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A Modest MP3 Proposal

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 4/6/01 issue of R&R I've got a modest proposal that's a slight twist on everything you and Napster and Emusic and Liquid Audio and everyone else has been running around trying to figure out. I think if you give this some consideration, you might find some merit in it. I call it the E&E approach: Embrace and Extend. It's been used by Microsoft for years. Maybe it will work for you. They've done pretty well with it.

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You've got some problems to solve about those pesky MP3 files floating around the Net.

Problem 1: People want MP3 files so bad they'll steal them.

Problem 2: You're concerned about CD sales dropping.

Solution to both problems: Sell any CD in your catalog, and sell (yes, sell) the MP3 files along with them as a premium.

Here's what you do: Add a feature to your website where you sell a CD, at full retail price, direct to the consumer. The moment you capture the transaction, you mail out the CD, and immediately make all of the MP3 files of the CD itself available for download, in standard 128/joint stereo format. For a couple of bucks extra, fill in all the metadata in the IDV3 tag, make the file full stereo and make the bit rate higher.

Make the purchase non-refundable (other than for damaged discs), so people can't buy the CD, then cancel the credit card transaction once they get download of the MP3 files. Let customers who are price sensitive continue to buy their CDs from Walmart or Tower - but they get no MP3s. They can only get that from you, online.

Hey, if the Charley Pride thing works, great, but as long as you insist on selling unencrypted CDs, stop insisting on encryption of the MP3 files. Face it: once people get the CD, they can have MP3 versions of the files on their hard drives in a matter of minutes. Do encrypt the relationship: make sure that users have a secure connection for their PC (and Macs) to be able to download the MP3 files, but let them download them in the clear.

Second, think like business people, not litigators. Think how you can make money from this audience, not how you can sue them. Give them what they want, in spades. Pull them to you rather than push you away. More on that over to the right.

If this sounds an awful lot like MP3.com's Instant Listening service, it is. But it's also stepping up and dropping the useless veil of only letting people stream the MP3 files. Just give them what they want: the files themselves along with the CD. They will gladly pay for it.



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