Trent Reznor Calls Radiohead Out on Their Online Album Distribution.

I’ve written a couple of times about my disappointment with Radiohead’s online distribution of their latest album (In Rainbows).

Initially, I thought that they were just naive and had blown a great opportunity. But I soon found out they knew exactly what they were doing, and were just as bad as the labels in their treatment of those who prefer to download albums instead of buying CDs.

It’s nice to see at least one artist in the business agrees.

While being interviewed by Australian Broadcasting, Nine Inc Nail‘s Trent Reznor had this to say:

“I think the way [Radiohead] parlayed it into a marketing gimmick has certainly been shrewd, but if you look at what they did, though, it was very much a bait and switch to get you to pay for a MySpace-quality stream as a way to promote a very traditional record sale.”

Bingo! And as the article states:

Reznor is referring to Radiohead’s release of “In Rainbows” as lossy 160kbps (max) MP3 downloads, which many would argue are sub-par when compared to DRM-free offerings from Amazon and iTunes Store (both of which offer 256kbps DRM-free music).

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Reznor continued, “but I don’t see that as a big revolution [that] they’re kinda getting credit for.” In addition to the quality of Radiohead’s MP3s, NIN’s frontman also took issue with the band’s omission of artwork and altogether not taking care of the fans. “To me that feels insincere. It relies upon the fact that it was quote-unquote ‘first,’ and it takes the headlines with it.”

This is exactly what I was saying — right down to the lack of artwork — though Trent sums it up better in hindsight.

Meanwhile, Trent did online distribution right. Look at how he handled distribution of the NIN’s album Ghosts I-IV:

There is no way to pirate this item; faced with the inevitability of listeners stealing it, the entire album has been uploaded to The Piratebay. In addition, the first 9 tracks are available for free to sample before you take the plunge and have been uploaded to Piratebay as well. For those looking to purchase the album, it will run you $5 for a digital download in any format you wish, including FLAC, Apple Lossless, and MP3. Of course you can purchase a CD as well, alongside a deluxe $75 and now sold out $300 limited edition package.

The free Piratebay tracks are better quality than the Radiohead album people paid for. And for just a fiver you get your choice of the best digital download formats available. Yes, a traditional CD is also available (as it should be) as well as deluxe packages, but unlike Radiohead’s offering the online options won’t be going away anytime soon.

You know what makes me feel best about this? In my initial Radiohead article, when I thought they were just being naive, I concluded with this sentence:

So, to the next major band to bypass the labels and sell their album themselves: Please do it better than Radiohead. Much, much better. Are you listening, Trent?

Of course Trent doesn’t read my blog, but clearly he was “listening” nonetheless. Good for you, Trent. And thank you.

RIM Shows Apple How It’s Done: Downloads Crappy Music Fast!

I’m sure the Apple-bashers will be all over this one.

Starting in April you can get music tracks OTA on your BlackBerry. And they’re DRM-free. And you can transfer them to your computer. And all is right with the world. And iTunes is going out of business. And the iPhone is dead in the water.

Or something like that.

This is all courtesy of Puretracks Mobile Edition. Let’s forget the obvious bad parts:

…Licensed to provide over 2 million songs from major record companies and leading independent labels from around the world

Initially, the mobile tracks are from EMI and indie labels. None of the “big three” labels yet, though they say they’re coming.

OK, so the selection is a little weak, but what else could possibly be wrong?

The Puretracks Mobile music service we have developed for the BlackBerry platform is an innovative mobile music store for North America that employs DRM-free, 64 kb AAC/AAC+ file

64kb?Are you serious? Hey, I’m a fan of AAC, and think Amazon (among others) should have used that format instead of MP3. However, at 64kb you’re talking some seriously weak quality here. Yet the price is the same 99 cents Apple charges.

You see, the reason iTunes’ WiFi music store requires WiFi is because the files are too large for the average cellular network to download in a reasonable time. Puretracks and RIM are getting around this by chucking quality out the door and delivering small sizes of crap instead.

