November 22, 2004

Screw RIAA. Let's pay each other for music.

This Wired article discusses a new music sharing technology called "Weed", which proposes a striking new business model to distribute music. Instead of suing people for using P2P to disseminate music across the globe.. they'll pay you.

Essentially, a "weed" file is a song with a DRM, that lets you play it for free up to three times on your computer. After that you'll have to buy it, for about a dollar per song, to keep playing it. You'll then be able to play it on up to three computers, burn it to as many CD's as you like, etc.

Is this reverse-compilable? Could a person evade the payment and play the song for free? I can think of a good dozen ways off the top of my head, but bear with me here.

What makes Weed different is that you can share the Weed file with your friends.. through P2P.. on your website.. via email.. whatever. When they get the file they can play it three times for free too. Furthermore, when you purchase a file it gets stamped with an encrypted form of your user id. When you then share the file you've purchased, you get a cut when your friends buy it. and when their friends buy it.. down to three levels deep.

You do have to buy the song in the first place (so you can't easily promote music you didn't also like) but since you could pass it to ten friends who also buy it, you can easily make back more money than you spent. If you're lucky you could make tons more.. But you never know who will buy so you probably shouldn't buy a song unless it's worth it ;)

So, let's recap here:

  • You get to preview the song leisurely and pan any/all duds.. unlike the RIAA method of promoting singles and forcing you to pay for the rest of the schlock on the album.

  • You get paid for passing the songs onto appreciative friends, or for marketing the song to strangers in your own unique idiom.

But that's not all. You would think that was enough, but no. This setup also discourages hacking in a way that no gestapo lawsuits ever could. Just think about it.. it pulls you into the distribution system. Suddenly you're not just "sticking it to the man" anymore. "The man" isn't even involved. Instead, uh, you are the man. If you hack a file you can't "resell" it anymore.

Also, instead of bringing down the RIAA through looting, you get to be their competitor. Instead of just keeping their mits away from your wallet, you're also safeguarding the wallets of your religious, law abiding friends. Not only does your sting bite them harder, but you can thumb your nose at their lawyers at the same time.

All in all it's good. Players and dj's who have more mix tapes than benjamins will find them to be equally good currency on these streets. Getting your groove on no longer has to drain off your cash, it can pay for itself. Maybe only partially, maybe with extra to spare. In fact, you'll actually be paid to know what your friends like to hear and deliver it.

Most won't be profit-makers. Similar to an MLM this system by definition cannot make profit for everyone — you're money comes from somewhere. But, unlike an MLM, making profit isn't the point unless you want it to be.

Some people will make their own electronic shops specificly to "resell" their favorite tunes. I put this term in quotes because all of the money handling is managed by the Weed guys.. the part you help out in is targeting, of course, and the transferal of millions of bytes per file.. and they pay you for it.. and these people stand a great chance of making profit since they will work hard to actually market the material and will be properly paid for their work.

The "fuzzy-consumers" who simply want to listen will get some kickbacks from sharing, but mainly only when they've opened their friends' eyes to a new sound they haven't heard before. If your friends are hipper than you then they probably already have the song you want to share. So, unless you find a windfall and introduce a fresh new artist to some parched landscape, your kickbacks as a fuzzy-consumer will be discounts instead of profits. Yet they are still meaningful. They help to foster social musical understanding. They involve people in a process that gets artists fairly paid. They break down the walls between distributer and consumer, you get to sit anywhere on that continuum you want. Everyone wins.

Posted by jesse at November 22, 2004 10:46 PM

For me, it would be basically impossible to make money off of that, but it does seem like a sensible idea.

Posted by: DeAnn at November 26, 2004 10:55 PM