Digital Distribution and Music Industry

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There are six key new market disruptions concerning the digital distribution of music: the creation of a new and broad customer base, the possibility of an annuity versus a per-unit revenue model, the gatekeeper advantage for a record company having proprietary access to a new digital distribution infrastructure, understanding of a technology that could be applied to other digital content, need for balance between physical and digital distribution strategies, the strategy the incumbent should adopt with respect to the evolving war over digital distribution standards. Was there a disruption or an evolution?

The story really begins with Napster and its free software that allowed users to swap music across the Internet for free using peer-to-peer networks. While Shawn Fanning was attending Northeastern University in Boston, he wanted an easier method of finding music than by searching IRC or Lycos. John Fanning of Hull, Massachusetts, who is Shawn's uncle, struck an agreement which gave Shawn 30% control of the company, with the rest going to his uncle. Napster began to build an office and executive team in San Mateo, California, in September of 1999. Napster was the first of the massively popular peer-to-peer file sharing systems, although it was not fully peer-to-peer since it used central servers to maintain lists of connected systems and the files they provided—directories, effectively—while actual transactions were conducted directly between machines. Although there were already media which facilitated the sharing of files across the Internet, such as IRC, Hotline, and USENET, Napster specialized exclusively in music in the form of MP3 files and presented a user-friendly interface. The result was a system whose popularity generated an enormous selection of music to download. Napster became the launching pad for the explosive growth of the MP3 format and the proliferation of unlicensed copyrights.

Peer-to-peer is a communications model in which each party...
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