I’m sure all the labels will sign on to this. After all, with quality this low they figure people will eventually buy the tracks a second time anyway. In fact, they may even buy them a second time from Puretracks:

Future additions to the Puretracks Mobile Edition music service will include support for Wi-Fi capable handsets, enabling BlackBerry smartphone users to download MP3 files over Wi-Fi connections.

That’s right. In the future Puretracks Mobile will provide reasonable quality (obviously the MP3 files will not be 64kb), but in a different format because they aren’t smart enough to continue taking advantage of MP3’s successor. They hope you’ll buy your tracks from them again, only this time in good quality. Oh, and one more thing, in order to get this quality you’ll need WiFi!

I wonder how many BlackBerry users will fall for this?

Meanwhile, how many people who blasted Apple (wrongly) for using AAC will even mention this about RIM? And how many will call them on this “we can download tracks on a cell network because we cut the file sizes in half” strategy? Or will most of them be like this article, which makes it seems as if RIM has actually accomplished something, and stole a move on Apple?

Universal’s Total Disaster to be Reviewed by DoJ.

Universal’s had so many bad ideas on ways to hawk music it’s hard to keep up with them all. Still, I’ve tried.

Now one of their brilliant schemes — Total Disaster (a.k.a. Total Music) — is facing scrutiny from the Department of Justice.

Personally, I think Total Music is, well, a disaster. Still, I’m glad Universal’s moves are attracting some attention.

More Music Nonsense.

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A good article on The Lefsetz Letter about the Stones deal with EMI. One portion of the article makes it clear that Mr. Lefsetz is as fond of Universal’s Doug Morris as I am:

Doug Morris is waiting for Congress to approve blowing up traders’ computers, possibly lynching them in the town square, he thinks he can beat this thing, he believes the good old days are just around the corner.

Too true.

Sony Is Stupid, but Also Predictable and Still Shining Bright.

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What a busy week for Sony!

First, I assumed that they were going to offer their wares DRM-free from Amazon but not iTunes, and I speculated on what the labels were up to.

Then, they threw me a curve by being incredibly stupid, which diverted my attention briefly.

Finally, today they’ve fallen right in line with my original prediction, and are offering their tunes on Amazon, but not iTunes. The article does not specify if Sony’s whole catalog is available or just a part of it.

Anyway, leave it to Sony to take time out from possibly colluding with three of the other big labels against iTunes to be really stupid for a couple of days.

An iPod Shuffle or Ice Cream? This Could Get Messy.

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So a Brazilian ice cream maker has started a promotion where some of its Popsicles will instead contain a free iPod Shuffle.

Cool idea (pun intended). However, in looking at the pictures of what a winner looks like, I predict the next time we hear about this will be because stores have a lot of poked, prodded, and broken Popsicle packages as users try to determine if they’ve got a winner.

In the Labels’ Darkest Hour, Sony Stupidity Shines Through.

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Just a few days ago BusinessWeek ran a story that Sony was looking to sell DRM-free music, thereby joining the other “big” labels (Universal, Warner, and EMI) in offering at least a part of their catalog DRM-free. There was no mention of iTunes; speculation was that, like Universal and Warner, iTunes would be avoided and Amazon would be the online store of choice.

I wrote about Sony’s potential choice and wondered what the labels were up to. Silly me. I made the assumption that Sony would be selling through an online music store. I mean, where else would they sell digital music? Obviously it would be online, right?

But I forgot one key fact: This is Sony.

For all the dumb things Universal has done in their desire to get back to the glory days of huge music profits, I think Sony has been even dumber. Remember, these are the guys that invented the “ringle” — a ringtone/single on a physical CD — for sale in brick and mortar stores at $6 or more; the whole thing was laughable.

Well, history repeats itself. Sony is not (at least initially) using an online store for their DRM-free tunes. Rather, they will sell cards at retail locations that you use to download the album from a web site. It’s bad enough I have to go to a retail location to buy it, but I still have to use my computer to actually get the thing anyway. It’s the worst of both worlds! I guess this is what to expect from the makers of the ringle, CD rootkit and ATRAC.

