The media-player fireswamp

By way of Christopher Allen, I got to meet John Buckman here at SXSW. John founded Lyris, a company whose hosted email list services I have used on behalf of clients. Although I prefer RSS to email as a direct marketing tool, the latter isn't going away anytime soon. So it's been a pleasure to rely on Lyris, a service that runs with impeccable integrity. John's new venture is Magnatune, an online record label I discovered a few months back whose endearing motto is "We are not evil." Equally endearing is this snippet from Magnatune's purchase page:

How much do you want to pay?

(50% goes directly to the artist, so please be generous)

Interestingly, when given a choice (and the assurance that artists will be properly rewarded), users sometimes choose to pay more than the suggested amount.

I got to wondering how Magnatune and Webjay might work together. Webjay is Lucas Gonze's idea, a site whose tagline is "Listener-created radio." Nothing prevents me from extracting an MP3 URL from a Magnatune playlist and including it in a playlist that I publish on Webjay. But is this fair to Magnatune? The interstitial ads that Magnatune uses are included in their playlists, but not embedded in the individual MP3s.

I asked Lucas and John (via email) to consider what would be the fair and right way to contextualize a Magnatune MP3 in a Webjay playlist. And just as I sent that message, Chris Allen -- who works with Magnatune (along with a bunch of other interesting ventures) -- sat down with me, here in the hallway at SXSW, to clarify his take on the matter. The 128kbps MP3 streams served up by Magnatune are made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. So according to Chris, it's perfectly kosher to include them in playlists that you publish. The idea, says Chris, is that the ID3 tags embedded in the MP3s are sufficient to let listeners find out about Magnatune and its purchasing and licensing options.

So I did the experiment, and it was a complete failure. None of the players on my PowerBook -- not iTunes, not RealPlayer, not QuickTime -- presented this metadata. That's hardly surprising. The various media players are, collectively, a train wreck. Publishing Web content that works in a standard and reliable way, in any browser, is a walk in the park compared to publishing AV content that works in a standard and reliable way in any media player.

We can't blame the problem on the record labels. It's the computer industry that gave us this fragmented and broken media platform. Now, suddenly, there's an explosion of content that can legally be ripped, mixed, burned, and blogged. The RIAA isn't the problem here. We need to find our way out of the QuickTime/Real/WinMedia/Flash fireswamp.

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