August 31, 2006 11:39 AM PDT

MP3tunes throws music locker doors open

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Michael Robertson, one of Silicon Valley's most prolific company creators, continues to plug along with so-called music lockers.

His most recent music company, MP3tunes, began offering the lockers for free last week in an apparent attempt to draw interest from consumers. Music lockers enable a customer to store music on a company's servers and later retrieve songs by having them streamed to any PC or Web-enabled device.

The service, called Oboe Free, allows a customer to store up to 1,000 songs--about the same capacity as Apple Computer's 4-gigabyte Nano digital music player. Serious music fans can upgrade to one of MP3tunes' two premium services for even more storage. For $19.95, MP3tunes offers twice the song capacity as Oboe Free, and for $39.95 a customer receives unlimited storage.

However, the public has yet to show much interest in music lockers or subscription services. Apple's iPod and iTunes reign supreme in digital music, and everybody else trails far behind.

As competitors continue to search for Apple's weak spot, they appear to be trying to undercut the company on price. On Tuesday, SpiralFrog announced a deal with record label Universal Music Group to offer songs for free. The start-up is planning to make money by selling ads that will appear as customers download music.

Robertson said another one of Apple's vulnerabilities is its insistence on locking people's music into Apple products and services. In an interview last week, he said he sees a day coming when consumers will want to listen on multiple devices such as Web-enabled home entertainment and car-audio systems. As it stands now, iTunes users can't move their music to devices made by anyone but Apple.

"We want manufactures to play nice together," said Robertson, who also founded pioneering music site MP3.com, Linspire and SIPphone. "Today they don't."

MP3tunes' software transfers a person's music library from any device or service, including iTunes, to a music locker. The software even saves playlists.

Gartner analyst Mike McGuire said that the idea of personal-use storage is intriguing because people can grab their music even if they don't have their listening device handy: Go into any Internet cafe, plug headphones into a PC, and it's boogie time.

But he sees plenty of challenges confronting the nearly 2-year-old MP3tunes. First, the service thus far has found a small audience among tech-savvy types. To stick a toe into mainstream adoption, McGuire thinks MP3tunes needs to be integrated with another offering "so it's easier for a consumer to add lockers as a premium part of their music or content service."

"I could see MP3tunes attracting a service provider who might want to add features as opposed to building them on their own," McGuire said.

Another hurdle is convincing music labels that the lockers will stay locked, he said. For MP3tunes to distribute music to multiple devices, the songs must be free of any digital rights management software. That means the songs can easily be shared, which could make music executives nervous. Robertson, however, said they needn't be.

"You can't really stop this kind of behavior. I mean, people are sharing music right now," Robertson said. "But it doesn't do us any good either if a million people share one locker. We have controls in place that tell us when someone else other than the user is downloading music from a locker."

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12 comments

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it may be the future
..but I'd expect that as a feature enhancement from Apple.

once we get to the WiMax era I expect that iTunes will offer me a locker.
Posted by df561 (94 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MP3tunes started from less than scratch...
"First, the service thus far has found a small audience among tech-savvy types."

Unfortunately, for me, MP3tunes never had the attraction mp3.com had, namely an enormous catalog of independent music. Sadly, when Roberson's copyright infringement lawsuits due to his last attempt at lockers took mp3.com down, the huge indy music base was kicked to the curb as well, and never really recaptured and CNet basically wasted, and continues to waste, any name value mp3.com had by converting a wonderful music site into yet another RIAA-stocked vending machine.

I liked the service the personal lockers provided the first time around, 4-5 years ago, I just wish he would've rebuild MP3tunes in mp3.com's image sans the RIAA catalog and pitfalls that went with it.
Posted by DaClyde (96 comments )
Reply Link Flag
indie music
actually, there is a comeback, check out www.amie.st
Posted by zboot (168 comments )
Link Flag
Why would I move my music?????
"Robertson said ... As it stands now, iTunes users can't move
their music to devices made by anyone but Apple."

