Saturday, April 17, 2004

Once you've had a free lunch, it's hard to justify paying for it ever again.

Napster debuted five years ago, in 1999.

For those of you not around for Napster's initial appearance, it wasn't the pay-to-download service that it is today. When it first appeared in 1999, it was one of the first peer-to-peer file sharing applications available.

Unlike Kazaa, on which you can find, not only music, but movies and applications and more viruses than you can shake a stick at, Napster focused solely on the music, taking advantage of the newly developed MP3 format that allowed people to shrink their digital audio files to about a tenth of their uncompressed size.

This made the files much, much, much easier to illegally download over the Internet.

Obviously, a lot of people thought this was a pertty cool idea. And started downloading the files. Lots of them.

Obviously, the US recording industry wasn't thrilled with the whole thing, and promptly sued the freaking be-jesus out of Napster. After a short but valiant struggle, Napster collapsed, disappearing from the face of the 'Net until it's reappearance last year as a legal, pay-to-play MP3 download service.

Not that Napster's demise had *any* affect on music downloading. It's death simply meant the appearance of more applications. AudioGalaxy, Gnutella, eventually the Kazaa that we know and love/loathe today (depending on how you feel about popups and spyware).

The lawsuits are still being flung around, because the RIAA doesn't like the idea of people getting their music for free. And that's a fair complaint. But the thing they never really got was that, even in 1999, it wasn't solely about getting free music. It was about getting *digital* music.

People wanted small, portable MP3 files that they could store on their computers (with their rapidly expanding storage space) instead of dozens or even hundreds of CDs, cluttered around their office / living room / study / wherever-the-heck-you-decide-to-put-your-computer. And as much as Napster might not have been the legal way to do it, it was, unfortunately, the *only* way to do it.

Even if you wanted to pay the recording industry a buck or two to be able to download a song legally, you couldn't. And it took years before you could.

They were more interested in filing lawsuits than they were in providing a legal alternative for digital music. That was a mistake. A big mistake.

The only real big-name options for legally downloading music -- Apple's iTunes and the newly legalized version of Napster -- appeared just last year. That's four years of people getting used to eating a free lunch. Now you expect them to pay just because you're asking nicely?

Don't hold your breath.

On top of that, if you want to run either Napster or iTunes, you'll need a computer running at least Windows 2000 or Windows XP. Windows 98 won't cut it.

Any particular reason why not? Windows 98 runs Kazaa just fine.

So, if you're running Windows 98, you can choose to either download music for free, or spend $250 to upgrade your computer so that you can download songs at $.99 apiece. Which is makes more financial sense to you?

Here in Canada, even if you *do* have Win2K or XP, you're going to have to move south of the border if you want to use either service. Napster won't run at all in Canada, and iTunes -- while you can open it up and do music searches and listen to 30 second clips of the songs you're looking for -- won't sell you a song until you have a US mailing address.

Pardon my language, but...what the fuck?

Are you planning on shipping me the MP3? Were you going to send it to me on CD, maybe? Or print it out in binary so that I could turn around and retype the song into my own personal computer?

Who the bloody hell cares where I live? It's a stupid digital song, made up of stupid 1s and 0s, that I can download in less than a minute over a high speed connection. Now just goddamn send it to me!

Five years since Napster invented the music disitribution method of the 21st century, and the music industry executives still don't have it figured out.

It's no wonder that people are still happily scarfing down their free lunches...

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