Digital Music: Who Will Pay to Play?

A few years ago a popular song asked, “How do you keep the music playing?” Owners of music file-sharing services and recording companies are now asking the same question, with a twist.

“How do we keep the music playing on the Internet?” is more like it these days. What seemed a highly progressive and potentially profitable idea is now teetering on the edge of consumer rejection. And nothing makes the big boys in the recording industry shake in their boots more than consumer rejection, particularly rejection among the most sought-after demographic group — American teenagers.

Still, the reality is that teens are not yet downloading music in a volume large enough to support an entire industry. Further, some of those who might be interested in doing so simply cannot, since they do not have credit cards.

As for alternative payment systems, such as PayPal, many teens are not even aware of their existence.

All this doom and gloom leads to the question: if online music loses teens before it even finds its commercial legs, does it lose the war?

Patience, Patience

Maybe it’s too early to tell, but so far things are not looking up for the online music industry.

The relatively small group of sites that actually sell music downloads offer a somewhat limited selection of pop or mainstream titles. Obscure heavy metal groups and serious jazz appear to be plentiful, but don’t look for Britney, Christina or even Jagger in great numbers.

As for the record companies — the entities that could offer a huge selection of the most popular titles — they appear to be dragging their corporate feet in bringing the best inventory online.

Stop by the much-heralded and you’ll find a notice telling you to leave your name and they’ll let you know when it’s soup.

And Musicnet? Not yet.

Digital Deadlock

According to a recent survey from Gartner Research, only 6 percent of adultInternet users paid for digital music online in the study’s three-month period of 4,000 such users.

The problems? First, there is the residue of Napster and all of the free-music file sharing clones it spawned. Second, many users find the whole music downloading process tedious and cumbersome. If there is one thing we have learned about online selling, it is to keep it simple.

Simple it is not. In fact, it takes a while to get up to speed on the technical end of downloading music, and even then a user must have the right software to make it happen.

All of it takes precious time in which the user might run out of patience or be otherwise distracted.

It’s Only Music

Add in to the mix the fact that we’re not talking about one of life’s necessities here. We’re talking about tunes. And up until recently, tunes could easily be had for free on the Web. Those were the days, my friend, and we hoped they would never end. But Napster is dead, and its imitators will likely face a similar fate. So now the question is: Will American consumers rewire their thinking to pay for something that was once had so easily for free?


But until they make up their minds, the free file-sharing services abound. Just because the American judicial system doesn’t like Napster doesn’t mean file-sharing technology will disappear.

On the contrary, look for newer entrants with names like or Kaza to provide almost any type of file that canbe traded — at no cost.

Oh, and if you were wondering where that coveted teen demographic hangs out, look no further. No credit card? No problem. What malls once were to teens, these free sites are rapidly becoming.

So Much for Free

It’s a tough call as to whether online music can become a successful commercial venture instead of the peer-to-peer free service it has been so far.

In our culture, music can be had for free (or almost free) on so many channels. MTV and VH1 are usually part of the basic cable lineup in most markets. Our computers are capable of copying CDs, which we listen to in our cars, during our workout or wherever we choose. And of course there’s the good old radio.

We seem to have added music to our list of inalienable rights.

Why should we pay for more music? Will we? The recording industry seems hell-bent on proving that we will. Techno-savvy teens beg to differ.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


  • We are currently witnessing the downfall of the giant music companies (hooray). Despite their frequent self-assurances that they can defeat online (file) music sharing, there is in fact no way of stopping the activity. Who on earth is going to pay for something they can very easily get for free. The forced napster to change their operations is like trying to move a beach one grain of sand at a time, there are a million more where that came from. In short there is nothing they can do about what is happening. Either musicians are going to have to play and record music as a fun (part-time) activity for which they are not paid or else they are going to have to cut out the record industry altogether and just ask users to send in a small AM ount of money as a type of donation.

    In my opinion it is only be the Pop sector within the industry who actually require a record label to manufacture the band and promote them (aside from teaching them to sing and dance, rather than the members using their little AM ounts of natural talent). The internet has allowed all bands to get some of their music heard by a global audience. Napster featured a section for new and upcoming artists to promote themselves and I see this as the future of music.

    In conclusion it would seem very stupid to assume that people will be willing to pay for something they can get for nothing, and surely any potential business person would identify this. While there are teenagers and young people who are wanting to listen to music for free, there is no hope of asking them to pay for online music.

  • I think the Music industry will have to hurry. I’ve had access to pirated music/movies/software for 15 years now. And I’ve learned one thing:

    More and more people copy and there is more and more stuff available.

    About 1 year ago I reached the point where I stopped buying records. Suddenly it just looked so extremely expensive. And about 2 months ago I stopped renting movies (much to my own surprise). I have changed my behaviour, and within 10y the mass might start to change theirs.

    When I can buy tunes for 10-25 cents a piece and I get guaranteed quality, then I might start buying again. I don’t even download much anymore, I have everything I want now. The music industry really should worry. They are getting hit by their own greed.

  • The music industry has lost its way. The net is the place for all artists, not just those deemed

    worthy by the major lables. I should be able to download a song for 5 cents, forget the CD. Next

    quarter we get negative growth and then a recession. Time to sell music on line for a reasonable price.

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