True I can not move my music off the iTunes / iPod system.
That said I can move it around with the greatest of ease. My
music plays on both my PC and new MacBook running Mac OS X
+ Bootcamp and Windows XP, my Pioneer deck in my car, my
Motorola Bluetooth headset care of the icombi AP21 bluetooth
adaptor, and will connect to my Concertino tube amp when it
comes in. But wait there is more. Plus it connects to other
hardware that is not music related. Thanks to my iPod Mini and
a Camera Connector I can connect my Fuji Digital Camera to
store my photos and look at them. Plus play them on my TV
(which is made by Philips, not Apple) either through my dock or
my AV connector. So there you have it. My device connects
quite well thankyou. And as for the argument that I want to
transport my music from one device to another. Get real. I love
my iPod, I will love my next iPod and I have no need to change
brands. There is nothing out there that is that much cheeper or
better that would get me away from the click wheel interface.
Even if Apple includes a click wheel into a touch screen interface
I will still love that better than anything else I have played with.
And if someone wants to quote Forrest Gump then here it is
"Siimple is as Simple Does", and Apple got it simple so I get to
enjoy life more simply.
Posted by ALPICH (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Only on Apple products?
I thought that bit of editoralizing by C/NET was embarrassingly bad. Obviously, most people who use iPods and the iTunes Music Store do so on computers not made by Apple.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
Another desperate effort
Anything that relies on mainstream digital content providers giving up DRM is just that.

Amazon has had digital lockers for ages. There is nothing new about the idea.

Furthermore, people should be backing up their digital content to external hard drives anyway. No need for paying rent on a locker if you do.

Hopefully, Oboe will be Robertson's last gasp. I'm tired of listening to him hype, and then when his hype fails, whine.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Reply Link Flag
exactly
but anyway the iPod+iTunes phenomenon is driven by consumers not tech heads. CNet might as well try to convince all the people in the world who like beer or steak or whatever to stop consuming it. it aint up to tech heads to speak for consumers.
Posted by df561 (94 comments )
Reply Link Flag
what happened...?
Robertson like Glasser at Real talk a good game... but did anyone notice how he switched Mp3tunes from an eMusic type store to a digital locker?

Why didn't anyone ask him what happened to his grandiose digital music store? I haven't seen one interview where this question was posed. Why is that?

I remember reading his great plans for his music store on Cnet: Remember this

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/MP3tunes.com+shuns+digital+rights+management/2100-1027_3-5569293.html" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/MP3tunes.com+shuns+digital+rights+management/2100-1027_3-5569293.html</a>
Posted by Musica360.com (106 comments )
Reply Link Flag
thanks, but no.
First the good news: it's free now.
Now the rest of the news: who cares? It's still on their servers accessible only through the internet. What is so hard to understand about consumers' desires? Once we've paid for a song, we want to control our music ourselves, on our devices, in our preferred methods without depending on (or paying) any company to do so. And I don't mind breaking the law to do so, since the laws preventing me from doing so are unjust, one-sided and based soley on increasing profits for companies, not musicians. Call me a pirate if you want.
Once we've paid, it's our music. I want to be able to use it as I see fit, not as some exec thinks would be cool (or profitable). If it's not my music, then I don't want any part of paying for it.
Simple to understand, hard to grasp.
Try again.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What you mean 'we'?
You said you steal your music. So, it makes no sense for you to go on in this vein:

"Once we've paid, it's our music."

That is for those of us who DO pay for music to say.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
they told me to find songs elsewhere
Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 07:20:34 -0700
From: "MP3tunes Help" &lt;helpdesk@mp3tunes.com&gt;
----------------------------------------------------------------
Hello,

At this time if you can find these tracks elsewhere you might want to purchase them there. Updating the music store has unfortunately slipped down the priority list for the company right now and I cannot tell you when these tracks would be available. I believe you can purchase the CDs from CD Baby as well. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Best Regards,
--MP3tunes
Posted by sadchild (280 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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