Tag Archives: Napster

Shrines to Frustration

It’s depressing that two gripes I’ve posted, both at least a year old, continue to get comments which push both posts to the top of the search engines. My grumbles about accessing Xdrive, an online storage service bought by AOL, comes out top if you search for xdrive problems on Google. Search for cancel napster and my post about how hard it was to cancel the service comes as the next result below a couple of official Napster sites. Both posts got more comments in the last few hours.

I’m not particularly proud about this; I’ve already written a column about Napster’s poor cancellation process, and bad press doesn’t seem to bother either company. (Although maybe AOL might start changing its practice after Randall Stross’ piece in the NYT about how customer service reps are instructed to try more or less every trick before complying with customer requests to cancel their account.

Wearing my WSJ.com hat, I’ve talked to both AOL and Napster about these problems and it seems in both cases neither problem has been fixed. If they had, why would people keep posting horror stories? Somehow I doubt these two cases are exceptional. I imagine there must be hundreds of companies out there where single blog posts have become shrines to customer frustration. Fortunately in both cases readers have added useful advice in the comments so it’s not all just blowing off steam. But why aren’t big companies more proactive about these things by monitoring search results and reaching out to websites or blogs that attract this kind of traffic?

Napster’s Sleazy Front Door

I’m trying out some of the online music sites, and am presently playing around with Napster. What ticks me off about these services is they try to confuse the novice into handing over their credit card details before they can get into the service, even if they have already bought a pre-paid card. The offer is ‘we just need your credit card, but it’s a free trial, honest!’. This happens at least three times, and then another pop-up window with no button to click but the one that takes you to the ‘free trial’. Anyone not absolutely sure what they’re doing is bound to click on the wrong button at some point and, eventually just hand over their credit card details just to get to the dang music store.

Of course the unsuspecting punter finds they forget to cancel and bang! At the end of the month they’re getting charged. Given a lot of the users are youngsters, I think this kind of approach, though not unusual, is appalling. Is there no shame on the part of the folk who run these services, and no legal safeguards against this kind of thing? First bad mark against Napster.

News: ‘RIAA Are Not Dumb’ Shock

 The RIAA are not dumb. That’s for sure. AP reports that court papers filed against a Brooklyn woman fighting efforts to identify her for allegedly sharing nearly 1,000 songs over the Internet, show that “using a surprisingly astute technical procedure, the Recording Industry Association of America examined song files on the woman’s computer and traced their digital fingerprints back to the former Napster file-sharing service, which shut down in 2001 after a court ruled it violated copyright laws”.
 
 
The RIAA’s latest court papers describe in unprecedented detail some sophisticated forensic techniques used by its investigators. For example, the industry disclosed its use of a library of digital fingerprints, called “hashes,” that it said can uniquely identify MP3 music files that had been traded on the Napster service as far back as May 2000. By comparing the fingerprints of music files on a person’s computer against its library, the RIAA believes it can determine in some cases whether someone recorded a song from a legally purchased CD or downloaded it from someone else over the Internet. A sobering thought.

Column: Under the Wire

UNDER THE WIRE

The Latest Software and Hardware Upgrades, Plug-Ins and Add-Ons

from the 5 June 2003 of edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review , (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

History Scanned

The past is being digitized — fast. The ProQuest Historical Newspapers program has just finished scanning more than a century of copies of The Washington Post to its existing database. The database includes each page from every issue, in PDF files, from 1877-1987. The program has already done The New York Times (1851-1999), The Wall Street Journal (1889-1985) and The Christian Science Monitor (1908-1990).

Cellphone with Character

Somewhat belatedly, Nokia is getting into the handwriting phone thing, aiming itself squarely at the huge Chinese market. On May 20, it unveiled the 6108, created in the firm’s product-design centre in Beijing. The keypad flips open to reveal a small area on which Chinese words can be handwritten with a stylus. A character-recognition engine will convert the scrawls into text, which can then be sent as a message. The phone will be available in the third quarter.

Security Compromised

A new survey reckons “security breaches across the Asia-Pacific region have reached epidemic levels.” In a report released last week, Evans Data Corp. said that 75% of developers reported at least one security breach — basically any kind of successful attack on their computer systems — in the past year. China is worst off, from 59% of developers reporting at least one security breach last year to 84% this year. It doesn’t help that most of the software is compromised: Tech consultant Gartner has recommended its clients drop Passport, the Microsoft service that allows users to store all their passwords, account details and other valuable stuff on-line, saying Passport identities could be easily compromised. This follows a flaw revealed earlier this month by Microsoft after an independent researcher in Pakistan noticed he could get access to any of the more than 200 million Passport accounts used to authenticate e-mail, e-commerce and other transactions. Microsoft says it has resolved the problem and does not know of any accounts that were breached. Gartner’s not impressed: “Microsoft failed to thoroughly test Passport’s security architecture, and this flaw — uncovered more than six months after Microsoft added the vulnerable feature to the system — raises serious doubts about the reliability of every Passport identity issued to date.”

