Opinion: Free music file sharing was never going to hit the right notes with record firms

Columns & Opinion, Digital Music, MP3 players

Jon_smal.gifJonathan Weinberg writes… You don’t get anything in life for free. So the saying goes.

And so, I’m not surprised that a website which promised us the world’s first legal file-sharing service has had to backtrack on the plans after the record companies said they were not yet supporting it.

Qtrax made a big song and dance about their launch over in Cannes with stars including James Blunt there. They secured quite a bit of coverage in all the national newspapers too in Britain.

But maybe it would have made sense to secure the record firms first, after all, as the gatekeepers of the industry, they are pretty important don’t you think? It’s like saying you’ve got a No1 song, without actually having the lyrics written or the musical score penned.

Qtrax’s idea was to develop a website that allowed free downloads from a catalogue of 25 million songs. In return, while searching for tracks, you have to put up with advertising.

But why would any record company agree to give away their assets for free on such a site. After all, we pay for songs now and a lot of sites carry adverts. In fact, you can’t move on the web without seeing adverts.

Whether that’s right or not, it’s the way of the world and the way firms make money. But no-one could ever make enough from ads to give away something that normally costs around 70p a time.

Imagine if iTunes gave away its collection of hits for nothing. The bill would run into tens of millions of pounds, if not billions.

Besides, do you not think that if this could actually work, a major player like Apple – with its reach and existing customer base – would not have tried it already.

The Times Online reports none of the four major record labels have done deals with Qtrax with EMI, Warner, Sony BMG and Universal all confirming that they had not signed up. Warner and Universal did add they were in negotiations with the site.

The company today claim some deals have been done and promised to launch “within months”. I just can’t see how any business thought this would work, and if it’s true the firm spent an estimated £500,000 on their launch, then more fool them.

Perhaps they should have asked all their suppliers to provide the goods for free in return for some advertising, and then maybe the answers they’d have been given would have made them realise that while the idea is worth a round of applause for helping the millions of downloaders out there save money, it’s just a pipedream that fails to have any base in reality.

Besides, how long before someone comes up with the bright idea of shoving audio adverts in between tracks on albums. Even if that meant getting the music for free, I doubt there would be many takers.

Like a good song, any business needs to get their key notes right – unfortunately, despite their enthusiasm, Qtrax seem to have hit a bum note and it’s one I doubt they’ll ever recover from.

Jonathan Weinberg
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