Are mobiles the future of music?

8 12 2007

The BBC’s Click published an article recently on how the music industry is struggling due to a slump in CD sales.  Downloads are not selling sufficiently well to offset the loss.  In response to this, record companies are looking to promote mobile ‘phones as the primary music device; this is already the case in Japan.

Adam Benzine, of Music Week, claims that the industry is to blame for the loss of sales because it didn’t respond to the “online revolution” quickly enough.

“There was a feeling in the music industry around 1998 when Napster first came out, well, there was simply a feeling of bewilderment and confusion,” said Benzine.  “What is this thing, how do we deal with it and, more importantly, how do we turn it off? How do we stop people putting music on the internet, rather than how can we monetise this and how can we embrace this?”

I would normally feel smug about this, but I’m trying not to because I’m actually very fond of CDs and don’t want them to disappear.  The quality of .mp3s, which still seem to be the most widely supported format, is very notably poor when compared to CDs, and some songs just sound plain awful when converted into the format.  Besides which, when I make a purchase, I like having something physical to show for it.  Call me wasteful or environmentally unfriendly, but I like having CDs on the shelf (we all have our vices, do we not?).

Mr. Benzine goes on to say that “Pretty much everybody in this country over the age of 12 has got a mobile phone with them, not everybody has got a music device with them, but everybody has got a mobile phone so you’ve got an immediate captive audience.”

Speaking as an Englishman with an .mp3 player and without a mobile ‘phone I rather resent this, but he’s right.  I guess I’m in the minority.

There are currently three music stores which are available in the UK and target a mobile using audience.  The Apple iPhone can download songs from iTunes for a mere 79p (which I expect will be the final nail in the coffin for the already greatly diminished singles market).  Nokia has launched its own store which is compatible with certain Nokia mobiles (but not all of them), whilst Omnifone has launched Music Station, a subscription based service.  All three have their own advantages and disadvantages.  Compatibility issues aside, all of these services restrict users with DRM (grrr… copy protection, my sworn enemy!), the anti-piracy anti-customer software.  As Mr. Benzine concludes:

“The biggest hurdle that mobile music companies currently face is that it’s just not easy enough to buy music on the mobile phone…  It’s a long-winded and quite difficult process even for early adopters that it’s [sic] stopping the wider mass market from embracing mobile music at the moment.”

They’ll learn eventually.  Won’t they?


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