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Big Music Targets the Enemy
By Jon Newton,
(more articles from this author)
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The Big Message in yesterday's Big Music IFPI Online Music Report 2004 was that with America caving in nicely to the RIAA sue 'em all campaign, Europe is next in the "most aggressive bid yet to defeat its file-sharing nemeses Kazaa and Grokster".

Looks good, doesn't it? But it's no more than the usual rubbish the major record labels dish out as a matter of form and it was, as usual, swallowed almost whole by most members of the mainstream media.

Moreover, the enemy now has, according to Reuters, two names where the day-before-yesterday there was only one: Kazaa.

That's not so good for Grokster, certainly. But it'll be seriously bad news for Sharman Networks, Kazaa's owner. Sharman spent a lot of money, lately, trying to convince the Big Five labels that they should be seeing it as a potential distribution partner instead of The Enemy.

"The message we are sending with our fight-back campaign is that we feel it is incumbent upon us to take away people's sense of impunity with regard to file-sharing," Reuters quotes IFPI ceo Jay Berman as sayings here,

The "fight-back" campaign also calls for a, "massive roll-out of new online music stores, a topic that will dominate the spotlight at the annual Midem music conference in the French Riviera this weekend," says Reuters, going on:

"An unlikely gathering of executives from such companies as Coca-Cola to telecoms firms Cable & Wireless and mmO2 will join record executives to discuss plans for music download services.

The mind boggles. The Net is already being relentlessly swamped by virtually useless, bandwidth-sucking online corporate music stores as Big Music tries to overwhelm non-industry download sites and attack music file sharing. Giving customers what they want - that's to say good music at a reasonable price - is the last thing on its mind.

But "Nobody is calling a full-blown recovery any time soon," says the story. "Recorded music sales are expected to fall a fifth straight year in 2004 to $28.2 billion, a $2.7 billion decline on 2002, according to London-based research firm Informa Media Group.

"The turmoil in the retail stores has taken its toll in the boardrooms of the major labels. Cash-strapped music companies have vowed to continue cutting staff and B-list artists. And a recent wave of consolidation, which saw majors Bertelsmann's BMG merge with Sony Music and media mogul Edgar Bronfman's private consortium buy Warner Music, is no instant fix.

"Even if the regulatory approval process goes smoothly - an unlikely scenario - the integration process could be bloody, with more staff, artists and business units expected to go in a major cash-conserving push, observers predict. Indeed, the radical remake will offer no guarantee that music will be able to win over a fickle consumer base that has less money to spend on a wider variety of entertainment options from video games to DVDs to movie tickets."

The labels are betting on first-half releases from "reliable chart-toppers U2, George Michael and Norah Jones," and are promising to promote more "guitar-edged rockers" to boost sales as signs emerge that the TV-inspired pop star craze is fading out, the report continues.

Way to go.

But "It's proving tougher and tougher to develop those artists simply because fans are growing tired of bubble gum pop," said Ajax Scott, editor-in-chief of Music Week.

There are high expectation that iTunes and Roxio's Napster , which are expected to launch in Europe by summer, "can turn music downloads into a vibrant international business," adds the Reuters report.

"After God knows how long it's the first bit of good news. But whether or not it's sustainable is a different story entirely," Informa Media Group analyst Simon Dyson is quoted as saying. He predicts the global download market will double in 2004 to $190 million, but it'll still be "less than one percent of the entire market".

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