Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | It wasn’t so long ago…
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It wasn’t so long ago…

CNN this week ran this Associated Press story, about how musicians who’ve been holdouts from the iPod/iTunes bandwagon — the Beatles, Led Zep, Garth Brooks and others among them — will probably cave in and finally allow their music to be downloaded song-by-song.

Apple’s iPod dominates the digital music player market, and iTunes accounts for over 70 percent of the (legal) digital music market. Meanwhile, CD sales have been dropping steadily. The era of the compact disc is over, it seems.

But according to the AP article, these artists have resisted because online downloads cut the margins and they don’t make a lot of money at 99 cents per song. Bob Seger, another holdout, is trying to allow his music to be on iTunes only if Apple makes his 1975 hit album “Night Moves” available intact as an album only, not song-by-song. When will these guys learn? Don’t they realize the universe around them has changed — a lot?

My introduction to downloadable music was at a SXSW Music & Media Conference in Austin in the early ’90s — maybe ’93, or ’94. AOL and Compuserve were only a few years old, and the Internet was still a dream for most folks. I got online at the time using a 14.4 dialup modem, but it was still amazing to see early Web sites emerge in the virtual world online.

At this panel, which was sponsored my Microsoft (I still have my Microsoft pen from their booth that year, someplace), people from the Redmond, Washington company sat with a handful of ‘Net pioneers, among them someone (probably the founder) of IUMA, or Internet Underground Music Archives. The site was revolutionary, in that it allowed musicians to upload their music as digital files, and people could download them.

The folks on the panel beamed about how cool that is to the sparsely-packed room, and explained that at the time, it took something like 20 minutes to download one 3-minute song, but that in the future it would be instantaneous. They talked about how people would be buying music and downloading it directly off the Internet instead of buying CDs in a store.

Yeah, right, sure, we all thought. But we stayed and were fascinated by the possibility.

IUMA is still around, and so is Microsoft. And oh yeah, the Internet too. In a decade and a half, everything has changed.

I’m glad there are people out there who aer looking at the future horizon, and keeping an open mind about how things can work. If it were up to the major record labels, we’d all still be buying vinyl records.