Glaser: Let's make music Napster-easy

At the Jupiter Plug.In forum, the RealNetworks chief exec laments how difficult it is to access music files legally over the Internet
Written by Ben Charny, Contributor

"Mellow Friday night" is a relative term for the chief exec of a company with 135 million customers.

But RealNetworks's Rob Glaser managed to find himself with a few quiet Friday night hours. So he conducted a science experiment with one of a handful of Web sites that has managed to offer downloadable music that won't bring federal agents bursting through his doors.

It took 13 different steps. Glaser had to give his credit card number three times, plus a home and business address, he told a standing-room-only audience Tuesday at the 5th Annual Jupiter Communications Plug.In Forum.

"If this wasn't a science experiment, there's no way I would do this as a consumer," he said.

His point: Glaser said one of the biggest challenges for online music makers isn't necessarily the legal battle over pirates or just how much it should cost to make such music available.

It's simpler than that, he said. This music has to be easy to obtain, and in that sense Napster has set an incredibly high watermark, even if the company faces a court hearing on Wednesday over a lawsuit by the Recording Industry Association of America.

"Compare this to typing REM into Napster and that's the world's simplest IQ test," said Glaser.

"What Napster has done is create a benchmark on how easy the legitimate music experience has to be. It's gotta be pretty darn close to that easy."

"Those 20 million consumers have been to the mountaintop and seen the Promised Land, but they may not get there with Napster," he said. "That is the crowbar influence of Napster."

But Glaser also held court on a number of topics other than Napster, though the latter was the burning issue at the forum.

One of the hotter topics is just how much should downloadable music cost.

Glaser also made plain his views about the major record companies' reluctance, or plodding slowness, to get into downloadable music.

Some of the middle-level players believe the music-buying public won't get much of a break in price, because it only costs a few cents more to put music onto a CD.

That may be the case for music that is less than a year old, which is what grabs nearly three-quarters of the profits for record companies -- and is at the core of the legal battle with Napster, Glaser said.

But EMusic.com, for example, is offering a library of 125,000 songs that can be accessed for $10 a month; all have been in circulation for more than a year, the CEO noted. "That's clearly cheaper," he said.

On the latest devices, Glaser said the "paradigm has clearly shifted," with the emergence of handheld MP3 players, which he described as the "first consumer electronic device that wasn't driven by the top two or three global electronics companies."

He produced from his jacket pocket his favourite to date. Designed by Compaq and now sold by a Korean firm, it's about the size of two decks of cards, and its 4.5GB of memory can hold about 1,200 songs.

Glaser also made plain his views about the major record companies' reluctance, or plodding slowness, to get into downloadable music. Record companies say they should start offering downloadable music by year's end.

"The music business is either simplistic or stupid," to not recognise the enormous potential of a Web-based distribution model that has attracted tens of millions of fans to outlaw Web sites.

"The music business is not a whole."

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