Despite the millions of dollars that record labels spend on
advertising, it may be folks like Robert Burke who determine the future
of music marketing.
Burke, a South Carolina software tester, operates a popular series of Web sites called Scopecreep.com,
where he’s posted thousands of digital music playlists, from "Best
songs of 1989" to "Palindrome songs," that can be played by any Yahoo
or RealNetworks Rhapsody music service subscriber.
On one level, this is little different than the age-old
practice of making mixed music cassette tapes for a friend. But as
online music retailers look for ways to guide listeners through
catalogs of millions of songs, this latter-day mix-making
is drawing renewed attention, particularly from subscription services
that see people like Burke as key allies in their fight against Apple
Computer’s popular iTunes.
Last week, Yahoo announced it had hired the creator of Webjay,
a site for posting playlists. Yahoo is getting in on what could be a
major part of the online music business: A recent joint study from
Harvard University and the Gartner Group predicted that by 2010, 25
percent of online music sales will be sparked by consumers recommending
songs to one another.
"We fit in between traditional media and word of mouth media,"
Burke said, explaining the appeal of sites like his. "We’re that
in-between world that’s the best of both worlds."
To date, the playlist-swapping boomlet represented by Burke, the newly
Yahoo-owned Webjay and others has been more of a grassroots phenomenon
than an effective weapon in the digital music wars. But ambitious
subscription music services see music-sharing tools playing an
important role in their futures.
A key feature of subscription services is that they give their users
the ability to listen to unlimited amounts of music. As long as two
people trading song recommendations have both paid the service’s
subscription fee, they can legally listen to thousands of songs, or
swap dozens of playlists without any additional fee.
"The people who get this are those who are more engaged," said Evan
Krasts, director of product management for RealNetworks’ Rhapsody
service. "If you’ve got someone who understands what this is about,
you’re going to get someone who’s going to be a good customer."
iTunes itself is also a haven for playlist makers. Indeed, its iMix
section, with more than 330,000 playlists contributed by individuals,
is one of the biggest repositories of music recommendations online.
But at 99 cents per song, a 10-song iTunes playlist costs $10 to
download, which limits the amount of songs that people can actually
listen to, subscription service executives say.
Still, that argument hasn’t exactly triggered a mass rush to subscription services. Carried on the back of the phenomenal success of the iPod,
Apple’s iTunes remains far and away the most dominant force in the
digital music business. Apple executives have said that consumers want
to own their music, rather than "rent" it through subscription
Analysts say that subscription services need to spend far more time
explaining their version of legal music swapping to the public before
the approach will become a significant draw.
"I think (playlists) will be an important feature that many
people will eventually use," said Jupiter Research analyst David Card.
"But it will have to be promoted to death."
From John Borland CNET NEWS