The anti-Napster Backlash Backlash

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Here’s my own backlash to Charles Cooper’s article.
First, if you had used Napster more than 30 seconds for the sake of reporting, you might have learned to check file size, bit rate and file naming to recognize the good MP3s from the bad. Downloading a 64 kbps 500 Kb heyjoeitsbroken.mp3 file doesn’t dismiss sharing of valuable files by users, it lowers your credibility as a reporter and Napster user. Did you know that Napster comes with a hot list user system that lets you pick careful people and download files from them? All my MP3s are proper 128 kbps files ripped from CDs, with full names formatted like: “artist name – album name – track number – track name.mp3”. Could we have better files? Sure, but as MP3 is lossy and higher samplerates mean bigger files, there’s a practical limit to the quality this format will provide.

If you need a record company to “have access to high-quality digital downloads” you should stop reporting on technology right now. There’s sometimes some hassle involved to get good files from Napster but most could be resolved with some improvements in the user interface (*). Just three examples: define a standard naming convention, include album names in order to differentiate a bootleg track from a clean album version, and show average file size (for a given bitrate) to help detect broken files.

Second, if your reporting had gone beyond reading meaningless online polls, you might have noticed that it’s not exactly like the artists were happy with the current system. There’s more than mass consumption at stake here. Is it “anarchist” as you put it, to be willing to reconsider a value chain that outputs higher prices as costs drop (spin control taken into account)? I have nothing against record companies, however they failed to show how they’ll provide value beyond milking the cash cow.

How about helping new artists emerge more easily, outside of the mainstream radio/TV brainwashing? (thoughts on formats, link added 11/03/00.) Where are the initiatives to help people learn more about all the musical roots and flavors(**), or add meaningful information to the music (last part added 11/04/00, 11/06/00 – semantic music web link added 11/20/00)? The Bertelsmann/Napster PR doesn’t say anything about these things. I sincerely wish they have the best intentions, but let me have my doubts.

I agree that getting something for nothing is not a fair deal. But if the Napster deal sounds fair to you, it might be because you utterly forget the artists. You might not be a skinflint (thanks, I learned a new English word today), but you sure wasted no extra thinking and researching in order to write this piece.

My piece of kind advice to Mr. Cooper, if you want to give reporting lessons, you might want to stick to your proclaimed standards or the “demanding public” (blogging blokes like me) could flame back.

02/09/01 update: Stewart Alsop has a good introductory article telling why metadata matters.

(*) A mention of Ohaha, added 11/05/00 was removed on 08/04/01, when I discovered they had discontinued on 06/17/01. That’s how these things go!

(**) A link to Gigabeat was removed on 08/04/01, because the site has been taken offline after the acquisition by Napster (and what did they do with it)?

09/21/01 update: Charles Cooper changed his mind on weblogs.

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