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Napster vs. Itunes

Updated on October 3, 2015

The music business is growing, but already plagued with disaster as technology progresses. Edison fights with Bell over the rivaling phonograph and graphophone machines. Both are disappointed when E.R. Johnson produces 12-inch records for his victrola machine with instant success. Records outsell sheet music which changes the face of music forever.

Eventually, records phased into cassettes, while cassettes phased into compact discs. While you can find all of these formats in existence today, music has taken a turn down a digital path into unfamiliar territory. Up until now, WE believe the music industry has dealt with these technological changes because they have always provided a tangible outlet for musical product. In other words, no matter what you recorded it on, you could always manufacture something to sell and something that the consumer could hold. The modern introduction of mp3s brings to the table something that you cannot touch or regulate. Music is now simply digital data that can be transmitted from device to device, person to person.

The piracy problem we have now began in the early 1990s. MP3 technology was developed after computers started coming equipped with CD drives. This allowed music listeners to copy digital files from Cd's onto their hard drives at home. The large song files on Cd's were compressed into the new "MPEG 1 layer 3," or MP3 to save space. This also made the files easier to transmit from person to person on peer networks such as Napster, which was created in 1999. What was at first a cult activity grew into a worldwide phenomenon that has cost the music industry billions of dollars.

Napster was created by Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, two students who wanted to find and share music more easily on the Internet. Since its conception, Napster has gone through highs and lows, eventually being shut down by the courts for copyright infringement. The music industry might have viewed this as a victory in battling piracy, but the shutting down of Napster spawned dozens of spin-off networks such as Limewire and Napster. In the 2000 publication of his book All You Need to know about the Music Business, Don Passman reflected on how he thinks mp3s will affect music in the future: "On the economic side, record companies will no longer have the costs of manufacturing, distribution, freight, etc. So their profit margin on these sales will be spectacular. And artists will fight for a bigger piece.....Because you don't have to fund these costs, anyone can become a record company and put out their music. This will lead to stronger bargaining power for the artists; because they may wait and sign with a record company after they're already successful....The record companies of the future will control the cyber real estate. They'll handle the promotion and marketing necessary to break through the noisy flood of new releases."

Fast-forward seven years, and we find that Mr. Passman was fairly accurate in his predictions. While record companies still struggle to profit off of rampant downloading, the advent of Itunes has provided an outlet for purchasing music. As Time magazine's coolest invention of 2003, the music store has become the major choice for buying and selling music. Tracks are sold at $.99 a piece, with whole albums starting at $9.99. However, it seems pointless to parent company Apple, who makes less than a dime per track. The real profit comes in the sale of Apple Ipods, the only mp3 player compatible with Itunes software. Listening to full-length tracks is a big advantage of Napster over iTunes, and since you get to choose the tracks, it may even be a better deal than satellite radio, which for the same price gives you lots of channels, but none you can control song-by-song. Or, since you have to choose the tracks, it may not be as good a deal as satellite radio, which for the same price gives you lots of channels which you don't have to think about to listen to. It's been said through research that nearly one in five Americans over the age of 12 own some kind of mp3-playing device. With the popularity of Itunes, people would be willing to bet that at least ten out of every one-hundred citizens owns an Ipod.

Still, even with Itunes making downloading legal, people still believe piracy off of free file-sharing networks is prevalent. Why would people pay money for songs off of Itunes when they could just as easily get them for free on similar programs? One of the biggest benefits Apple claims to have with Itunes is its ease of use. Before song listeners got a Mac, people were an avid user of Napster, a file-sharing program that was just as simple as Itunes, if not simpler. The interface was similar, and listeners quickly learned how to search for songs and download them to whatever folder people wanted on their hard drive. Other reason listeners used Napster was its more diverse collection of music. The biggest downfall of Itunes (besides the fact that it's not free) is that Apple does not have licensing agreements with every band on every label in the world. This means that they might not always have the music someone is looking for. Napster had a specialty in independent and underground music, songs that were not on the radio or in the public eye. Since song listeners often desire music from this category and it often lacks distribution in major music stores, listeners were happy to download it for my listening pleasure.

The only reason people have stopped using the program is because listeners no longer have a PC and they disappointed with the Mac version. Listeners occasionally use Limewire, but have since begun to use BitTorrent sites for live shows and recordings that are unreleased. BitTorrent uses multiple file-sharers to speed up the download of large files. People don't see a problem with downloading the shows they've been too because they are only sporadically recorded for professional release. There is no problem in having a show recording as a keepsake if nobody wants to make profit off of it anyway. The legal problem comes with the sharing of official releases and copyrighted files. But at this point listeners think file-sharing would be hard to stop.


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