The Big Bumpy Shift: Digital Music via Mobile Internet (originally published in December 2000)

Daniel P. Dolan


This paper is included in the First Monday Special Issue: Music and the Internet, published in July 2005. Special Issue editor David Beer asked authors to submit additional comments regarding their articles.
When I wrote this essay in late 2000, mobile Internet services via mobile telephone in Japan were booming. Meanwhile, young music lovers in the United States were enjoying a frenzy of music file sharing via personal computer. My central question was this: Would these two trans-pacific trends morph into a huge global mobile music phenomenon? I predicted in my essay that digital music over mobile telephones would indeed be very big, but that due to potholes and blind corners this inevitable ride would be difficult: the big bumpy shift.
Looking back five years later, for Japan the shift to mobile Internet music has been big, but for the United States it has been bumpy. The key differences are (1) Japan’s 84 million mobile Internet users; (2) Japan’s lead in mobile telephone technology; and (3) Japan’s telecoms, music labels and third party developers quickly agreed to cooperate on ring tone services.
But ring tones are yesterday. The future is full-song file downloads to mobile telephones. Already in Japan, one million full-song (AAC+) files per month have been downloaded since November 2004—and that is only for KDDI, one of Japan’s three major carriers. Now that is big.
The promise and rise of mobile Internet technologies and markets will be remembered as one of the most profound global information technology developments of the next few years. Mobile Internet technologies and practical applications necessary for widespread public use are advancing rapidly in Japan and are likely to catch on quickly in other countries. The remarkable adoption of mobile Internet in Japan and the popularity of digital music file sharing services such as Napster in the United States create a situation in which powerful synergies are possible between these two fundamental forces. Digital music via mobile Internet creates attractive opportunities for music artists, music consumers, entrepreneurs, and major music labels facing an uncertain future for music industry distribution practices. The realization of such opportunities depends not only on technological and business innovations, but also on the willingness among all parties involved to collaborate in equitable and valuable ways.

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