Column from August 21st, 2000 issue

Kurt’s musings last week on the sort of pricing major record labels are using for on-line music downloads was very interesting.

I’ve heard plenty of people harping on recently about how the “golden age of the internet” was over, and never really paid much attention to it. However, now I see exactly what those pundits mean: the internet is now almost exclusively about finding ways to make money and a business medium. The original rationale of information sharing and like minds coming together (which indeed was what this very free newsletter was born out of) are becoming strangely absent.

Whenever something useful comes along big business is going to try and find a way to exploit it and to make as much money as quickly as possible. The rules of the game regarding the internet might be slightly different, but the general principle of a fist trying to close around as much cash as possible is still there, and getting stronger by the day. Lots of businesses are setting themselves up as “loss leaders” to get market share with the principle that they’ll make a bunch of money later. Look at Amazon, its level of discounting seems to drop day-by-day and will soon be non-existent. It’s expanded the scope of things it sells, but has also forgotten how the internet should be crossing international borders as it does not ship most of its new lines on a international basis. It’s getting closer and closer to the traditional businesses it original set out to beat and be nothing like.

That’s the sort of environment we’re in, and now labels are trying to use the internet as a means to make big money and an attempt to find their monetary holy grail of a “new format”. All the labels are looking for a format step change like we had from vinyl LPs to CDs. They are want to find some medium that they can sell material that you already own, back to you in another form. Sony’s trying Super Audio CD, many others are promoting DVD Audio, but labels are just trying to fleece everyone for poor sound quality versions of songs you can download.

The two key facts that should be produced in any art form are being forgotten. They are quality and innovation, but sadly they cost money to produce and require some vision from the industry. For them to come back in vogue someone would have to see something more than just the bottom line, and that certainly doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon.