More on iPods

Dave Winer’s arguments against AppleTV are very similar to mine against the iPod. Why does Apple get a pass when it tries to control our audio, and now video, experience? Everything about the iPod is designed to force you to use iTunes as a gateway to your music. And to sell some downloads, of course. If Microsoft did something like this, all the Apple heads would scream bloody murder.

I’m not saying Microsoft wouldn’t have done it if it had the chance. I’m just saying.

On a similar note, why does Google get a pass when it tries to control our entire internet experience?

Back to iPods: Michael Walsh points me to his Digital Rights Manifesto, which I generally agree with, except that I will not accept any form of embedded DRM. Now that I can get DRM-free downloads from Amazon, I am buying much more music than I was in the less immediate CD format.

Michael also pointed me to this very timely comic.

Speaking of what goes around comes back around, get ready for the next big thing: wireless TV!

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How Zune Can Win the iPod War

zuneMicrosoft has confirmed what we already knew: that it is going to take its shot at knocking the iPod off the portable music player throne. TechCrunch has a story about it, in which Marshall Kirkpatrick sums up what I and others said a couple of weeks ago when the Zune rumor first hit the blogosphere:

“It’s an ambitious project that some critics are already saying goes too far outside Microsoft’s core strengths and could end up joining other media projects on the junk heap of tech history.”

Trying to pick up where Scoble left off, Microsoft’s Cesar Menendez is blogging about Zune at the aptly named Zune Insider blog.

I don’t own an iPod, and I would love to see someone provide a successful alternative to the proprietary iPod/iTunes semi-monopoly. I’m just not convinced Microsoft is ready to take on the musical equivalent of trying to convince Coke drinkers to switch to some new cola.

But here’s my roadmap for how to do it, in case Cesar and the rest of the Zune crew are serious about it.

First, embrace the saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and go cut a deal with Yahoo to embrace Zune as a part of its looming war with iTunes. France and America don’t like each other either, but they unite every 50 years or so in the face of a common enemy. If you have to, make Yahoo a partner in this venture. Otherwise, I can’t envision a way to unseat iPods to any significant degree.

Second, make the players work with as many formats as possible- do not try to force people to formats they don’t want to use. Windows media may or may not be a better format, but millions of people have millions of MP3s that they are not going to convert to another format just to use Zune. Couch yourself as the open standards player. Play the proprietary technology card when talking about iPods.

Third, be thoughtful about DRM implementation. DRM will be necessary to get the music providers to play ball. But don’t forget the horde of people, including me, who have never and will never buy a DRM infested song. We want the ability to move our music to and from our players without any DRM-related hassle. DRM should be invisible to us.

Fourth, be wary of feature overload. Don’t try to make the Zune all things to all people. Make it a quality, reliable and intuitive music player. Period.

And finally, market the player as aggressively as you market the new versions of Windows. You don’t need to hire the Stones again, but go hire a bunch of new artists to do commercials for Zune. Come up with a slogan- maybe “Set Your Music Free,” and use it over and over and over, until people associate a positive shift in music management with Zune.

There you go, Microsoft.

Have at it. We’re all watching.

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iPod Killer on the Loose?


Tom Foremski over at ZDNet asks if Yahoo Music could become the iPod killer. He digs the way Yahoo Music lets you access a ton of music from all of your computers.

Like Tom, I grew weary of administering my CD collection years ago. I ripped all of my CDs to my music server back in the late nineties. Actually I did it twice. First just the “good songs” when hard drive space actually cost something and later all of the songs once it didn’t. And while my music server works great when I’m at home, it’s certainly true that I can’t (easily) access my music from the road (I can get song files using FolderShare if I really need to, but getting a file or two is not the same thing as having access to my entire library).

Tom likes the way Yahoo Music lets you explore for new music via its recommendation engine. Yeah, that’s pretty cool and all, but here’s a suggestion for Tom: go try Pandora. Fill in just one band you really like and you’ll discover more good new music than you thought existed. I have over 25,000 songs (all paid for; none stolen) on my music server and within 3 minutes of firing up Pandora I was hearing great music from artists I’d never heard of.

Tom also likes Yahoo Music because it’s not the dying on the vine, ad-infested over the air radio. I certainly agree with that. Between Pandora, MusicMatch (my service of choice, which is owned by Yahoo) and XM, I haven’t listened to a second of over the air radio in years.

I’ve never owned an iPod and I’ve never used iTunes. Both seem too proprietary for my open source tastes.

I guess my thing is that you have to do both. If you have an older and/or extensive music collection, the services are simply not going to have all of your music in their online libraries. Plus, I like to load my legally acquired, DRM-free MP3s onto CD-Rs or DVD-Rs to take on the road, and I’m just not willing to capitulate to the DRM extortions of the record label cartel. But I do like to listen to ad free radio and to access at least some music I enjoy on the road. So I have a networked music server at home and a MusicMatch subscription for the road.

That’s my recipe for musical happiness.

CDs for IPods?

Here’s an interesting proposal. An independent music store in Charleston, SC is offering to trade an iPod for your CDs. For 45 CDs you get a 512 MB iPod and for 175 CDs you get a 60 GB iPod. Granted, the CDs have to meet some pretty reasonable criteria, but this in a novel program that is sure to get some takers. In fact, if I were in Charleston, I’d grab some from my storage boxes and head on over to collect my iPod.

The math can get troublesome when you think about how much you paid for those CDs- 175 CDs at $13 a pop is $2,275. But that’s a sunk cost since you can’t sell them for what you paid. The real question is how much you could sell them for on eBay and whether it’s worth the time and effort of doing so. Sell 175 CDs on eBay for $3 a piece and that’s $525. You can get a 60 GB iPod for less than that, but to sell them you have to add them to eBay, administer the auction and ship them (that’s a hassle, but not a deduction, since the buyer pays the shipping on most eBay auctions).

So would I rather sell them or trade them? For an average price of $3, I’d trade them and avoid all the work of selling them. For say $6 (for a total of $1,050) I’d probably sell them (but honestly it’s a close call because it would be a royal pain to have to box and ship 175 CDs individually).

So my conclusion is that this is a pretty fair offer.

On a related note, I wonder how many people will delete the songs they have ripped from these CDs before trading them in?

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