[rumori] pho: Calling All "Financial Masochists"

From: Don Joyce (djATwebbnet.com)
Date: Sat Dec 08 2001 - 18:00:43 PST

Forwarded by Negativland.

>A Potential Hit And a Miss on The Music Front
>By Rob Pegoraro
>Friday, December 7, 2001; Page E01 Finally, you can download name-brand,
>major-label music off the Internet -- easily, quickly and in a
>high-quality format. The wait is over!
>Oh, wait: That's been possible since the late 1990s.
>Now, though, you can get these songs legally, using subscription services
>set up by major record labels. The first such venture, MusicNet, arrived
>Tuesday, along with the program needed to access it, RealNetworks' RealOne
>media player.
>Both the software and the service constitute major changes. But only one
>also counts as an actual advance: Real's new player is an effective
>alternative to Microsoft's Windows Media Player, even if some key
>weaknesses linger in this version. MusicNet, however, represents one of
>the worst consumer bargains since the DivX pay-per-view DVD scheme.
>In other words, there's a decent upgrade here if you can keep your credit
>card in your wallet.
>RealOne comes only about 15 months after RealNetworks' last big release,
>but a lot has changed since RealPlayer 8. (Bear in mind that RealOne is
>still a beta release, with a finished version not due until early next
>year.) The new program ends the need to switch between separate player and
>jukebox applications, combining tools for finding, downloading, playing,
>copying and collecting music -- plus an Internet Explorer-based Web
>browser -- in one window.
>RealOne looks a good deal sleeker than its predecessors. The company's
>designers took a belt sander to the standard Windows interface, rounding
>off corners and polishing the menu bar. The result resembles a busier
>version of Apple's QuickTime Player, with three frames for content,
>context and marketing tie-ins.
>(RealOne runs on Windows 98 and newer Microsoft desktop operating systems;
>a Mac version is planned, but the company isn't talking yet about Mac OS X
>support or Linux or Unix releases.)
>RealOne also dumps the screen-hijacking RealDownload add-on and is less
>aggressive about vandalizing users' desktops with links to Real and its
>marketing partner, AOL Time Warner.
>RealOne doesn't, however, offer any new compression schemes, so Web radio
>at dial-up speeds sounds as tinny and metallic as before. It still doesn't
>play back broadcasts in Microsoft's Windows Media format, although it can
>open and save individual Windows Media files. Real says it's obtaining
>rights for Microsoft's streaming-media formats; until it does, you can't
>use this to replace Windows Media Player.
>RealOne also doesn't offer a useful MP3 encoder unless you sign up for
>either of two $9.95-a-month offerings promoted on Real's Web site. (The
>free version is a little hidden; to get it, click the "RealOne Player"
>link atop the company home page, www.real.com, then follow the "Free
>Player" link halfway down the next page.)
>And here's where this software stops being such a bargain. One of these
>options is a multimedia subscription service -- confusingly enough, also
>called RealOne -- which seems targeted at broadband users who want to
>watch news, sports and entertainment programming but have some aversion to
>turning on the TV.
>The other, RealOne Music -- Real's MusicNet option -- appears to be aimed
>at financial masochists.
>For that $9.95 fee, you can check out tens of thousands of artists, as
>long as they're distributed by BMG Entertainment, EMI Recorded Music,
>Warner Music Group or Zomba. (Pop quiz: Which multinational corporation
>has your favorite artist inked a contract with?)
>That makes browsing through MusicNet like shopping in the world's flakiest
>record store. Only three R.E.M. albums show up, none newer than 1987. The
>Rolling Stones are absent, but Keith Richards's solo work is available.
>Funkadelic appears, but not George Clinton's other project, Parliament.
>And so on.
>The service could be useful for try-before-you-buy sampling, if you don't
>mind essentially paying for the label's own marketing. For collecting
>music, it's woeful.
>Downloaded songs are available under the equivalent of a work-release
>program. You can download 100 titles a month and listen to 100 songs in
>low-fidelity streaming audio (an extra 25 downloads and streams are
>available if you also get the RealOne service). Each download expires in
>30 days unless you spend part of the next month's quota to keep it active.
>You cannot make a backup copy of a song, write it to a recordable CD or
>transfer it to a portable player.
>If your hard drive gets trashed or you want to move your collection to a
>new computer, you must call customer service to ask permission. You may
>even need to call the help line if you alter too much hardware on your PC
>-- like Windows XP, RealOne inspects your computer's configuration and
>decides for itself if it's still on the original machine.
>Let's be clear: These Dogbert-esque restrictions didn't come from Real or
>other companies, such as AOL, developing MusicNet services. The record
>labels behind MusicNet made this choice, electing to sacrifice convenience
>and choice to copy protection. Those behind PressPlay, a competing
>subscription system, seem on their way to making the same mistake.
>Should you stick with MusicNet and accumulate 100 songs that you like,
>it's not clear what you could do next. You could cease further downloads
>and simply pay rent on those 100 tracks until the end of time. You could
>buy the CDs containing each song, eating your subscription costs to date.
>You could open a second account and sink deeper into the quicksand.
>Or you could just copy the songs off a friend's collection or a
>file-sharing service. That may not be legal, but the major labels can't
>expect people to choose anything else if "bargains" like MusicNet are the
>best they can offer.
>Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at robATtwp.com.
> 2001 The Washington Post Company

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