09 October 2001

Today at the Vicarage OD

Today at the Vicarage : OD2, Kensington W8

A day of conflicting visions of the 'online future'.

Firstly Peter Gabriel’s OD2.

OD2 is certainly a 'post dotcom' start up. None of the flamboyant offices with inflatable furniture and huge overheads. More six people working out of a broom cupboard. The office is too small for meetings so these take place in the French café just around the corner. Excellent sticky cakes, excellent smelling coffee, which I rejected in favour of a pitiful cup of peppermint tea, but lots of smoke (pschtt) and muzak (pschtt, pschtt). Many fine companies have been born in coffee shops. My detractor in Toronto will be pleased to know that I am truly as evil and pompous as he described me, and that I chastised the young employee from OD2 for smoking in my presence. But on to business.

OD2 envisages a distribution model similar to the offline world. They are a 'distributor', who license tracks from record labels, and then distribute them to digital shops, such as towerrecords.co.uk. Excited purchasers can even now flock to this site and pay £.0.99 per track to buy their music this way.

We are an era of experimentation, but I remain unconvinced that this is the future.

OD2 also operate subscription models. Even now the same excited and hopefully wealthy purchasers can go to the WOMAD site and pay £5.00 a month for 40 tracks, which will be locked to a single PC, cannot be copied and will be timed out after 30 days. You can either choose the 40 tracks, or have a selection made for you.

A more exciting model, but are the restrictions necessary and workable? I am still not convinced. OD2 is essentially a B2B business. I would suggest that they are so busy satisfying the B’s, that their offering is in danger of being very unappealing to the Cs. When I asked the young man giving me the demonstration (after he had put out his cigarette) if he could play me the recent 40 track selection, he could not even find them as they arrived randomly scattered within his Windows Media Player. Pschtt Pschtt.

And what of Napster, who are launching their subscription service, and who have asked for my services in 'persuading' record labels to license them content. Why they feel I can help in this domain, I cannot imagine. They must be desperate. Napster, of course, have the reverse problem. Their system is very appealing to the Cs, but is anathema to the Bs.

And on a completely different page, there is EFF, the Electronic Freedom Frontier, which I believe is partly the brainchild of the estimable John Perry Barlow, with whom I have enjoyed several fine lunches, and which numbers no less a powerhouse than Rob Glaser of Real Networks as a supporter. Steve Laballe sent me a news link about EFF proposed new music license. This would allow the music to be copied, transcribed, sampled and distributed totally free of charge provided that the writer is correctly credited. Slightly akin to the Open Source movement in software.

I feel my feeble intellect is unable to judge the merit of this proposal at this late hour.

I shall have plenty of time to consider such things tomorrow as I fly to Washington to give evidence in the hearing about license fees for internet radio. The Red Carpet club beckons. Joy and bliss.