New year brings good, and bad, news from music industry

warner zeppelinComing out of a holiday stupor, I see there’s some good news and bad news about the music industry in recent days.

The good news is that the Warner Music Group is offering its complete catalog DRM-free through Amazon’s MP3 store. Some of Warner’s artists include Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin, and Sean Paul. (last100 music year in review.)

The good news is that Warner is now the third of the Big Four record labels to sell music DRM-free. EMI and Universal Music Group offer their catalogs to Amazon MP3, but only EMI also sells on Apple’s iTunes. The lone holdout among the majors is Sony BMG.

The bad news, at least for Apple, is that Warner has not said anything about offering its music DRM-free through other digital stores as iTunes. And now there are two labels out there — the other being Universal — that’s attempting to make life tough for Apple, seen by many to have too much power over the digital music industry.

The good news for consumers is that it doesn’t matter where you purchase Warner’s music. It’s still available on iTunes, if you don’t mind Apple’s FairPlay DRM. Otherwise, you can buy it DRM-free at Amazon MP3 and still play it on your iPod or iPhone.

emusicGood news from online music retailer eMusic: The No. 2 digital music store said it had a banner holiday season for 2007, surpassing its forecasts by 100 percent, ending the year with more than 400,000 paid subscribers. On Christmas Day, eMusic says nearly 500,000 songs were downloaded. Not that we need more proof, but digital music sales continue to rise, while physical album sales continue to decline.

Good news for digital music fans: Billboard (via Reuters) says that digital album packaging should improve in 2008 as a way to compete with physical products. Buy digital music today and what you get are MP3 files, a thumbnail image of the front-cover album art, a list of tracks, and maybe (but doubtful) song lyrics. The labels are just plain lazy. In the digital age, the best you can do is a song list and small album art? Billboard says the labels can easily provide better album art, lyrics, liner notes, and interactivity.

As with any transition from one year to the next, there are plenty of retrospectives and forecasts. In the case of the music industry, Downhill Battle (via Mashable) predicts the near-death of all four major record labels in 2008. Publishing 2.0 says the recording industry will be the first traditional media to be “utterly destroyed by digital technology.” (See below).

miles on the cornerAnd, finally, what would a new year be without the crazy antics of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)? The RIAA is now fighting back against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who stored about 2,000 recordings on his personal computer. The Washington Post notes, the RIAA “maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.”

Uh, oh. Better delete that ridiculously-priced $100 Miles Davis “On the Corner” box set that I legally (and some might say insanely) purchased and ripped to play on my iPod. If it wasn’t for the book that came with the box and the fact I own all previous special-edition sets, I could have bought it off iTunes for $40 or downloaded it free of charge from the Web.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

One Response to “New year brings good, and bad, news from music industry”

  1. Tets says:

    “Please note that Amazon MP3 is currently only available to US customers.”

    Nice. I’m not U.S. citizen. So if they do not want to sell it to me, I’m more than happy to steal the music that is not available in non-DRM format… (I have the eMusic Premium subscription, but emusic does not have the big labels).

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