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Freedom for the Kleenex® of Music Formats

What does Kleenex® have to do with music? Pretty simple, really. That ® symbol identifies Kleenex as a brand name, but for most people, it means disposable tissue. Today, for most people, the term MP3 is interchangeable with “music file.”

A WMA file is not an MP3 file. This may be news to only a few of you. Apparently it’s news to the sales team at my local mobile carrier.

I recently purchased new mobile phones for my wife and three daughters (my son and I had already updated and will wait for the next round). Like most mobile phone users, we replace our phones approximately every two years. In fact, the average turnover is under two years for today’s 1.8 billion mobile phone customers. Each year between 800 million and one billion phones are traded out.

Why is this significant? Just over six months ago fewer than 5% of phones offered a stereo music experience. In the next 18 months this proportion will surpass 95%! Apple may have sold 50+ million iPods over the past 4+ years. The spread of music-equipped mobile phones will dwarf this number very quickly.

Sure, some of you may be saying “it just won’t happen that way.” That’s what they said about cameras on cell phones. Do you know who is the largest seller of cameras in the world today? It’s Nokia. More cameras are sold on phones than are sold as standalone cameras today. It’s true that camera phones are generally of lower quality than standalone cameras. Yet that gap narrows as the quality of these small units continues to improve, offering more and more megapixels to the customer.

Mobile music and media will mimic the camera phone trend. Samsung already ships a device with 8GB of storage for media. Many phones support micro storage cards, enabling easy “side loading” of content.

MP3 and iPod have become the Kleenex® tissue of music. iPod has come to mean “MP3 Player”. And MP3 has come to mean “interoperable music file”. At least that must be what my mobile carrier’s sales person was thinking when he told me that “this new phone plays MP3 files.” We took the units home to discover that our new phones would not play an MP3 file. After a little experimentation it became clear that the only format supported was a non-DRM protected WMA file. Not even close to an “MP3”.

Even if the phones he sold us can’t do it, the sales person understood what his customers want —  MP3-enabled phones. Why? Because MP3 files offer true interoperability. Interoperability is the key to unlocking the door to widespread adoption of music on phones, computers, and other devices. My CD can move easily between my car, office, home, and computer… why not my digital media files?

Our company, PassAlong Networks, has been refining technology we call “FreedomMP3™” for several years. It releases to the market with a $100MM record label very soon. They will sell MP3 files that the customer can move from their computer to their various devices. When they do, a message comes up to notify the user that the file is being shared in a way that will not compensate the artist. This label is offering consumers the choice to “Let the file go” or to “Keep it here” on their PC. They trust their consumers and do not want to impede legitimate use of the music. At the same time, they value the artists and want to see them paid for their work. We think this breakthrough in thinking is a winner, for the label, its artists, and their customers.

FreedomMP3™ can offer the consumer a variety of experiences when a file that is not licensed wants to be moved or played. This can include free uses, advertising-supported uses, and more. We believe the key is to offer the consumer a truly interoperable file format that lets them enjoy their digital media on their devices without the hassle and inconvenience of most of today’s usage models.

The consumer has spoken. MP3 won. It happened years ago. MP3 is the Kleenex® of media formats. Now we have ways to embrace this choice and get on with the important task of understanding the many new ways consumers will support the artists they love as music and media go completely digital. Proof once again that you “Can’t Stop The Music!”

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