The other day while I was doing my mindless part-time job in a warehouse, I got thinking about what bothers me about buying music online. I think I narrowed it down to at least three main reasons. The first one being, I don’t like the idea of paying for music when there is the possibility that I will lose the music if I reinstall my computer (which I do fairly often). If there was some type of guarantee that I would have the music for my lifetime after purchasing it then I would be happy to pay for it. I realize that this is greatly against what the music industry has done in the past with their switching to new media and reselling the music (ex from vinyl to 8-track to tape to cd…etc) but I think that if they could make the guarantee that the music would not be lost they could charge more, and people would be more likely to buy it (at least I would).
Secondly, the music has to be able to play on any new device that I want it to play on. I don’t want to have to buy new copies of the music just so I can make it work on an iPod, cellphone or what have you. If I am the only person using the music, I should be able to play it on anything I want. The last thing that is necessary for people to pay for music is some mechanism or rule to make one instance of the music available for each person. This is so that people can’t buy one copy and share it with a whole community.
There have been many failed attempts at this recently (DRM and other such anti-copy measures)/ For example, not long ago I read that the Urge Store (the failed online Microsoft Music Store) was going under and soon people would not be able to play the music they have legitimately bought once the authentication servers have gone down. The key concept of these ideas is that they must not break the second point above. The music must still be able to play on whatever device I would like to play it on. It should not be difficult and should not take a whole process to do be able to do this. I think many people would pay for music if it was easy to use and they didn’t have to be weary of losing it because most people don’t care to do large scale backups of gigabytes of music.
At the same time there will still be many people who will steal the music if they are given the chance. So what is the middle ground? Well in the video game industry they deal with many of the same problems, but there is one company that has come up with a solution to this problem. Valve, which brought games such as counter-strike, half-life and team fortress has a model where the games are bought online and are associated with an online username. Even if the game is lost on your local computer, you can always connect to their server and get the game again. They have technology that prevents people from copying the games and even cheating in them or else the account is banned and the purchased games are lost forever. The technology that provides this service is called Steam.
Perhaps a similar model may be developed in the near future for music. The technology is almost at the level where this is possible. The only remaining obstacle for this type of approach is a ubiquitous internet access. However with the combination of existing networks (cellular, wifi, bluetooth etc) and new research in wireless mesh networks and other related technologies this is not so far in the future.