The RIAA has finally won its long running battle to have the Russian music download site AllOfMP3 shut down. The announcement came earlier this week, curiously timed to coincide with Vladimir Putin’s visit with George Bush. Coincidence? Hardly, it’s been widely speculated that the existence of sites like AllOfMP3 were a huge roadblock to Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization.
Almost immediately after the shutdown, a new site called MP3Sparks was launched by MediaServices, AllOfMP3’s parent company. MP3Sparks offers an almost identical selection of music, pricing structure, and encoding options. The new site even supports accounts created on AllOfMp3. Or at least it did while it was online. MP3Sparks is now offline as well, and it’s unclear whether Russian authorities caught on quickly, or if the site might actually be the victim of its own success.
In another coincidence of timing, we’ve been hearing quite a bit about Universal Music Group’s efforts to play hardball with Apple. Universal is apparently refusing to resign a long term agreement to make its catalog of music available on iTunes. Instead, they’ll be negotiating on a month-to-month basis and will have the ability to pull their entire catalog from iTunes on short notice.
The problem here is that digital downloads are the one business segment where major labels are seeing sales growth. And iTunes has been responsible for the vast majority of that growth. If Universal really were to pull its music from iTunes it would do more damage to its own bottom line than it would to Apple or Steve Jobs.
This whole download thing isn’t going away either. The music business has changed permanently — the old days of shipping analog media will be over momentarily. In the meantime, if the major labels want alternatives to iTunes they’ll need to either innovate on their own, or partner with someone who is capable of innovating. Someone like MediaServices, perhaps.
One fact that’s been lost in the heated discussions over AllOfMp3 is that the service was a truly innovative digital music platform. I’ve written in the past about how AllOfMp3 should serve as a model for the digital download services of the future. MediaServices has an innovative approach to the digital music experience, a commerce system already in place, and a high quality library of songs ready to deliver.
Instead of seeing the potential AllOfMp3 represents, the industry would rather debate the legitimacy of MediaServices payments to the Russian royalty agency ROMs, and work through the US government to shut the site down.
Now that the RIAA has succeeded — sort of — you have to wonder what Plan B might be. At the rate they’re going they’ll never escape Apple’s evil clutches, or Steve Job’s control over pricing.