposed (and it would be exposed), users would surely revolt rendering the service dead. The industry should have been embracing ALL new services which promoted CD sales.
UMG Sues To Shutdown my.mp3.com - Universal Music Group sued to block MP3.com's my.mp3 service. This service allowed CD owners to load the tracks into a personal locker for anywhere listening (streaming). In addition, buyers at online music stores could instantly hear tracks from CDs they bought immediately which raised CD sales 20-40% for the retailers which implemented this technology. UMG alleged copyright infringement and got the service shut down.
Why it was crazy: The CD was (and is) quickly moving to irrelevance in the digital age and my.mp3 injected new life into the audio CD by making it an immediate experience for online buyers and collectors. My.mp3 gave new life to the CD and would have extended its life encouraging people to continue to buy $15 CDs. Tracks from my.mp3 could not be downloaded or shared so they didn't contribute to piracy. Users could trade physical CDs, but they could do that without my.mp3 so it didn't make that situation worse. My.mp3 was a service that was demonstrably good for the music industry and music fans, but industry lawyers attacked it anyways torpedoing a great service that would have extended the life of the CD.
Honorable mentions (but not quite crazy enough) include: Suing individual P2P users, Farmclub, MusicNet, Pressplay. So, what do you think? What is the craziest digital music idea that has come along in the last decade? Cast your vote below and visit the forum to let us know your thoughts.
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