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EMI Releases Music Catalog on Qtrax
June 5, 2006
Thomas Mennecke
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Although nothing can quite match the excitement surrounding The Pirate Bay, today’s announcement by music publisher EMI is a close second. Continuing the music industry’s push to convert entrenched file-sharers away free P2P networks, EMI has released its entire music catalog on Qtrax. Qtrax is a file-sharing client that has reinvented itself as an avenue for authorized music distribution.

“Authorized” P2P clients are not new occurrences on the file-sharing landscape. They represent a middle ground between authorized music distributors such as iTunes, which provides a centralized resource for industry approved music, and free P2P networks such as Ares Galaxy. Authorized P2P clients maintain some assemblance to a file-sharing community, often piggybacking Gnutella or other proprietary network.

The success of these authorized P2P clients have been mixed at best. Many of the same problems that inhibit wide-spread adaptation of centralized resources such as Napster affect these distribution methods as well. One convenience the general P2P populace has grown comfortably accustomed to is freedom. Freedom to download as much as one wants, as often as one wants, and copying without limits is a difficult position to pry anyone from – especially when the alternative is spending 99 cents per download.

Another hurdle authorized P2P networks and distribution models face is iTunes. The runaway success of iTunes was once thought to be the P2P killer, the silver bullet that would save the music industry from implosion. iTunes has succeeded in preventing an implosion by offsetting the loss in physical sales, yet its dominance over the authorized distribution market has hindered alternative methods such as Napster. This hindrance of alternate authorized methods has given an unexpected advantage to free P2P networking; as people use a combination of iTunes, CD ripping, song list swapping and old fashioned P2P to obtain music. Efforts to dislodge its 80% market share, such as France’s attempt to force the opening of Apple’s FairPlay DRM technology, have been ineffective.

Hoping to appeal more the free-oriented P2P crowd, music publisher EMI and Qtrax have teamed together in a new music distribution venture. Many will remember Qtrax was a common and unrestricted Gnutella P2P client like any other. It has reinvented itself as an “authorized” P2P client, with music from EMI’s collection scheduled to be delivered in a P2P environment later this year (centralized downloads are already available.)

A unique feature of Qtrax’s upcoming client is a dual-tier system of music distribution; free ad-supported access and the other pay per download. The ad supported a tier will have some resemblance to a free P2P client, as songs are downloadable from Qtrax’s network. Additionally, Qtrax will still connect to mainstream P2P networks such as Gnutella, albeit crippled access thanks to copyright filters. The service is vastly different from free P2P networks in many other respects, as the downloaded files are DRM protected, are playable for a “pre-defined number of times”, and pop-up ads compel users to upgrade to the pay service.

The pay per download tier will be more similar to a standard authorized service such as iTunes or Napster. Although the exact pricing has not been released, it’s likely the standard 99 cent model will be applied. Like the ad-supported tier, file transfers will be conducted via P2P on Qtrax’s proprietary network. Resembling the “Napster to go” service, Qtrax also has an unlimited music rental feature. The customer can download as many files as desired and build an incredible music collection – providing the account stays active. If the account is terminated – so is every file downloaded.

Plenty of authorized P2P clients and networks have attempted to ride the file-sharing wave; iMesh, PeerImpact, Altnet, MashBoxx to name a few. iMesh has shown some prospect of succeeding, but like other authorized services such as Rhapsody the challenges ahead are daunting. The largest challenge is simply finding customers – whether from free P2P networks or iTunes.

iTunes is in a position to maintain its highly successful business model without giving an inch to the competition and thereby remaining stagnant. The competition on the other hand is forced to alter the common perception of authorized services by continuously reinventing themselves with hopes that an alternative model gains widespread adaptation.

The new service demonstrates the music industry is willing to work along file-sharing, and evolve along with the demands of consumers. Although progress has been painfully slow in this field, its gives hope that perhaps one day a resource will be released that compensates artists while also respecting fair use rights – providing that window of opportunity hasn’t been lost.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
Authorized Music Store :: Other
Entertainment Industry :: RIAA

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