Son of Napster

Apple’s apparent success with iTunes seems to have prodded some action in the on-line music market. Roxio, maker of CD recording software among other things, said last week it would buy PressPlay from Universal Music and Sony Music Entertainment for about $40 million in cash and rename the whole caboodle Napster, which it earlier bought for $5.3 million. Pressplay offers radio stations and unlimited tethered downloads for $9.95 a month in addition to song downloads that allow for CD burning. My tuppennies? None of this will work unless companies put no restrictions on the files downloaded. Emusic does it that way and it’s why a lot of people keep coming back.

Column: the problem with online music

Loose Wire: On-Line Music’s Jarring Notes

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 14 November 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Big media’s flirtation with the Internet may be over soon after it began. At least that’s how it looks to a bunch of music enthusiasts who have been subscribing to an on-line service called EMusic (www.EMusic.com), which allows users to download songs in the compressed MP3 format for a flat monthly subscription fee (a princely $10 for most). The four-year-old service was going fine — about 65,000 users, 230,000 tracks available, revenues rising 30% in the first half of the year — until late October when several subscribers were told their accounts had been terminated, due, EMusic said, to “unusually excessive download activity.” In a nutshell, they got bumped because they downloaded more music than EMusic reckoned was fair. One or two have since been reinstated, but most haven’t, leaving a very sour taste in the mouth of EMusic’s once loyal fans.

 
This is all sad, and in my view unnecessary. EMusic has done a wonderful job in bridging the gap between the illegal world of Napster file-sharing and the old world of buying expensive CDs in a shop. But it has shot itself in the foot and raised fears that the entertainment giants behind such sites are no more committed now to distributing music over the Internet than they were pre-Napster.
 
For those of you not in the know, here’s some history: A few years back pimply youths discover MP3, a computer-file format which allows them to convert a CD into a size small enough to send over the Internet. Other youths discover ways to share such files with other users, suddenly making shops and the CD somewhat redundant. Lawyers swoop and Napster, despite being bought out by one of the big media giants, is now a redundant “work in progress” (www.napster.com).
 
Into the gap, among others, leapt EMusic (which started out as GoodNoise), with a sizeable stable of music for easy download. Deciding wisely not to tamper with the MP3 format via security features that may prevent users from doing what they want with the music they buy, the service quickly grew. Last year it was bought by Universal Music Group and later folded into the new Vivendi Universal Net USA Group, Inc., along with other music-oriented sites like www.rollingstone.com and www.MP3.com. So far, so good. EMusic has proved to be an excellent source of interesting, if not mainstream, music from classical to hip hop. In the past month I’ve become a big fan too, dipping into some great ambient and electronic stuff I otherwise would never have found, finally ditching those Dolly Parton records I’ve been listening to for years.
 
However this recent move casts a heavy cloud over the service. EMusic appears caught between the scepticism of its owners and the natural desire of users to make the most of their subscription. Ahead lurk some difficult decisions: Reuters last month quoted sources in Universal as saying a verdict would soon be made on what music Web sites would be sold off and which would be kept, probably as part of some integrated Web site.
 
So what to do? I can quite understand that EMusic wants to protect its assets. EMusic public-relations chief Steve Curry says EMusic must pay royalties to both the music publisher/songwriter — via a flat-rate fee per track downloaded — and to the record label/performer — from what’s left in the pot after EMusic takes its cut. In short, he says, the business model will only work if it doesn’t spend too much on paying the former, leaving none for the latter. If one person downloads a lot of tracks, most of the money will be paid in flat-rate royalties. “That is why we’re very concerned about monitoring and preventing large-scale abuse of our service — to make sure members are keeping it to ‘personal use and enjoyment,’ not ‘I wonder how many tens of thousands of MP3s I can possibly download in a month.'”
 
Fair enough, but EMusic’s own press releases hardly discourage such practice. The most recent states that “EMusic is a revolutionary new music discovery service that allows fans to download as much MP3 music as they desire for as little as $9.99 a month.”
 
What’s unnecessary about this is that every subscriber to EMusic knows they could find the music free on file-sharing services like Grokster (www.grokster.com) and Kazaa (www.kazaa.com). But they choose to obey the law and cough up. To me this is proof positive that most Internet folk are reasonable and law-abiding and want the artists they listen to to get some money for their work. And most would probably be happy to cough up more if it meant EMusic survived.
 
If EMusic survives it’s going to be down to whether its owners reckon it’s going to make money in the long run. If it does make money it’s going to be because its fans continue to sing its praises to others, in turn feeding more subscriptions, and, most importantly, the readiness of artists and labels to contribute their catalogues to the EMusic library. None of this is going to happen if EMusic treats its users like potential shoplifters.
 
EMusic, change your subscription model (there are some excellent suggestions on the newsgroup at http://groups.yahoo.com/ group/emusic-discussion) so that heavy and light users are catered for, but don’t drive away the very people who have helped proselytize your service. Otherwise they’ll slink back to illegal file sharing and I’ll have to root around in the dumpster for my old Dolly Parton records.