The Big Deal About MP3tunes

mp3tunesEverybody’s writing about MP3tunes, the new online storage service started by MP3.Com founder Michael Robertson. I would love a way to backup my music library. Let’s take a look at this service and see if it might be my answer.

They offer a free version, but for a lot of reasons, including the fact that you can’t actually upload any songs with a free account, the free version is definitely useless. So let’s dive into the paid ($39/year) version. Here’s what jumps out at me.

First of all, the FAQ plays the “safely backed up” card. That’s the only reason I would ever sign up for something like this- the ability to back up my music library. My music library consists of around 25,000 MP3s which take up about 144 gigabytes on a dedicated hard drive. The MP3tunes FAQ says that “currently” there is no limit to the number of files you can “synch to [your] locker.” I find it a little interesting that the FAQ talks about number of files and not amount of storage, but let’s assume for a moment that that’s semantical only. I suspect that if I tried to upload 144 gigabytes worth of music to my locker, the number of files I could synch would suddenly become limited. Why do I say this? Because if not, there’s no way they would ever break even, much less make money. You simply cannot sell 144 gigabytes of storage (or anywhere close to it) for $39 a year. Granted I have a large music collection, but so do a lot of other people and if this deal was for truly unlimited storage all of us would sign up. And it doesn’t take 144 gigabytes to break the pro-forma (i.e., the assumptions that result in profitability). I don’t know what the number is, but I would guess less than 20 gigabytes- and a lot of people have that much music.

Even if they let me upload all my files, it would take me 10 and a half days of constant uploading to do it (the FAQ says you can “synch” 100 songs per hour). It doesn’t look like you upload via FTP, so the reliability of the web interface could add even more time to the process. Either way, I am pretty sure that trying to “synch” (assuming that means upload, and the web site is a little hazy about the details) 25,000 files would be pretty difficult to do.

I believe, much like the original MP3.Com, MP3tunes is intended primarily for people who are storing and collecting free (that is legally downloadable) music. That’s why the web site talks a lot about “sideloading,” which is actually a way to import music that you’ve already bought from another site or, perhaps, a way to add a space saving bookmark to music files stored elsewhere (again, the web site is a little hazy about the details).

Back in the day, MP3.Com was a great way to find independent music. I can see how this service arose from the ashes of the prior one. MP3.Com created an incentive for musicians to upload their material as a way to get some exposure (I uploaded original songs to MP3.Com back then, as did most musicians I know). This service relies on the user to find his or her own content and, it seems to me, adds the “online storage” feature as an added benefit. Of course there will also be opportunities to buy music for your locker. I suppose if you buy a song from mP3tunes, that song only has to be stored once (everybody’s locker could link to the same song file). Perhaps that’s the angle they’re counting on.

Conclusion: unless you have a small music library, the online backup aspect is more smoke than fire. If you have a few files that you need access to from the road, why not just use Microsoft’s free FolderShare? There’s not enough good, free music out there to make “sideloading” worthwhile. The online music sales market is pretty mature, so I don’t see a bunch of people leaving Rhapsody or MusicMatch to sign up here. So this looks like a deal for a niche user who has a small music collection or wants to build one by buying songs from MP3tunes. Those of us with big music libraries should look elsewhere for backup solutions.

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