And as bad as this looks, it’s even worse. As the Macworld article points out:

The move is far from the all-digital service offered by its rivals, though. To obtain the Sony-BMG tracks, would-be listeners will first have to go to a retail store to buy a Platinum MusicPass, a card containing a secret code, for a suggested retail price of $12.99. Once they have scratched off the card’s covering to expose the code, they will be able to download one of just 37 albums available through the service, including Britney Spears’ “Blackout” and Barry Manilow’s “The Greatest Songs of the Seventies.”

Twelve. Ninety. Nine. Is Sony insane? Have they not noticed that the going price for a full digital album is $9.99 (and even that’s too high)? They want me to pay $3 more and go to Target for the privilege! Seriously, Sony, how dumb can you be?

Oh, and only 37 albums? With ringles they planned up to 50 titles, but now can’t do more than 37 lousy albums? These guys are dumber than Universal and, believe me, that’s really saying something.

Of all the ridiculous ideas that have come out of the labels the last couple of years, this is the ridiculoust! (Yes, I just invented “ridiculoust”. I think it applies.)

DRM-Free Music: What Are The Labels Really Up To?

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Much has been made lately of the recent news that Warner began selling DRM-free music via Amazon. There was even talk about how three of the big four labels are now offering DRM-free music, so all that was needed was for Sony to get into line.Well, now there’s a story from BusinessWeek that Sony is negotiating DRM-free music sales as well.There’s a certain amount of rejoicing over this, but I’m still unimpressed.

Why am I not thrilled? Well, can you reasonably expect to buy DRM-free music from these labels at most places digital downloads are sold? No. Can you even expect DRM-free music from these labels at the major stores where digital downloads are sold? No.Consider this:

  • The BW story says Sony will make “at least a part” of its catalog available. In other words, we’re throwing you some bones, but don’t think we’re against DRM to the point where we abandon it altogether.
  • Sony’s music will be available online only from (surprise!) Amazon.com. No iTunes. Is it a coincidence that Universal, Warner, and perhaps Sony won’t sell on iTunes (you know, the word’s most popular download music store)? How could anyone believe that? I wouldn’t believe it for a minute. It’d be borderline collusion from the three largest labels.
  • Universal, as far as I know, is also only allowing part of it catalog to be DRM-free. That was the case initially, and I’ve seen no announcement that they’ve opened up everything.
  • Of the big four labels, only the smallest (EMI) made their DRM-free music available through iTunes. The other labels music on iTunes is still with DRM, while they peddle their DRM-free wares elsewhere.

So why only part of the Universal and Sony catalogs? And why not iTunes? It’s clear DRM-free is little more right now than the carrot on the stick the labels are offering consumers. It’s the shiny object they distract you with. But they have something else up their sleeve they’re not divulging.I certainly don’t mind people snapping up the DRM-free music wherever its available if they want to, but I do mind that not enough people are questioning the true motives of the labels here. This is not “seeing the light” or “embracing” the new order of DRM-free tunes. This is a carefully crafted attack by the labels on iTunes, pricing and, yes, keeping DRM alive in some cases.When the Warner deal was announced I wrote the following, and now I can add Sony:

If the music is truly without restriction, why do Universal and Warner care where you get it? It’d by like taking their CDs (also DRM-free) and selling them at Best Buy and Target but not Wal-Mart! It would be insanity to not sell your DRM-free CDs through the largest retailer, and yet when it comes to digital music this is just what Universal and Warner are doing.

When the labels open up their entire catalogs DRM-free, and when they sell on iTunes (and other sites, for that matter), then I’ll believe they’ve finally gotten the hint and given up on all the stupid schemes and plans they’ve held for the last eight years. We’re not there yet, and until then I think they still need to be watched.[UPDATE:] Updated article based on confirmation that Amazon will be the only online store used for Sony DRM-free music.