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Abandoned Devices

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 11/30/01 issue of R&R Our listeners, who record labels are now getting ready to sell digital music files, are slowly waking up, rubbing the sleep from their eyes, and realizing that the $250 they spent on a portable MP3 player is about to be flushed down the toilet.

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Lots of our listeners heard about this new MP3 thing and went out and bought Rios and Sonys and nike players and MP3 phones and personal jukeboxes and dozens of other iterations of music and technology. They marveled at the lack of moving parts and the devices' unnerving lightness. The players work and work well.

But just wait a few weeks.

Both of the major digital music services are getting ready to unleash their marketing on the public. They will sally forth with currents and catalog alike, all for some interesting price points. They will make listeners salivate with the prospect of getting digital quality music from the actual artists without the guilt of stealing from the Net piracy sites.

And then, they won't be able to do anything with it that they are used to doing now, because they won't be able to use those players they bought.

Yep, everyone of them will be obsolete. And before you jump up from your reading chair, and send me all kinds of e-mail reminding me that there are several players that will play formats other than MP3, including the defacto standards, WindowsMedia and RealAudio, bear in mind that none of those player are capable of playing DRM versions of the songs.

What's DRM? Digital Rights Management. It's the generic term for limiting the devices on which or the time period during which (or both) a file can be played successfully by the listener. A record company sets a file up to time out after 100 plays. Or after 15 days, or the day after the album is released. Or, more importantly, the PC or Mac onto which the file was downloaded becomes the only device on which that file can be played.

If you don't believe me, start calling the cloaking companies or the folks at pressplay or MusicNet. Or the new and improved Napster. If they are marketers, there will be a song and dance, but eventually, you'll break them, and they'll admit that there are no plans to allow any digital file to be moved from one PC to another or to any current portable device.

At that point, DRM should really stand for Digital Rights Mismanagement. $250 is a lot of money to pay for a player that only lasted a year or so. And the last thing we need is another piece of technology that has to be scrapped by an ever-cynical audience.

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