Tag Archives: Online music stores

Amazonian Gripe

Service at Amazon, the great online store I’ve dealt with for years, is either declining or getting selective.

A friend of mine in Indonesia placed an order on June 19, received confirmation the same day, and then…. nothing. She queried the order twice, and I’ve queried it once, without any response. The bank hasn’t received any debit request, and the order has since disappeared from her Amazon account. I’ve tried to send press queries to them, to no avail. And, no books.

Now, we’re all aware of credit card fraud, and Indonesia is a prime culprit. But whether or not Amazon believes this order to be fraudulent, there’s no excuse for not communicating with the customer, who has ordered before from Amazon and expected something better.

It was not always like this: I, who also live in Indonesia, have had no problems with Amazon, and, indeed, have always sung their praises in columns in main because of their good customer service. Once I even had an email opening with a greeting in Indonesian, from a staffer who had once lived here. This seems to be a thing of the past: There’s no email address to write to, and making an overseas call is in most cases not practical. Customer service at Amazon is no longer the personable, reassuring voice it used to be.

Now, of course, one bad apple does not a smelly barrel make. But given Amazon has not responded to my media requests, I think it’s worth pointing out this case as a worrying lesson in the different experiences online customers may get. Live in the West and you get great service; live in a place like Indonesia and you get a deafening silence.

A Way To Marry Offline And Online Shopping?

Further to my post about the perils of offline browsing and online buying, here’s a possible solution, from Wi-Fi Networking News: Software that lets PDA users check out details and reviews of a book while in the bookstore. SmartWorlds’ free software lets PDA users (customers can borrow a PDA and scanner from staff) shop and learn more about books while they’re in a bookstore: Users are connected to Amazon.com’s site where they can read reviews of the book, check pricing, and see other books recommended by readers.

Here’s the neat bit: In Boston, where the service is in place, the Trident bookstore is considered an affiliate of Amazon so if users of this service later buy one of the books they browsed for on Amazon, Trident earns a commission. Whether other bookstores are brave enough to do this I’m not sure, but it’s a possible answer to the problem outlined in the earlier post. The beauty of it is that the bookstores play to their strengths: a great, comfortable place to browse and hang out, and the unmistakable allure of allowing customers to have that book in their hands, right now.

Update: More DRM Woes For Online Music

 Further to my previous post about DRM, or digital rights management, here’s a story from IDG News Service about software that may allow Windows-using customers of Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes Music Store to break the DRM technology that protects files downloaded from that service.
 
That the guy who posted it — or hosted it — is Jon Lech Johansen, also known as “DVD Jon” is interesting. Johansen was arrested in Norway in 1999 after he created software to crack the copy protection on DVDs, according to IDG. He was acquitted on the grounds he was entitled to access information on a DVD that he had purchased, and was therefore entitled to use his program to break the code.
 
This is, as IDG points out, at least the second time since its release on October 16 that restrictions in iTunes for Windows have been circumvented by developers. Bill Zeller’s MyTunes application allows Windows users to download music from an iTunes shared playlist over a network.
 
IDG quotes an analyst saying this kind of thing won’t necessarily be widely used, due to the low cost of online music. But he does point out that it raises costs for the likes of Apple. So why don’t people go the route of Emusic, whose MP3 files are unencumbered by DRM, meaning you can use them anywhere, anytime, and make any number of backups? I use Emusic because the music now belongs to me, physically and absolutely.

News: Emusic Scales Back

 Emusic.com, the pioneer among online music sites, has been sold, and, more importantly, is scaling back its service. It’s still the only service offering downloads in the standard MP3 format, still has the best selection of independent labels, but is now owned by Dimensional Associates LLC, a private equity group, but has limited its main subscriber base, paying $10 a month, to no more than 40 downloads a month.
 
Now, those wanting more — up to 300 tracks per month (approximately 25 albums) — will have to pay a monthly charge of $50. Sad, but inevitable. And it’s still cheaper than most online music services.

Update: Some Positive Thoughts on MusicMatch

 A positive early review of Musicmatch’s new online music store, from Paul Thurrott of WinInfo Update. “Musicmatch Downloads also has some unique advantages over competing services, such as higher-quality downloadable songs,” he says. Musicmatch Downloads currently offers more than 200,000 songs for download, and the company says that more than 500,000 songs will be available by the end of the year. Like the competition, the Musicmatch service doesn’t require a subscription fee.
 
(I can never find WinInfo stories on the website, so to read stories like this, it’s best to subscribe to their newsletter.)

News: Another Online Music Store

 Riding on the success of Apple’s iTunes, Musicmatch has announced its own digital song-selling business, according to CNET. The service has access to songs from five major labels and more than 30 independents, with pricing set at 99 cents per song and $9.99 for most albums.
 
 
Customers can play tracks on up to three PCs simultaneously and transfer them to Windows Media-supported music players. Songs can be burned to CDs, but a given playlist may be burned no more than five times.

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.