June 29, 2009 by DJ Elroy
Napster – 10 years of turmoil
Napster: 10 Years of Turmoil
1999 saw the debut of Napster – the net-based software that let people share their music collections. It started a storm of change in the music industry and here Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI, reflects on what has happened in the last 10 years.
Napster was the Rosetta Stone of digital music. Until its release in 1999, few people understood the long term significance of turning sound waves into ones and noughts.
Yes, the CD had introduced greater convenience and – to most ears – better sound quality; and the arrival of CD burning put the power of near-perfect replication in the hands of the consumer.
But until Napster, hardly anyone understood the tsunami that would be unleashed by combining the ability to copy digitally with the power of the internet to connect all the computers on the planet.
Napster understood the internet’s potential for decentralised music distribution, and offered it to consumers in a way that was simple to understand and use.
Many critics have argued that the music industry could have avoided some of the problems it faces today if we had embraced Napster rather than fighting it.
That’s probably true, and I, for one, regret that we weren’t faster in figuring out how to create a sustainable model for music on the internet.
But this view also overlooks the formidable hurdles we faced in 1999.
To make music fully and legally available on the internet meant clearing the rights in millions of tracks for a huge number of countries, agreeing how the revenue should be shared, implementing workable DRM (which everyone considered fundamental at the time), developing technology to track all the downloads for royalty purposes, as well as creating a quality user experience people would pay for.
Shawn Fanning and his P2P followers didn’t worry about any of those things, and weren’t prepared to pay fair royalties or to partner in a business model that could sustain investment in new music.
Ten years on, it’s interesting watching other creative sectors struggling with similar issues. In the meantime, the record industry has gone through a transformation.
Online now contributes 13% of our revenue, we have a whole range of new business models such as WE7, Spotify and Comes with Music, and new ISP services – like the unlimited download service recently announced by Universal Music and Virgin Media – are coming online.
Young, innovative people with advanced digital skills are thriving in music companies and transforming the ways our artists can connect with their fans. The music business is now widely recognised as leading the creative sector in redefining itself for the digital age.